Diademed Sifaka

Propithecus diadema

Critically Endangered

Critically Endangered

11 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kg)

About 25 years



Mostly Arboreal

Gestation: about 6 months
Young: 1 or 2
Weight at birth: 3 to 4 ounces (85 to 113 grams)

Habitat Loss
Deforestation for Agriculture and Illegal Logging
Being Hunted as a Food Source


Throughout much of their range, diademed sifaka share habitat with indri, but the two species reduce competition for food by feeding at different levels of the forest and seeking out different plants.

Diademed sifaka have been observed seeking out the nectar-laden flowers of the unusual subterranean parasitic plants Langsdorffia sp. and Cytinus sp., using their sense of smell to locate the bizarre blooms under leaf litter.

These sifaka use two alarm vocalizations to warn of predators. “Tzisk-tzisk-tzisk” is the call for a predator on the ground, and a “honk-honk-honk” indicates an aerial predator.

Sifaka have been referred to as “sacred sun worshippers.” This comes from the sifaka’s habit of basking in the early morning sun before heading out to forage for food.

Sifaka can jump! In the trees, they can jump across expanses of nearly 40 feet (12.2 meters) to move from one tree to another. On the ground, they hop while holding their arms out, which has been said to look like “dancing.”

Sifaka, like all lemurs, have modified lower incisors specialized for grooming. Tall, slender, and evenly spaced, this “toothcomb” helps to clean the hair. Resting individuals are commonly seen licking and combing one another’s fur.


The diademed sifaka is one of the largest lemur species, a beautiful primate with an unmistakable appearance. It has a bare black or dark-gray face framed with white hair, with a patch of black on the top of its head. The white around the head resembles a “diadem,” an ornamental headband worn by royalty, from which this sifaka gets its name. The coat is long and silky, gray and white on the body, and reddish-golden on the limbs, with a long white tail.

Their strong limbs and long tail make travel in the trees graceful and swift. Sifaka differ from other lemurs by their dramatic habit of “clinging and leaping” in trees. Sitting upright, they spring forward using the strength of their back legs, vaulting to another branch or tree and then firmly grabbing hold.

©Michael Hogan

Foods and Feeding

Leaves make up most of the sifaka’s diet, though they also eat fruit, flowers, and bark. Individuals lie on, sit on, or hang from branches while eating.


Diademed sifaka begin the day by soaking up the morning sun, basking in the treetops with their arms stretched out to heat their torso, before going out to look for food. Vocalizations are mainly used to maintain group cohesion as they forage. Groups have distinct territories of 20 to 30 hectares, and they define them by scent marking. Males scent mark twice as often as the females, and the frequency doubles near the territorial boundaries. These lemurs also use tactile communication among members of their group: grooming, play, and aggression when needed.

Habitat Use

Life in the trees protects sifaka groups from the few predators that share their forest home, such as the fosa. Loud, piercing alarm calls warn of danger. All members of a group may simultaneously produce the explosive, nasal, hiss-like call “shi-fakh, shi-fakh, shi-fakh.” This distinctive call is what gives these types of lemurs the name sifaka.

Diademed sifaka groups may travel several hundred meters a day, between high up in the canopy to low down in the understory, searching for food. Because they eat a good amount of fruit, they have an important role in maintaining forest diversity by dispersing seeds.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Sifaka live in small, social groups numbering two to nine individuals, and females are dominant over males and get first choice of food and mates. The groups may have several breeding females and several breeding males, along with sub-adults and infants. Both sexes move between groups and may mate with others outside of their family group. Juveniles are independent at about the age of two, and they reach maturity at about four years of age for females and five for males.

Conservation and Threats

There are thought to be less than 10,000 diademed sifaka currently living in the wild. Habitat destruction is the main reason for declining population sizes, along with being hunted as food. In some areas, their forest habitat is threatened by illegal rum production: trees are cut down to grow sugarcane, the trees are used as firewood for boiling the liquid, and bark of certain trees is used to flavor the rum. Safeguarding of populations within existing protected areas and community-based conservation actions are needed to help ensure the sifaka’s continued survival.