Mouse lemur


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Suborder: Strepsirrhini
Infraorder: Lemuriformes
Superfamily: Cheirogaleoidea
Family: Cheirogaleidae
Genus: Microcebus
Species: M. berthae, M. bongolavensis, M. danfossi, M. griseorufus, M. jollyae, M. lehilahytsara, M. mamiratra, M. mittermeieri, M. murinus, M. myoxinus, M. ravelobensis, M. rufus, M. sambiranensis, M. simmonsi, M. tavaratra

Other names: M. berthae: Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, pygmy mouse lemur, Berthe’s mouse lemur; microcèbe de Berthe (French); tsidy (Malagasy); M. bongolavensis: Bongolava mouse lemur; M. danfossi: Danfoss’ mouse lemur; M. griseorufus: rufous-grey mouse lemur, red-and-grey mouse lemur; microcèbe gris-roux (French); tsidy (Malagasy); M. jollyae: Jolly’s mouse lemur; M. lehilahytsara: Goodman’s mouse lemur; microcèbe de Goodman (French); Goodman’s mausmaki (German); M. mamiratra: Claire’s mouse lemur; M. mittermeieri: Mittermeier’s mouse lemur; M. murinus: grey mouse lemur, lesser mouse lemur; microcèbe murin, cheirogale mignon, cheirogale nain, petit microcèbe (French); grauer mausmaki, maus zwergmaki (German); tsidy, koitsiky, titlivaha, pondiky (Malagasy); maki ratón, maki ratón gris, makisratone (Spanish); grâ musmaki, mindre muslemur, pygmémusmaki (Swedish); M. myoxinus: mouse lemur, pygmy mouse lemur; microcèbe pygmée (French); tsidy, malajira (Malagasy); M. ravelobensis: Lac Ravelobe mouse lemur, golden-brown mouse lemur; microcèbe doré (French); tsidy (Malagasy); guldbrun musmaki (Swedish); M. rufus: rufous mouse lemur, brown mouse lemur, russet mouse lemur; microcèbe roux (French); brauner mausmaki (German); antsidy mena, tsidy, tsitsidy, tsitsihy, kandrandra (Malagasy); maki ratón (Spanish); brun musmaki, röd musmaki, rödbrun muslemur (Swedish); M. sambiranensis: Sambirano mouse lemur; microcèbe du Sambirano (French); tsidy, tsitsihy, vokimbahy (Malagasy); M. simmonsi: Simmon’s mouse lemur; M. tavaratra: northern rufous mouse lemur, Tavaratra mouse lemur; microcèbe roux du nord (French); tsidy (Malagasy).

Conservation status:  multiple…

Life span: 18 years (captive)
Total population: Unknown
Regions: Madagascar
Gestation: approx. 2 months
Height: 8.6 to 12.9 cm (M & F)
Weight: 30.6 to 71.1 g (M & F)

The taxonomy of the genus Microcebus is extremely fluid, with ten new species described since 2000 (Rylands 2007). Groves (2005) lists 8 species in the genus, however since his publication, seven new species have been described and are all here included as full species (Kappeler et al. 2005; Andriantompohavana et al. 2006; Louis et al. 2006; Olivieri et al. 2007). However, M. lokobensis is not considered a species due to its potential synonymy with M. mamiratra (Olivieri et al. 2007). Some researchers are hesitant to accept all new forms of mouse lemur and think that the number of new species may be exaggerated (Tattersall 2007; Sylvia Atsalis pers. comm.). This is likely to remain the case until the situation is made clearer through further research (Tattersall 2007). Generally, the best researched species to date are M. murinus, M. rufus and M. ravelobensis and less or little is known about the other species.


Mouse lemur

Mouse lemurs have a combined head, body and tail length of less than 27 cm (10.6 in) making them the most diminutive of the primates (Mittermeier et al. 2006; Ankel-Simons 2007). Among the mouse lemurs, the superlative goes to M. berthae, which is the world’s smallest primate (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). Mouse lemurs can be divided up into two groups based on their general overall fur coloration. M. murinus and M. griseorufus are generally grayish, while M. rufus, M. ravelobensis, M. myoxinus, M. berthae, M. sambiranensis, M. tavaratra, M. lehilahytsara, M mittermeieri, M. jollyae, and M. simmonsi are overall generally reddish (Olivieri et al. 2007). However, it is difficult to distinguish certain species apart purely by observation, and such species are discriminated from one another based on genetic differences and/or body measurements (Olivieri et al. 2007). There is some intra-specific variation in coloration in some species which further complicates the situation, and in some cases specimens that are very different in coloration have turned out to be the same species when investigated through other means (Heckman et al. 2006; Olivieri et al. 2007).

