Ring-Tailed Lemur Fact File
Ring-tailed lemurs are one of the most recognized lemur species owing to their tail. This is 0.61m (2ft) long and colored with thirteen alternating white and black rings.
Their body and the crown of their head is colored a brownish-grey. This fur color is also present in a ring around the eyes. These eyes are colored yellow. The underside, feet, hands and face are colored white. They have a black nose which is wet unlike most primates.
They have a body which measures 42.5cm (1.4ft) from the head to the start of the tail. They stand 42.5cm (16.7in) tall. An average ring-tailed lemur will weigh 2.27-3.4kg (5-7.5lbs).
A major source of food is the tamarind tree, including its fruits and flowers, which may provide up to 50% of their diet during some parts of the year.
Some of the areas that ring-tailed lemurs inhabit are incredibly dry and they will obtain water where possible including through eating plants such as aloe or drinking dew that pools in tree crevices. They will drink water when available.
Wild 15 years
Captive 27 years
— AD —
Madagascar is the native home of the ring-tailed lemur. Here they can primarily be found in the south of the island. It is believed that in part of their range they are already extinct primarily due to overhunting.
The ring-tailed lemur is flexible in their habitat preference and this allows them to survive in a wide range of areas. They make their home in dry deciduous forests, spiny brush forest, savanna, scrub and rocky outcrops.
They struggle to survive in areas without forest cover and as such are unlikely to inhabit areas which have been logged and are regenerating.
Breeding takes place in Autumn with half of the breeding taking place in November. Within a troop breeding will be coordinated and all females give birth within a few days of each other. They are receptive to mating for just two days each year.
During the breeding season males, which are typically tolerant of others, become more aggressive and fight others for breeding rights. Dominant males will mate first.
Two types of fight are common. These are the jump fight where they jump and attempt to slash each other with the canines. Secondly they may perform a stink fight where they cover their tail with scent and raise it up while glaring at their opponent.
Females approach the males when they are receptive to mating and present their rear and lift the tail. If a male approaches a female who is not ready to mate she will act aggressively and chase them.
Both males and females will mate with multiple partners each breeding season.
A female is pregnant for 135-145 days. Following this it is most common for a single infant to be born. Twins and triplets are possible though. Multiple infants is most common when food is plentiful and in captivity.
Initially infants will be seen clinging to their mothers back and they then move to riding on her back. Solid food may be eaten as early as 1 week old and by 3 weeks old the lemur infant will begin climbing through the trees.
All females within the troop will assist with caring for the different infants in some capacity. Males may also provide some assistance within infant care. The female will not tolerate this if the male is not a member of the troop.
If a female passes away then other members of the troop may adopt her infant.
Weaning will take place at 6 months old.
Infant mortality can be incredibly high during times of drought with as many as 80% of infants passing. Those which survive take longer to mature.
It will take 3 years to achieve their adult body size.
Sexual maturity occurs between 2.5 and 4 years old. In captivity this often occurs earlier at 2 years old.
A baby lemur can be called either an infant or a pup.
Ring tailed lemurs form the largest group of any lemur species. These troops may number up to 30 members. The group is matriarchal and lead by a female who directs where the group travels. Groups consist of a range of males and females.
When their groups grow too large they will break off in to smaller groups.
They communicate frequently and may make up to 28 different calls. Another method of communication is to signal using the tail. This is primarily used to signal their position to other group members when travelling. They also use scent which is emitted by glands on the chest and wrists.
The group will start their day by sunbaking. The ring-tailed lemurs will sit up and stretch out their legs and arms pointed towards the sun which warms up their white belly fur.
Groups of ring-tailed lemurs are active throughout much of their day and night though night time activity is limited during periods of cold weather.
Unusually among lemurs they spend a large part of their day moving across the ground though they are also adept climbers in the tree.
Predators and Threats
Humans affect the population of ring-tailed lemurs primarily through land clearing for agriculture, production of charcoal and other uses.
They are also hunted both for the bush meat and pet trades.
Increasing frequency of drought is affecting their population as it lowers the survival rates of infants.
The ring-tailed lemur is well known due to their starring role in the Madagascar film franchise.
They are one of the most common primate species exhibited in zoos.
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Oregon Zoo. 2020. Ring-Tailed Lemur. [online] Available at: <https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/ring-tailed-lemur> [Accessed 13 August 2020].
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 September 21. Primate Factsheets: Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) Behavior . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/ring-tailed_lemur/behav>. Accessed 2020 August 13.
Duke Lemur Center. 2020. Ring-Tailed Lemur – Duke Lemur Center. [online] Available at: <https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/ring-tailed-lemur/> [Accessed 13 August 2020].