Small-toothed Sportive Lemur, Lepilemur microdon

The small-toothed sportive lemur (Lepilemur microdon) is also known as the small-toothed weasel lemur, and is native only to the island of Madagascar. It range extends from the Ranomafana National Park to Andringitra National Park in the southwest. It is thought that the Manampatrana River marks the southern border of this range, and that the Namorona River marks the north. It is thought that James’ sportive lemur replaces the small-toothed sportive lemur in its far southern range. It prefers to live in dense rainforests within its range.

Based on studies of a specimen found the Ankafana Forest, Charles Immanuel Forsyth Major was able to formally describe the small-toothed sportive lemur in 1894. He did not clearly state the basis of its scientific or common name, although he did mention the smaller molars of this sportive lemur. Its species name, microdon, derives from this feature, where the Greek micro translates to “small” and odon translated to “tooth”.

The small-toothed sportive lemur can weigh between 2.0 and 2.6 pounds, making it a large sportive lemur. It can have an average body length of up to 25 inches, of which the tail comprises up to 11 inches. In the wild, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the small-toothed sportive lemur from the weasel sportive lemur, as the two species have highly similar coats. It can also be confused with the wooly lemur, like most sportive lemurs, and the dwarf lemur. Sportive lemurs, however, have distinct ears and do not have the white patches of fur that are typically seen on the wooly lemur.

The small-toothed sportive lemur bears a reddish brown coat, with a long dark stripe that begins at the forehead and fades as it reached the back. Its neck and underbelly are pale greyish brown, but can occasionally have yellowish tint. The shoulder fur is bright and burnished, and darkens as it reaches the back. Some lemurs have been reported to have white collars around the neck.

As is typical to sportive lemurs, the small-toothed sportive lemur is nocturnal and will spend most of its time within the trees. This lemur is not as sociable as other sportive lemur species, particularly those that reside in arid forests, and will vocalize less because of this. When sleeping, the small-toothed sportive lemur has a relatively low metabolic rate. Its diet consists of fruits, flowers, and leaves. Predators of this lemur include the fossa, a cat like creature native to Madagascar, and birds of prey that are active during the daytime.

During much of the 20th century, the small-toothed sportive lemur was considered a subspecies of Lepilemur mustelinus, the weasel sportive lemur, and there was much confusion on its classification until 1990. In 1982, Ian Tattersall broke the norm by describing the small-toothed sportive lemur as a synonym of the weasel sportive lemur, while only recognizing one species of sportive lemur, in his book The Primates of Madagascar. He did so because of the lack of solid information known about the lemur, the difficulty in collecting new data, and because he was known to deviate from the typical thoughts on classifications due to differences in karyotypes. Still, other experts disagreed with Tattersall, and considered the small-toothed sportive lemur its own species, while recognizing seven distinct species of sportive lemurs.

Many genetic studies have been conducted in order to clarify the status of the small-toothed sportive lemur. In 2005, Nicole Andriaholinirina published a study that proved that the lemur was a distinct species, and that it was actually not as closely related to the weasel sportive lemur as previously thought. Only one year later, Edward E. Louis, Jr., et al. described eleven new species of sportive lemur, with each species diverging from individual species. From the small-toothed sportive lemur, many populations were classified as distinct species including Wright’s sportive lemur from the Kalambatritra Reserve and Betsileo sportive lemur from Fandriana.

In the years between 2006 and 2009, more genetic testing was conducted in order to clarify the confusion between the sportive lemur species. From the results, four groups were created: section A in northern and northwestern Madagascar, section B in northwestern Madagascar, section C in west central and southern Madagascar, and section D in eastern Madagascar. The small-toothed sportive lemur was the only species to cause confusion, as the PAST data placed it in section B and the D-loop data placed it in section C. Although the small-toothed sportive lemur was dispersed from western Madagascar using river corridors, there is not enough evidence to conclusively place it in section B or C.

Prior to the classification changes of the many sportive lemurs, the small-toothed sportive lemur was given the conservation statuses of “least Concern” and then “near Threatened”. After the divergence of many populations of these sportive lemurs, it was found that the actual number of them was much lower than previously thought. During its last assessment in 2008, it was found that there was not enough data regarding the geographic range, population size, and other factors to support a conservation status and so the IUCN listed the lemur as “Data Deficient”.  The small-toothed sportive lemur is threated by habitat destruction and hunting, like most lemurs, and this will most likely cause it to be classified as “Threatened” once more data is found. Fortunately, this species does occur in Ranomafana and Andringitra National Parks, both protected areas, and according to the International Species Information System, there is a viable population of small-toothed sportive lemurs in captivity.

Image Caption: Small-toothed sportive lemur (Lepilemur microdon) in Vohiparara, Ranomafana National Park. Credit: Edward E. Louis Jr./Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)