ll mouse lemurs have a white strip between the eyes (Olivieri et al. 2007). M. lehilahytsara is bright maroon, with a whitish ventrum and an orangeish back, head, and tail (Kappeler et al. 2005). M. rufus has a grayish brown back with a black stripe, reddish arms, grayish-white ventrum and a red-brown head. M. mittermeieri is red-brown or rust colored on its head and back with some orange on its limbs with a white-brown ventrum. M. jollyae is reddish-brown on its back and head and has a grey ventrum. M. simmonsi has dark reddish or orange brown fur on its back, arms, and head and has a grayish white ventrum (Louis et al. 2006). The color of the head of M. bongolavensis and M. danfossi varies with the individual but the back is orangish maroon, and the ventrum is creamy-white (Olivieri et al. 2007). M. mamiratra has a light reddish-brown back and tail, with a white or cream colored ventrum (Andriantompohavana et al. 2006). M. tavaratra has a reddish head, dark brownish back, and a whitish-beige ventrum. M. sambiranensis has a reddish back with a vaguely defined stripe and a whitish-beige ventrum (Rasoloarison et al. 2000). M. ravelobensis has a golden-brown or mottled-red back, with a yellow to white ventrum and a brown tail (Zimmermann et al. 1998; Rasoloarison et al. 2000). M. murinus has a grayish-brown to brownish-gray back, a beige or gray ventrum, and a stripe down the back. M. myoxinus has a red-brown back with a dorsal stripe and red-brown head markings. M. berthae is reddish, with a dorsal line and a head that is brighter than the rest of its coloration. M. griseorufus has a gray back with a cinnamon-brown stripe, reddish markings on its head, and a white ventrum (Rasoloarison et al. 2000).

Recorded head and body length averages are 9.0-9.1 cm (3.5-3.6 in) (M. lehilahytsara), 12.7 cm (5.0 in) (M. ravelobensis), 12.6 cm (5.0 in) (M. tavaratra), 12.3 cm (4.8 in) (M. griseorufus), 9.2 cm (3.6 in) (M. berthae), 11.7 cm (4.6 in) (M. sambiranensis), 12.4 cm (4.8 in) (M. myoxinus), 12.9 cm (5.1) (M. murinus) (Rasoloarison et al. 2000; Kappeler et al. 2005; Andriantompohavana et al. 2006). The average body lengths of M. rufus and M. mamiratra are 8.6 cm (3.4 in) and 9.4 cm (3.7 in) respectively (Andriantompohavana et al. 2006). Recorded body lengths of single individuals are 9.8 cm (3.9 in) (M. simmonsi), 8.2 cm (3.2 in) (M. mittermeieri), and 5.3 cm (2.1 in) (M. jollyae) (Louis et al. 2006).

The body mass of mouse lemurs is seasonally variable, but published body weight averages range from 39.6-48 g (1.4-1.7 oz) (M. lehilahytsara), 51.8-71.7 g (1.8-2.5 oz) (M. ravelobensis), 51.7-61.1 g (1.8-2.2 oz) (M. tavaratra), 43.7g (1.5 oz) (M. rufus), 44.1 g (1.6 oz) (M. mittermeieri), 43.7-62.6 g (1.5-2.2 oz) (M. griseorufus), 60.8 g (2.1 oz) (M. mamiratra), 30.6 g (1.1 oz) (M. berthae), 61.3 g (2.2 oz) (M. jollyae), 40.4-44.1 g (1.4-1.6) (M. sambiranensis), 45.2-49.0 g (1.6-1.7 oz) (M. myoxinus), 53.2-65.5 g (1.9-2.3 oz) (M. murinus) (Rasoloarison et al. 2000; Kappeler et al. 2005; Andriantompohavana et al. 2006; Olivieri et al. 2007; Atsalis 2008). A single adult male M. simmonsi individual weighed 77.8 g (2.7 oz) (Louis et al. 2006).

M. myoxinus is not sexually dimorphic in body size but shows a seasonal swap of dimorphism between males and females, with males consistently heavier than females during the reproductive season with the opposite true the rest of the year (Schwab 2000). A similar seasonal shift in sexual dimorphism of mass is seen in M. murinus (Eberle & Kappeler 2002). Body mass is seasonally variable in M. murinus as well (Fietz 1999). M. rufus do not show significant differences in body mass between the sexes (Sylvia Atsalis pers. comm.; Atsalis 2008).

Neither M. berthae nor M. murinus show sexual dimorphism of body size (Fietz 1999; Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). M. myoxinus are not sexually dimorphic in body size but show a seasonal swap of dimorphism between males and females, with males consistently heavier than during the reproductive season with the opposite true the rest of the year (Schwab 2000). A similar seasonal shift in sexual dimorphism of mass is seen in M. murinus (Dberle & Kappeler 2002).

All mouse lemurs generally move quadrupedally; including running, but also leaping short distances, and some movement on the ground (Martin 1973). However, the usual mode of travel is quadrupedally on branches (Schmidt 2005). Some locomotor differences between mouse lemur species have been discovered. M. ravelobensis, for example, moves through its environment by leaping although M. murinus is predominantly quadrupedal; the differences are probably due to different body morphology, as well as different preferred forest strata (Zimmermann et al. 1998).

