Ring-tailed Lemur

ORDER: Primates

FAMILY: Lemuridae

GENUS: Lemur

SPECIES: catta

Head-body length 15-18 inches, tail length 22-24 inches, weight around 6.5-7.75 pounds. Pelage is soft, thick and woolly. Conspicuous black-and-white banded tail. Gray to brown back, white under-parts, a white face with dark brown triangular eye patches and white ears. Eyes are bright red-brown or orange. Face is elongated and fox-like. Females have one pair of mammae. Hind limbs are considerably longer than forelimbs, giving a hunched, leaning-forward look as they stand or move. Scent glands are present on wrists, arms and chests and are used to mark territory and foraging routes.

Dry scrub, spiny, or closed-canopy gallery (riverside) forests of southern Madagascar. One population lives in some of the dry, rocky treeless areas in Andringitra National Park and they are perfectly at home on rocky outcrops and vertical cliffs (the only lemur species to have adapted to a treeless environment in the wild).

Omnivorous. Fruit, leaves, flowers, bark, sap, herbs and the rare insect or small vertebrate. A favorite is the edible coating of the seed pod of the tamarind tree.

These diurnal lemurs start the day soaking up the sun, forage until noon, nap during the hottest part of the day, forage in the late afternoon and evening, and sleep in the trees at night. Ringtails defend resources but are not strictly territorial. Ranges can be 15 to 60 acres, depending on the type of habitat and thus the available resources. Troops of 5-24 have non-overlapping territories and disputes usually involve opposing groups of females running at each other and vocalizing. Larger groups form a core group of adult females and infants, juveniles and one or more high-ranking males. Females are extremely dominant and win all disputes with males. Females have dominance relationships, but not dominance hierarchies and there is not always a single, individual leader for the entire group. Even infants grapple for dominance. Females reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age, have their first young at three years and annually thereafter. Males reach sexual maturity at two and a half years of age, but must contend with older males who will curtail any mating on their part. Mating season is mid-April. Females enter estrous for only a few hours of a single day, although all the females of a group will enter estrous within two weeks of one another. Males fight viciously for mating privileges during these narrow time windows. Females typically mate with more than one male, often with one from another troop. Gestation is 134-138 days and usually one infant is born, sometimes two if food is abundant. Infants are carried ventrally the first two weeks, then on the back. At two and a half months the infant leaves the mother at times to play, explore and sample solid foods. Final weaning is at 5-6 months. Females in the group with newborns will handle and even nurse other females' infants as well as attend groups of young as they play. Adult males emigrate periodically and some females are driven out. Lifespan is 27 years.

Males have fingernail-like wrist spurs which are used to rub on the scent glands of the inner arm and then scar branches and leave scent. They also have "stink fights" in which they face each other and wave tails which have been rubbed on strong-smelling wrist glands. The palms of this lemur are long, smooth and leather-like, affording a firm footing on slippery rocks, and the great toe is smaller than other, more arboreal species.

Although considered arboreal animals, they spend more time on the ground than other lemurs. Movement is by quadrupedal walking, running, or galloping, but short bouts of bipedal running have been observed. When a troop travels on the ground, the members keep their tails raised straight up, like flags, for group cohesion. Vocalizations: 1) the territorial call given by males is a long plaintive howl that carries one kilometer; 2) the alarm call is an"oua-oua" uttered by the whole group - there is one call for aerial predators and another for terrestrial danger; 3) most often heard is the high pitched cat-like meow used for group cohesion; 4) rapid staccato grunts are made by two aggressive individuals; and 5) the distress call is a high-pitched, piercing call made during a fight. Ring tailed lemurs have become reliable ecotourism magnets and bring visitors, cash and business into Madagascar.

The Ring-Tailed Lemurs can be found in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo.

All species of Lemur are listed as endangered by the USDI and are listed on Appendix I of CITES as "near threatened". They are declining through loss of habitat due to industrial activity, logging, and agriculture. L. catta is also vulnerable due to hunting for food and the illegal pet trade. Species listed as Endangered by IUCN.


  1. Hutchins, Michael, Ed. 2004. Grzimek
  2. Novak, Ronald. 1999. Walker
  3. Rowe, Noel. 1996. The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. Pogonias Press, Charlestown, RI, pp. 38-9.