With an average length of 9.2cm, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur certainly has a disproportionately long name. However, since the species takes its name from conservationist and primatologist Professor Berthe Rakotosamimanana, it could have been far longer.
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur was entirely unknown until 1992, when scientists mistook it for the pygmy lemur. It’s an understandable mistake. With an average length of 12-13cm, the pygmy lemur was once the smallest primate in the world. That is, until Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur knocked it off its minuscule pedestal. It wasn’t until 2000 that the tiny lemur gained recognition as its own species. Though tiny, they’re far from as harmless as their cute round eyes and tiny frame might suggest. Anne Yoder, the director of the Duke Lemur Center told the Washington Post “Mouse lemurs are tiny but they are fierce… Bare skin anywhere near a mouse lemur is ill-advised.”
Not only is Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur scrappy, it also has a highly unusual survival trait. Most lemurs hibernate in the winter when Madagascar’s climate become too cool and dry to sustain a lot of vegetation. Madame Berthe’s mouse lemurs have a different approach. These little lemurs live in the Kirindy Forest of Madagascar, in a wider territory (up to 3 ha) than individuals of other lemur species, giving them access to more food when things are scarce. But what’s really amazing is their bodies’ ability to lower its metabolism and temperature to retain more energy and water. What’s more, because of their tiny frames, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemurs don’t need to eat nearly as much as larger animals, making them ideal survivors in areas without enough vegetation to sustain other lemurs.
Like so many of the diverse inhabitants of Madagascar, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is endangered. It’s important that we recognise the value of natural regions like Madagascar and do our best to protect its valuable species, even the tough little ones.