In captivity, mouse lemurs have lived over 18 years (Weigl 2005).


Microcebus berthae | Microcebus bongolavensis | Microcebus danfossi | Microcebus griseorufus | Microcebus jollyae | Microcebus lehilahytsara | Microcebus mamiratra | Microcebus mittermeieri | Microcebus murinus | Microcebus myoxinus | Microcebus ravelobensis | Microcebus rufus | Microcebus sambiranensis | Microcebus simmonsi | Microcebus tavaratra

Mouse lemurs, like all other lemurs, are restricted to the island-nation of Madagascar off of the eastern shores of Africa. Between the reddish forms and grayish forms, reddish species (M. rufus, M. ravelobensis, M. myoxinus, M. berthae, M. sambiranensis, M. tavaratra, M. lehilahytsara, M. mittermeieri, M. jollyae, and M. simmonsi) tend toward small spatial distributions while grayish forms (M. murinus and M. griseorufus) have larger distributions (Olivieri et al. 2007). However, species distributions require further investigation and are incompletely known (Kappeler & Rasoloarison 2003).

M. bongolavensis is found between the Sofia River in the north and the Mahajamba River in the south in the northwestern part of Madagascar. The distribution of this species is delimited by the central Malagasy plateau in the east and by the Mozambique Channel in the west. M. danfossi can be found just north of M. bongolavensis, delimited by the Sofia River in the south and the Maevarano River in the north. The eastern and western limits are as in M. bongolavensis (Olivieri et al. 2007). M. rufus is reported from Ranomafana National Park and Mantadia National Parks in southeastern and eastern Madagascar respectively. M. mittermeieri has only been found at the Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve in northern Madagascar, whereas M. jollyae as only be found at the Mananjary and Kianjavato localities in eastern Madagascar. M. simmonsi has only been found in the Betampona Special Reserve and in the Zahamena National Park in northeastern Madagascar (Louis et al. 2006). M. mamiratra is known only from the island of Nosy Be, off the northwest coast of Madagascar (Andriantompohavana et al. 2006). M. ravelobensis is only found in the Ankarafantiska Nature Reserve in northwest Madagascar (Zimmermann et al. 1998). M. tavaratra is only known from the Ankarana Special Reserve in far northern Madagascar (Rasoloarison et al. 2000). M. sambiranensis is only known from Manongarivo Special Reserve in northern Madagascar (Rasoloarison et al. 2000). While not well defined, the M. murinus distribution is wide, roughly stretching in the west of Madagascar from Ankarafantsika National Park south to the Onilahy River, with another pocket of inhabitance in the southeastern tip of the island in the Mandena Conservation Zone (Mittermeier et al. 2006). M. myoxinus is found between the Tsiribihina River and the Soalala Peninsula in northwestern Madagascar. M. berthae is found around the Kirindy/CFPF Forest and perhaps further north in western Madagascar. M. griseorufus inhabits the area around Toliara in southwestern Madagascar north to Lamboharana and may range further south and southeast (Rasoloarison et al. 2000). M. lehilahytsara has only been found at Andasibe and Mantadia National Park in eastern Madagascar (Kappeler et al. 2005). Finally, M. simmonsi has been found only at the Betampona Special Reserve and in the Zahamena National Park in eastern Madagascar (Louis et al. 2006).


In general, all types of forest habitat on Madagascar are called home by mouse lemurs, including forests altered by humans (Kappeler & Rasoloarison 2003; Radespiel 2006). Types of forest in which different species of mouse lemur are found include evergreen littoral, dry deciduous, transitional, gallery, arid spiny, sub-arid thorn scrub, thick scrub, spiny, mangrove, sub-humid, partially evergreen, lowland, lowland and montane tropical humid, and mosaic. They have also been found in old eucalyptus plantations with undergrowth (compiled from the literature by Radespiel 2006). Some species are found in several habitat types, whereas others are found in only one type, although data on restricted habitat use can sometimes be the result of a lack of research (Radespiel 2006; for habitat use by species see Radespiel 2006:214). Mouse lemurs can be found from sea level up to almost 2000 m (reviewed by Radespiel 2006).

Mouse lemur

At one long-term study site of M. rufus at Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar, average annual rainfall was 448.5 cm (176.6 in) with average monthly lows of 13.1°C (55.6°F) and average monthly highs of 22.5°C (72.5°F) (Atsalis 2008). However, monthly variation in precipitation was seen at this site, with a wet season (December-March) during which more rain fell than during the dry season (April-November). At a different study site of sympatric M. ravelobensis and M. murinus in northwestern Madagascar at the Ampijoroa Forestry Reserve, average monthly temperatures ranged from 16°C (60.8 °F) (June-July) to 37°C (98.6 °F) (October-November) with an overall annual average temperature of 27°C (80.6°F) (Rendigs et al. 2003).


