The Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur Catta) is a large prosimian (representing forms that were ancestral to monkeys, apes and humans), belonging to the family Lemuridae'. The name 'lemur' comes from the Roman festival 'Lemuria', during which ghosts were exorcised. It is descriptive of some lemurs' nocturnal habits, noiseless move-ments, reflective eyes, and ghost like cries and appearance. Today lemurs are known as 'ghosts of the forest.' Like all other lemurs, it is found only on the island of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands off of the East Coast of Africa.
Lemurs are endang-ered species or threatened species. Many species went extinct in the last centuries, mainly due to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting. Rainforest Lemurs are mostly grey with white under parts. Lemurs have a slender frame, a narrow face that is white with black patches around the eyes and a black fox-like muzzle.
The lemur can easily be recognized by its long, bushy tail that is ringed with twenty six black and white rings. Lemur's tails always begin with a white stripe and end with a black one. Their tails are longer than their bodies at up to 22 inches in length. The Lemur has hind limbs longer than their forelimbs and the palms and soles are padded with soft, leathery skin. Their fingers are slender and semi-dexterous (semi-skillful) with flat, human-like nails. Lemurs have one claw, known as a 'toilet claw' (a comb-like claw), and a second toe of each hind limb specialized for grooming purposes.
A Lemur in the wild can live between 16-18 year and 18-20 years in captivity. These primates also groom orally by licking and tooth-scraping with narrow, horizontal lower incisors and canines, called a 'tooth comb'. Lemur's eyes are a bright yellow or orange color, which stay the same color from the time they are born. Adults may reach a body length of 18 inches and a weight 12 pounds. Lemurs use their sense of smell to communicate with each other. Lemurs have scent glands on their behinds and on their feet that leave odors on surfaces they encounter. When other lemurs pass by, they smell those odors and can tell that another lemur has been there. Lemurs have big, bushy tails that they wave in the air as another form of communication. These big tails also help lemurs balance when they leap from tree to tree.
The Lemur primarily eats fruits and leaves, particularly those of the 'tamarind tree. When available, tamarind can make up as much as 50% of the Lemurs diet yearly. The Lemur is also known to eat flowers, herbs, bark and sap. Additionally, it has been observed eating decayed wood, earth, insects and small vertebrates. Lemurs have several different habitats on Madagascar ranging from rainforests to dry areas of the island. They inhabit deciduous forests with grass floors or forests along riverbanks (gallery forests). Some also inhabit wet, closed brush where few trees grow. The Lemur is thought to require primary forest (forests which have remained undisturbed by human activity) in order to survive. Such forests are now being cleared at an alarming rate. The Lemur is diurnal (an animal that is active during the daytime and rests during the night) and inhabits both the ground (terrestrial) and the trees (arboreal) and forms troops of up to 25 individuals. Social hierarchies are determined by sex. Females have a distinct hierarchy and socially dominate males in all circumstances, including feeding priority. Males tend to be confined to a lower or outer limit of group activity and will alternate between troops approximately every 3 years.
Lemur troops claim sizable territories which may overlap with those of other troops. Up to 3.5 miles of this territory may be covered in a single days foraging. Lemurs are very vocal animals. Around fifteen distinct vocalizations are used to maintain group togetherness during foraging and alert group members to the presence of a predator or threat. Male and female lemurs scent mark with their genital regions, they also possess scent glands on their wrists and on the surface of their shoulders. These glands secrete a greasy substance which is used to mark territories and maintain group dominance hierarchies. Males also possess a thorny spur on each wrist that is scraped against tree trunks to create grooves lubricated with their scent. In display s of aggression, males will engage in a social display behavior called 'stink fighting' which involves covering their tails with scent from their glands and then waving the scented tail at male rivals. Males will also occasionally wave their scented tails at females as a form of courtship. This usually results in the female cuffing or biting the male. Despite being primarily quadrupled (four-footed), the Lemur can rear up and balance on its hind legs, usually for aggressive displays. In the mornings, Lemurs usually bask to warm themselves. They face the sun, sitting in what is frequently described as a 'sun-worshipping' posture or 'Lotus position'. However, they sit with their legs extended outward, not cross-legged and will often support themselves on nearby branches. Basking is often a group activity.
The Lemur breeding season runs from April to June. This results in a birth of either one or two offspring. The young lemurs begin to eat solid food after two months and are fully weaned after five months. When lemurs are born, they are carried in their mother's mouths until they are old enough to hang on to her fur by themselves. Males reach sexual maturity at two and a half years of age and females at nineteen and a half months. Most lemurs live for about eighteen years.
Lemurs have both natural and introduced predators. Native predators include the Fossa, Madagascar Harrier-hawk, Madagascar Buzzard and the domestic dogs and humans. Lemurs play an important role in the ecology of Madagascar and the Comores Islands, because they disperse seeds from the fruit they eat. These seeds can then grow into new plants, which is important because the forests of Madagascar are being destroyed at a very high rate. People in Madagascar cut down the forests there to use the wood, and to grow agricultural crops in its place. In fact, eighty percent of the lemur's original habitat in Madagascar has been destroyed. We have two Ring Tailed Lemurs named Curly and Moe. If you would like to meet them give us a call or send us an email.