Lifestyle and Lifespan
Ring-tailed lemurs are the only member of the genus Lemur. They are easily distinguishable by their black and white striped tails and are not readily confused with any other species. Their dorsal fur is greyish brown and their underside is cream colored. They have white faces with dark triangular patches around the eyes and dark muzzles.
Ring-tailed Lemurs are the only species in the genus Lemur. With their unique black and white striped tails, they are not confusable with any other type of lemur. Ring-tailed Lemurs are much more terrestrial than any other lemur species and they live in larger social groups than any other lemurs as well (up to 24 individuals).
Both sexes have scent glands that are used to mark their territory. Females rub their anal gland on a tree to mark it, while males have scent glands and spurs on their wrists that allow them to make visible as well as olfactory markings.
Dry forest, gallery forest, spiny bush. An isolated population lives in high elevation rocky outcrops.
Ring-tailed lemurs are found only in southern and southwestern Madagascar and in a single isolated population within Andringitra National Park.
Ring-tailed Lemurs eat primarily fruit and leaves. Their diet has been shown to include at least 109 species of plant, one of the most important being the Tamarind, from which they consume the leaves and seeds. They have also been found, as with most foliage-eating primates, to consume soil. It is hypothesized that this is to increase their sodium intake.
As fruit eating herbivores, lemurs are important seed dispersers. Seeds are ingested when they eat a fruit, and are expelled in their feces, with bonus compost included! Ring-tailed lemurs are prey for several mesocarnivores of Madagascar, such as civets and fossa.
Troops will become active just before dawn each day. The Lemurs will spend the morning feeding and sunning, then find a shady location to rest mid-day before continuing to feed in the late afternoon. Their sunning position is distinctive to the species: sitting upright on their haunches with their undersides exposed to direct sunlight, their forearms resting on their knees. A troop will generally range no more than 1km from the point where they woke up on a given day.
Large social groups benefit these lemurs in several ways. Females are often observed assisting with the care of infants from other females in the same troop, leading to increased infant survival. Living in a group also deters predators that prefer to hunt solitary prey and multiplies the number of eyes keeping a watch for predators that do try to prey on lemurs.
Ring-tailed lemurs form social groups of 15-25 individuals. Females generally remain with their natal group for their entire lifespan, while males commonly migrate between groups. Males will leave their natal group between 3-5 years of age and move between groups every 3-5 years thereafter with the rate of transfer decreasing with age. The long-term effect of male migration is the minimization of inbreeding and the maximization of gene flow. Troops will have overlapping home ranges, so the species should not be considered strictly territorial. The size of the home range is strongly affected by the quality of the vegetation available. Groups living in areas of favorable forest along rivers will have home ranges only one half to one third as large as groups living in marginal or unfavorable habitats.
Ring-tailed lemurs have a highly synchronized reproductive cycles due to the seasonality of food resources. Mating begins in April, and after a gestation of 130-144 days young are born in August and September. All infants within a troop may be born within a matter of days. Males will compete with one another for the right to mate with females, generally through 'stink fights.' During these alternations, the males will run their tails between the scent glands located on their wrists and then flick them at each other, wafting their scent toward their opponent. The winning male will mate with the female in question, though females typically mate with several males during estrous.
Single offspring is most common, twins are born on occasion (more commonly when food is plentiful). Young are weaned at around five months of age and receive care from the mother for approximately one year. Males do not play a role in caring for their offspring. The infant mortality rate it 30-50% in the first year, but this rate is lower for older and/or second-time mothers. Females are frequently observed caring for other females' offspring from the same troop.
Endangered (IUCN), Listed in Appendix I of CITES
Lemurs are hypothesized to have originally floated to Madagascar from mainland Africa on a raft of vegetation. Though they are now endemic to Madagascar, fossils have been found in Europe and Asia as well as mainland Africa. It is thought that the lemurs that travelled to Madagascar were able to evolve to their present day state without competition from monkeys and apes, while lemur species in other areas were out-competed by these larger primates and thus became extinct. Humans first arrived in Madagascar roughly 2,000 years ago and had a quick and negative impact on lemur diversity. At least 17 extinct species of lemur have been identified, and all extant species are classified as endangered. Ring-tailed lemurs have suffered an approximately 95% wild population decrease from the year 2000 to 2017. There are now fewer Ring-tailed Lemurs in the wild than there are in zoos around the world.
Oakland Zoo is a partner of Centre ValBio, on the edge of Ranomafana National Park in eastern Madagascar. Centre ValBio (http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/index.html) promotes world class research while encouraging local environmental conservation and providing local villagers with the knowledge and tools to improve their quality of life. Oakland Zoo staff and volunteers have traveled to Centre ValBio multiple times to assist with these missions.
The biggest threats facing Ring-tailed lemurs are habitat destruction, hunting, and poaching. You can help these animals by educating others about the dangers they face, and by making philanthropic contributions to non-profit organization that work to conserve wildlife and natural habitat in Madagascar. Ecotourism is also a large source of funding for conservation projects in Madagascar.
The name 'lemur' comes from the Latin word for 'ghost' or 'spirit.'
While the 'thumb' on their front legs is fixed (and therefore non-opposable), they do have an opposable digit on their hind feet to aid in climbing.
These lemurs hold their uniquely-patterned tails in the air like flags when traveling to keep their troop together.
Lemurs are not monkeys, but prosimians (meaning 'pre-monkey'). This a separate sub-order from monkeys and apes, which are anthropoids.
Mittermeier, Russell; Tattersall, Ian; Konstant, William; Meyers, David; & Mast, Roderic. Lemurs of Madagascar. Washington, DC: Conservation International, 1994. Print.
Garbutt, Nick; Bradt, Hilary; & Schuurman, Derek. Madagascar Wildlife. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2008. Print.
Wilson, Don and Hanlon, Elizabeth. Lemur catta (Primates:Lemuridae). Mammalian Species 42(854): 58-74. Mammalogy.org. Web. 16 Feb 2017.
Platt, John. Ring-Tailed Lemur Populations Have Crashed by 95 Percent. Scientific American. 3 Jan 2017. Web. 16 Feb 2017. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/ring-tailed-lemur-crashe/