Omnivorous food choice is characteristic of all species of mouse lemur and generally, diets are diverse and change depending on the season (Radespiel 2006; Atsalis 2008). For example, foods that are consumed by M. murinus include insect secretions, arthropods, small vertebrates, gum, fruit, flowers, nectar, and also leaves and buds (literature compiled by Radespiel 2006; Radespiel et al. 2006; Lahann 2007). Gums, but also sugary secretions of insects, are extremely important in mouse lemur diets, especially the diets of mouse lemurs living in dry forests (Atsalis 2008). The diets of M. rufus and M. ravelobensis are both similar to the diet of M. murinus (Gould & Sauther 2007). At the only long-term study site of M. rufus diet at the Ranomafana National Park, the species was highly frugivorous, consuming an estimated minimum of 64 kinds of fruit but also members of 9 different orders of insect (Atsalis 1999; 2008). In the same study of mouse lemur diet (M. rufus) to date, fruit of the mistletoe (Bakerella) was found to be a diet staple for the species, and was a keystone food used to get through times of resource scarcity (Atsalis 2008). At this study site, a seasonal change in diet is seen at the end of the rainy season and the early ensuing dry season when there is a significant increase in the number of types and quantities of fruits eaten. Data on the diet of M. berthae is limited, but preliminary data indicates that the species eats mostly animal matter and insect secretions (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2006). Also, where more than one species of mouse lemur are sympatric, diets can be considerably different between the species (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2006; Atsalis 2008).

All mouse lemurs are strictly nocturnal (Schilling et al. 1999; Kappeler & Rasoloarison 2003; Atsalis 2008). In general, mouse lemur activity levels, metabolism, body temperature, and body mass all vary throughout the year and are perhaps viewed best through the lens of an annual cycle which is driven by changes in day length (Atsalis 2008). Mouse lemur seasonal weight fluctuations are also related to changes in daylight duration (Perret & Aujard 2001). Two types of torpor are seen in mouse lemurs; daily and seasonal. Daily torpor functions in energy management, while seasonal torpor functions to help mouse lemurs survive yearly periods of resource scarcity. However, not all mouse lemurs hibernate, and in fact, there appears to be no clear pattern at all. Some individuals of the same species and even the same population hibernate while others do not, and different populations of the same and different species at different locations show varying patterns of torpor (Schmid 2001; reviewed by Atsalis 2008). During torpor and hibernation, metabolic rate as well as body temperature decline, and can reduce the metabolism of the mouse lemur by up to 90% and the body temperature to nearly that of the environment around it (Ortmann et al. 1997; Schmid 2000; 2001).

At one study site in western Madagascar, two different types of torpor are practiced by M. murinus; daily torpor averaging 9.3 hours punctuated by activity, and long-term torpor, which may last for weeks (Schmid 2000). Long-term torpor in M. rufus has lasted between 6-24 weeks (Atsalis 2008). There are also seasonal changes in body weight, with all species gaining weight during the rainy season and losing weight during the dry season (summarized by Radespiel 2006). For example, during the austral winter (May-June) M. murinus and M. rufus begin fattening themselves, gaining body weight as well as increasing the volume of the tail (Petter-Rousseaux 1980; Atsalis 2008). Individuals who enter seasonal torpor lose more weight than those that do not (Radespiel 2006). After a period of long-term torpor, mouse lemurs will have lost all of the preceding weight gain (Atsalis 2008).

Mouse lemur

Home ranges in M. berthae average 0.049 km² (0.02 mi²) (M) and 0.025 km² (0.01 mi²) (F) (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). In M. murinus, home range averages are 0.032 km² (0.01 mi²) (M) and 0.018 km² (0.007 mi²) (F) (Pagès-Feuillade 1988). M. murinus, M. ravelobensis and M. berthae home ranges of both sexes often overlap with those of several other individuals and are usually stable (Pagès-Feuillade 1988; Fietz 1995; Radespiel 2000; Eberle & Kappeler 2002; 2004; Weidt et al. 2004; Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005; Génin 2008). In addition, home ranges of M. griseorufus expand during the rainy season (Génin 2008). The nightly path of M. berthae averages 4470 m (14665.4 ft) (M) and 3190 m (10465.9 ft) (F) (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005).

Mouse lemurs are often found living sympatrically with other primates. For example, at Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar, M. rufus is a member of a primate community that also includes Avahi laniger, Cheirogaleus major, Daubentonia madagascariensis, Eulemur fulvus, Eulemur rubriventer, Hapalemur aureus, Hapalemur griseus, Prolemur simus, Varecia variegata, Lepilemur sp., and Propithecus diadema (Atsalis 1998). In a given habitat, more than one species of mouse lemur can live in sympatry, as is the case with M. murinus and M. ravelobensis in northwestern Madagascar, M. murinus and M. berthae in western Madagascar and M. murinus and M. griseorufus in southern Madagascar and M. murinus and M. myoxinus in western Madagascar as examples (Radespiel et al. 2003b; Schwab & Ganzhorn 2004; Mittermeier et al. 2006). Aggression has been seen between sympatric mouse lemurs and dwarf lemurs (Atsalis 2008).

M. murinus prefers to sleep in holes in trees while the other species of mouse lemur use tree holes as well as a variety of other sleeping site options (Schwab 2000; Radespiel et al. 2003b; Radespiel 2006). When living in sympatry, M. murinus prefers tree holes while M. ravelobensis sleeps on branches, lianas, and leaves; a difference that is attributable to inter-species competition (Radespiel et al. 2003b). M. berthae sleeps alone in thick vegetation (Schwab 2000). In the dry season, over a dozen individuals of M. murinus have been found in a single tree hole sleeping site (Rasoazanabary 2006).

Possible and potential predators of mouse lemurs include a variety of nocturnal viverrids, mongooses, and domestic dogs as well as several different types of raptor (reviewed in Goodman et al. 1993; Atsalis 1998). Snakes are also predators of mouse lemurs and have been seen attacking M. murinus (Richard 1978; Eberle & Kappeler 2008). In wild M. murinus, several individuals were observed to mob and even bite a Malagasy tree boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis) that was attacking an adult male, permitting its escape (Eberle & Kappeler 2008). The Madagascar long-eared owl and the Madagascar harrier-hawk both prey on mouse lemurs (Goodman et al. 1991; Karpanty & Goodman 1999). The red owl (Tyto soumagnei) is a predator of the northern rufous mouse lemur (M. tavaratra) (Cardiff & Goodman 2008). In fact, predation can be quite severe, with estimates at Beza Mahafaly, southern Madagascar assigning a 25% loss each year in the entire M. murinus population exclusively to owl predation (Goodman et al. 1993).

Content last modified: February 11, 2009

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Sylvia Atsalis.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2009 February 11. Primate Factsheets: Mouse lemur (Microcebus) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2020 July 16.




Mouse lemurs live within a dispersed yet complex social structure and are not solitary although they forage alone (Radespiel 2000; Schwab 2000; Weidt et al. 2004; Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). Within this dispersed multi-male/multi-female system exist social relationships in which individual mouse lemurs are able to personally recognize other mouse lemur individuals and have established relationships with them (Radespiel 2000; Weidt et al. 2004). This is evidenced by regular encounters with conspecifics and steady home ranges and stable sleeping groups (Radespiel 2000; Weidt et al. 2004). However, not all mouse lemurs have the same level of nighttime gregariousness; M. rufus, being strongly solitary during its nightly activity periods, has been seen with conspecifics in only around 10% of observations (Atsalis 2008). M. berthae has been seen in close proximity to another only 3.2 times in 100 hours of observation (Schwab 2000). In all, M. murinus may be the most social of mouse lemurs studied, seen in close proximity with conspecifics 96 times per 100 hours of observation with females found frequently in proximity throughout the night (Schwab 2000; Radespiel et al. 2001a).

Even though they exist in a dispersed social structure, mouse lemurs organize themselves into matrilineal groups (Radespiel et al. 2001b).

Mouse lemur nesting

Sleeping groups are the basal social unit in mouse lemurs (Radespiel et al. 2001b; Weidt et al. 2004). While often alone at night, at communal sleeping sites mouse lemurs are often found with others although again, there is variation between species as well as season (see Radespiel 2006; Atsalis 2008). M. murinus sleeping groups can contain up to 16 individuals, but M. rufus sleeping groups usually contain between 1 and 5 (Rasoazanabary 2006; Atsalis 2008). However, there are differences in the formation of sleeping groups between the species of mouse lemur. In M. murinus for example, females usually sleep with a regular group of other females at sleeping sites, while males usually sleep alone (Radespiel 2000). M. ravelobensis as well as M. berthae form sleeping groups comprised of both sexes (Weidt et al. 2000). In M. murinus, such sleeping groups consist of closely related individuals and when no close female kin are available, females will sleep alone (Radespiel et al. 2001b). Further, M. myoxinus do not form sleeping groups and usually sleep alone (Schwab 2000). These differences underscore variation among the mouse lemurs relative to one another but overall, the same general dispersed social organization follows (Weidt et al. 2004).

While the sleeping site changes, the composition of a discrete sleeping group stays relatively constant (Weidt et al. 2004). Sometimes, a sleeping group of M. ravelobensis will aggregate prior to entering the sleeping site but at other times group members also enter individually (Braune et al. 2005). In this species, within group coordination and between group spacing is maintained through various mechanisms including vocal and olfactory communication (Braune et al. 2005). M. ravelobensis groups utilize exclusive sleeping sites (Braune et al. 2005).

Mouse lemurs exhibit a variety of social behaviors (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). Grooming and huddling occurs at the beginning and end of the night, and other behaviors such as chasing and fighting are seen (M. berthae) (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). In M. berthae, there are indications of female dominance over male individuals, as is also the case in captive M. murinus (Radespiel & Zimmermann 2001b; Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). In captivity, amongst themselves, male individuals sometimes establish dominance relationships (Andrès et al. 2001; Radespiel et al. 2002). Most social encounters in M. ravelobensis are not aggressive, and those that are usually occur right before the mating season (Weidt et al. 2004).

There is evidence that male M. rufus, M. murinus, M. ravelobensis and M. berthae disperse while females are philopatric (Atsalis 2000; Radespiel et al. 2001b; 2003b; Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). However, male dispersal is not universal, and in some populations, both sexes of M. murinus disperse, albeit more often in males (Radespiel et al. 2003a). In M. griseorufus, young males disperse (Génin 2008). Dispersal in M. murinus occurs before 7 months old, before the mating season (Radespiel et al. 2003a).


Mouse lemurs are best described as promiscuous, but although their mating systems are incompletely known (reviewed in Kappeler 2000; Kappeler & Rasoloarison 2003; reviewed in Atsalis 2008). For example, the mating system of M. berthae is promiscuous, and there is evidence to suggest scramble competition (Dammhahn & Kappeler 2005). M. murinus in most cases mates within the framework of scramble competition polygyny but likely not exclusively so (Eberle & Kappeler 2002). In captive populations of this species, both scramble competition and contest competition are seen and in truth, the nature of the M. murinus mating system remains unclear; a wide ranging species such as M. murinus may be potentially flexible exhibiting different mating systems as a result of the various environments in which they range (Eberle & Kappeler 2004b; Eberle et al. 2007; Génin 2007).

Mouse lemurs seasonally restrict mating to specific times of the year (when pooled between species roughly between September-January but perhaps at other times); however there is variation between and within species between duration and temporal onset of breeding (see Radespiel 2006 for a summary; Blanco 2008). Reproductive activity in mouse lemurs is triggered by seasonal changes in the length of daylight (e.g. Wrogemann et al. 2001; Randrianambinina et al. 2003). New data regarding M. griseorufus places their mating season between September and January, during the rainy season (Génin 2008).

During the breeding season, there are morphological changes in the genitals of both sexes (Atsalis 2008). Male testes swell at the onset of the breeding season to a substantial size (see review of species and research in Atsalis 2008). For example, the testes of captive M. murinus swell 5-10 times larger during the breeding season (Perret 1992). The female vagina is closed except during estrus and birth and estrus, and at the beginning of an estrus cycle will exhibit changes in color and morphology (Bourlière et al. 1961; Martin 1972; van Horn & Eaton 1979; Perret 1990).

Mouse lemur females can have more than one estrus cycle per breeding season (Blanco 2008). For example, M. rufus females in the wild average 2.5 estrus cycles per reproductive season, each averaging 59 days (Wrogemann & Zimmermann 2001). M. murinus females average 2.25 cycles per season each lasting 52 days (Wrogemann et al. 2001). Although not all females show estrus synchrony, in wild M. rufus most come into estrus at the beginning of the mating season and as the season passes, the proportion of females in estrus is reduced (Atsalis 2008; Blanco 2008). In captive M. murinus, once breeding season is entered, the first female estrus is strongly synchronized within a population, but subsequent cycles are not so (Radespiel & Zimmermann 2001a). Females in a given population of M. murinus are not all receptive at the same time (Eberle & Kappeler 2004b). M. murinus females, both spatially and over time were not synchronized in their receptivity (Eberle & Kappeler 2002). M. griseorufus females do not have synchronized estrus (Génin 2008). Receptivity is short-lived, with M. rufus and M. murinus females receptive only for several hours of a single day of each estrus cycle (Wrogemann & Zimmermann 2001; Eberle & Kappeler 2004a). In the western Malagasy Kirindy Forest, an individual female will come into estrus for only a single night, and will mate with several males during that night and up to 11 times (Eberle & Kappeler 2004a; Eberle et al. 2007).

In captivity, M. murinus males form a dominance hierarchy, with higher ranking males showing more sexual behaviors than lower ranking males and mating more often (Andrès et al. 2001; Radespiel et al. 2002). Before and during early estrus, males search for chemosensory indications of receptive females (Andrès et al. 2001). Females reply aggressively to male solicitations before the female becomes receptive (Andrès et al. 2001). In captivity, sexual behaviors include smelling and licking of genitalia, sexual pursuit, and mounting. Copulation occurs in a dorsalventral position with the male behind the female (Andrès et al. 2001). In captivity, the duration of copulation varies (Wrogemann & Zimmermann 2001). M. murinus deposit sperm plugs during copulation (Eberle et al. 2007). In captivity, there is experimental evidence for (M. murinus) female mate choice between available males (Craul et al. 2004). Also in captivity, higher-ranking male M. murinus individuals usually have more reproductive success than subordinates although in a different study of the species also in captivity, even though dominant males mated more, they only fathered around half the offspring born into the group (Andrés et al. 2001; Radespiel et al. 2002).

In captivity, M. murinus males form a dominance hierarchy, with higher ranking males showing more sexual behaviors than lower ranking males and mating more often (Andrès et al. 2001; Radespiel et al. 2002). Before and during early estrus, males search for chemosensory indications of receptive females (Andrès et al. 2001). Females reply aggressively to male solicitations before the female becomes receptive (Andrès et al. 2001). In captivity, sexual behaviors include smelling and licking of genitalia, sexual pursuit, and mounting. Copulation occurs in a dorsalventral position with the male behind the female (Andrès et al. 2001). In captivity, the duration of copulation varies (Wrogemann & Zimmermann 2001). M. murinus deposit sperm plugs during copulation (Eberle et al. 2007). In captivity, there is experimental evidence for (M. murinus) female mate choice between available males (Craul et al. 2004). Also in captivity, higher-ranking male M. murinus individuals usually have more reproductive success than subordinates although in a different study of the species also in captivity, even though dominant males mated more, they only fathered around half the offspring born into the group (Andrés et al. 2001; Radespiel et al. 2002).

M. rufus have a gestation length of 57 days, while the value for M. murinus is 62 days (Colas 1999; Wrogemann et al. 2001). One wild M. griseorufus had a gestation length of 52 days (Génin 2008).

M. murinus and M. rufus reproduce in the first year of their lives (Perret 1992; Atsalis 2008; Sylvia Atsalis pers. comm.).

M. murinus testicular development in captive males averages around 186 days and wild M. rufus reproduce in the first year of their lives (Perret 1992; Atsalis 2007).


At birth, M. murinus born in captivity weigh 7.2 g (0.3 oz) (M) and 4.6 g (0.2 oz) (F) (data compiled by Smith & Lee 1998). The offspring of M. rufus have a gray back and a cream-colored belly contrasting sharply with the golden brown of their mother (Atsalis 2008). M. murinus infants are similarly colored, with a gray back with a stripe down their back and a bare abdomen (Glatston 1979). The eyes are open within two and four days of birth in M. murinus (Martin 1972; Glatson 1979). Infants are born capable of clinging (M. murinus) (Glatson 1979).

In captivity, M. murinus infants are carried until 6 weeks old but never ride on the fur of the mother (Martin 1972; Eberle & Kappeler 2006). Mouse lemur mothers carry their infants by the mouth, grasping the infant’s dorsum (head, neck, back) (Martin 1972; Atsalis 2008). Allomothering is seen in M. murinus with individual females nursing and grooming infants that are not their own (Eberle & Kappeler 2003; 2006). In addition, captive female M. murinus show a preference in care to male infants (Colas 1999). In captivity, M. murinus infants are first seen out of the nest at three weeks old and first eat solid foods at one month of age (Martin 1975). Play in M. murinus starts between 10 and 13 days old, and also around this time the adult sleeping posture is adopted, in which the animal curls on its side as opposed to the infant posture of sleeping flat on their ventrum (Glatson 1979). Leaping in wild M. murinus starts at three weeks of age (Martin 1972). Infant M. murinus are weaned around six weeks of age (Martin 1975). Independence is attained in M. rufus by two months of age (Atsalis 2007).

In captivity, M. murinus infants emit three distinct vocalizations, ‘whistles’ (isolation and threat contexts), ‘tsaks’ (threat contexts), and ‘purrs’ (grooming contexts) (Scheumann et al. 2007). Infants do not mark, but start urine-washing around 40 days of age (M. murinus) (Glatson 1979).

M. griseorufus usually raise only one litter per year, consisting of only one or two offspring (Génin 2008). The same is true for M. rufus, although the litter may two or three offspring (Atsalis 2008). Wild M. murinus litters are usually twins, but can also be singletons or triplets (Martin 1972). In general, the majority of wild (M. murinus) females die before they can reproduce, with only half of individuals of both sexes reaching an age of 10 months old (Lutermann et al. 2006).


Mouse lemurs lack true scent glands, however scent marking which deposits saliva, urine, feces, and genital secretions is used in communication (Glatston 1983; Perret 1995). Urine-marking, especially through urine-washing, is the most common marking behavior in captive M. murinus and urine functions as the primary mode of olfactory communication (Perret 1995; Schilling 2000). In captivity, olfactory communication in mouse lemurs functions in individual recognition, sexual attraction, conveying alarm, and potentially in territory marking. Further, captive dominant individuals mark more than others (Glatston 1983). Females in estrus increase ano-genital marking as well as muzzle rubbing behaviors which may serve to inform conspecifics of their reproductive state (Buesching et al. 1998). Olfactory communicatory urine-washing and mouth-wiping (M. ravelobensis) are seen after leaving the sleeping site at the beginning of the night but not upon retiring at the end of the activity period, probably functioning to help mouse lemurs find their sleeping site as well as potentially marking it as their own (Braune et al. 2005).


Mouse lemurs have been described as very vocal, emitting seven or eight general types of vocalizations (Martin 1972; Schilling 2000). In addition, there are several types of ultrasonic call which are emitted by M. murinus (Cherry et al. 1987; Schilling 2000). There is evidence that mouse lemur species have differences in reproductive advertisement calls, allowing sympatric species to find and mate with conspecifics (Zimmermann et al. 1999; Braune et al. 2008). However, there is significant variation in predator-avoidance whistle calls such that differences within a given species can be as great as differences between species (Zimmermann et al. 1999). The trill, which is used in group (M. ravelobensis) coordination, is different in each group and is heard at the reunion of the sleeping group at the end of the nightly activity period (Braune et al. 2005). Further, M. murinus females have a special trill which they utter during estrus which serves to advertise their reproductive state (Buesching et al. 1998). Males also emit a trill call to advertise during the mating system, and in many cases this call is unique and identifiable to an individual M. murinus male (Zimmermann & Lerch 1993). Some contact calls likely serve to communicate information about dominance (Schilling 2000).

Visual communication such as postures and facial expressions play a limited role in mouse lemur communication (Schilling 2000). Interestingly, there is evidence of vocal learning, in which subordinates or immigrant males may copy the vocalizations of resident males with the goal of acceptance into a new population and/or potential reproductive opportunities (Hafen et al. 1998).

Content last modified: February 11, 2009

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Sylvia Atsalis.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2009 February 11. Primate Factsheets: Mouse lemur (Microcebus) Behavior . <>. Accessed 2020 July 16.





CITES: Appendix I (What is CITES?)
IUCN Red List: M. berthae, M. sambiranensis, M. ravelobensis, M. tavaratra: EN; M. griseorufus, M. murinus, M. rufus: LC; M. jollyae, M. simmonsi, M. bongolavensis, M. danfossi, M. myoxinus, M. mamiratra, M. lehilahytsara, M. mittermeieri: DD (What is Red List?)
Key: EN = Endangered, EN = Endangered, EN = Endangered, EN = Endangered, LC = Least concern, LC = Least concern, LC = Least concern, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient, DD = Data deficient
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)

Mouse lemur

Whereas several species of mouse lemur are widespread, the recognition of more and more diversity is indicating that some species are found only in restricted areas or localities, increasing the chances that local habitat alteration and degradation will seriously affect their survival (Yoder et al. 2000; Kappeler & Rasoloarison 2003). As a result, a reassessment of the threat levels of mouse lemurs is needed and the status of some species may be worse than assumed (Rasoazanabary 2004; Louis et al. 2006).

Estimates place the entire extant population of M. berthae at less than 8000 individuals while the status of M. lehilahytsara is not known (Schwab & Ganzhorn 2004; Roos & Kappeler 2006).


Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

Human activities have the potential to affect mouse lemurs adversely by degrading or destroying habitats, especially through slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, the production of charcoal, commercial maize farming, brush fires, the collection of firewood, and sapphire mining (Mittermeier et al. 2006). For example, at the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve in southwest Madagascar, trees used by mouse lemurs are logged by locals, as well as exploited for honey collection. In addition, forest is degraded for livestock grazing, as well as through slash-and-burn agriculture (Rasoazanabary 2004). For example, slash-and-burn agriculture is also the main threat to the lemurs of Marojejy Strict Nature Reserve (including M. rufus) in northeast Madagascar (Duckworth et al. 1995). Although mouse lemurs are sometimes found in secondary forests, their body mass and population densities are lower in some such habitats, less food is available, fewer individuals enter torpor, and there are less appropriate sleeping sites. (Ganzhorn & Schmid 1998). Even though mouse lemurs are found in some secondary habitats, they are not optimal for the species (Ganzhorn & Schmid 1998). Forest degradation also has the potential to exacerbate competition and upset the ecological balance between sympatric species of mouse lemur. In fact, degradation could conceivably alter habitats in such a way that one species of mouse lemur could speed the elimination of another sympatric species of mouse lemur (Schwab & Ganzhorn 2004). Some species of mouse lemur (M. murinus) rely on tree-hole nests for torpor, hibernation, and for infant rearing; forest degradation has the potential to significantly alter the availability of optimal resting places for the species, and may affect their survival (Schmid 1998; Sylvia Atsalis pers. comm.).

Threat: Invasive Alien Species

Introduced predators, such as feral cats and dogs pose an added predation threat to M. ravelobensis (Mittermeier et al. 2006).

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

M. murinus are sometimes captured as pets (Mittermeier et al. 2006).





Content last modified: February 11, 2009

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by Sylvia Atsalis.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2009 February 11. Primate Factsheets: Mouse lemur (Microcebus) Conservation . <>. Accessed 2020 July 16.



The following references were used in the writing of this factsheet. To find current references for Microcebus, search PrimateLit.


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Content last modified: February 11, 2009




Microcebus griseorufus
Photo: Leanne Nash

Microcebus murinus
Photo: Alan H. Shoemaker
Microcebus murinus
Photo: J. Visser
Microcebus murinus
Photo: Verena Behringer
Microcebus murinus
Photo: Verena Behringer

Microcebus rufus
Photo: K. Preston

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