Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) of Madagascar

by DerdriuMarriner

For the people of Madagascar, ring-tailed lemurs are ancestral spirits. For scientists, they are eery-eyed, ghostly-voiced omnivores. For zoo staff, they are sure-fire moneymakers.

Appearances sometimes are deceiving. Behaviors assume different significance depending upon the doer and the viewer.

The deep truth of these two guideposts becomes evident in regard to the ever-shrinking wildland-urban interface between nature and people.

For example, haggard, wan looks aggravated by the equivalent of deep circles under the eyes generally convey the notion of a graveyard-shift, late-night lifestyle. Baring teeth generally gets interpreted as insincere or warm-hearted smiles.

Neither interpretation is correct when the doer is the ring-tailed lemur and the viewer is human.

Despite pale features contrasting with darkly-circled eyes, Malagasy ringtails in fact lead a “9.00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.” life. Ring-tailed lemurs show a mouthful of teeth prefatory to biting, grooming or scaring.

Madagascar's paleogeographical and paleclimatic timetable

Maps and arriving or present vertebrates for four major intervals; lemurs, in second row of second box (from bottom), evolved in Eocene or earlier.
K. Samonds et al. "Imperfect Isolation." PLOS ONE, vol. 8, issue 4 (April 2013), Figure 3
K. Samonds et al. "Imperfect Isolation." PLOS ONE, vol. 8, issue 4 (April 2013), Figure 3

 

Geographers consider Madagascar the world’s fourth-largest island and 47th-largest country. The island-country demands access either by plane or ship. Less than 200 miles (321.87 kilometers) away, the southeast African country of Mozambique nowadays functions as Madagascar’s nearest continental neighbor. But anciently it is what became India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania that shared proximity to what is now Madagascar.

With the ancient super-continent Gondwana’s break-up less than 90,000,000 years ago, Madagascar moved into a position of biogeographical isolation. The ancestors of all lemurs resided just about everywhere except Antarctica until about 30,000,000 years ago. They then were beaten and starved in all territorial ranges by non-resource-sharing monkeys who nevertheless could not cross the Mozambique Channel to Madagascar.

 

 

Madagascar’s 228,900 square miles (592,848.28 square kilometers) currently can be divided into drier and wetter sections.

  • Broad-leaved, moist tropical forests cluster along Madagascar’s eastern coastal lowlands up to elevations 2,624.67 feet (800 meters) above sea level.
  • Minimal broad-leaved, moist, subhumid, tropical forests still embellish the central highlands with closed-canopy evergreen and open-canopy woodland patches at elevations 1,968.50 – 5,905.51 feet (600+ - 1,800+ meters) above sea level.
  • Dry deciduous, spiny forests and drought-tolerant shrublands up to elevations of 2,624.67 feet (800 meters) give way to mangrove swamps on the western coast.

The ring-tailed lemur is adaptable to all of the above-mentioned forested and wooded habitats.

Adaptability additionally surfaces among Andringitra National Park’s treeless rocky outcrops and vertical cliffs.

 

Ring-tailed lemurs face the morning sun for warmth.

Wingham Wildlife Park, Kent, England
Wingham Wildlife Park, Kent, England

 

Within their sylvan habitats, ring-tailed lemurs are arboreal nocturnally and terrestrial diurnally. They begin their days with lotus-postured, meditative-like, opened-palm sunbaths to warm up in the cool morning. They couple up for mutual grooming with comb-like lower canines and incisors after and before self-grooming with the longest, second toe of each rear foot’s claw-like nail. In family-defined groups forming orderly files and holding tails vertically, they exercise and forage mornings and afternoons for:

  • Bark, flowers, fruits, sap, and seeds of benono (Acacia rovumae), kily (Tamarindus indica), and voleli (Neotina isoneura) trees;
  • Herbs;
  • Protein-filled insects and small vertebrates.

Adult females intimidate terrestrial predators and rivals with deafening, frontally-launched howls while adult males prepare stink-bombs impacting 10+-foot (3.05-meter) radiuses.

 

back-riding offspring

Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar
Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar

 

Family groups generally contain:

  • 6 adult females;
  • 4+ pre-adult females and males;
  • 2 - 4 adult males.

They typically control overlapping home ranges of 14.83+ riverside forest acres (6 hectares) and 59.31 dry scrubland acres (24 hectares). Their success converges upon:

  • Female decision-making;
  • Resource availability.

August to October, each group’s adult females in fact deliver 1 – 2 offspring measuring 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) and weighing 1.76 – 2.82 ounces (50 – 80 grams) apiece within 2-week spans after:

  • Breeding April to June;
  • Gestating 130 – 144 days.

Newborns experience:

  • 3 days of clinging to the mother’s stomach;
  • 11 days of looking like a belt around the mother’s stomach;
  • 2-1/4 months of straddling the mother’s back;
  • 2-3/4 – 3-3/4 months of weaning. 

 

Toothcomb of a Lemur catta; taken during a routine physical examination
Toothcomb of a Lemur catta; taken during a routine physical examination

 

Pre-adults achieve physical maturity at 18+ months (and sexual maturity at 18 – 30 months) with:

  • Dental formulas of 4 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 6 molars per lower and upper jaw;
  • Head-and-body lengths of 15 – 18 inches (38.1 – 45.72 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 22 – 24 inches (55.88 – 60.96 centimeters);
  • Weights of 6.5 – 7.5 pounds (2.95 – 3.41 kilograms).

From Tolagnaro northwestward and Ambalavao westward to Belo sur Mer, they blend into lush, rocky, or scrubby niches. Their camouflage involves:

  • Black, fox-like, moist muzzle;
  • Black triangle-ringed, forward-facing, orange-/red-brown eyes with yellow-white eyeshine;
  • Forward-facing, triangular-shaped, white-furred ears;
  • Grey crown and nape;
  • Grey to grey-brown limbs, rump, sides;
  • Red-brown back;
  • White cheeks, forehead, lower-sides, tail with 13 – 14 black rings.

 

Ring-tail lemur's lengthy tail exceeds its body length.

Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar
Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar

 

Ring-tailed lemurs benefit from long-term group learning and solidarity. They bring unexpected weapons to their sustainability. They practice avoidance by employing:

  • Anal- and arm-located scent glands for gagging emissions and escape-route markings;
  • Deeply-ridged, leather-like, long, smooth palms and soles for infallible footing over slippery branches and steep rocks;
  • Each hand’s hallux (“big toe”) and each foot’s pollex (“thumb”) opposable to four human-like nailed digits for firmly fleeting holds on moving vines and spiny vegetation (Alaudia, Aloe, Euphorbia, Kalanchoe, Opuntia, Xerisicyos);
  • Individual-specific vocalizations (6 infant calls trilling mothers or whitting/yelping stree and 22 adult calls chirping, hmm-ing, huh-ing, meowing strategy; purring victory; rasping, shrieking threats);
  • Plush tail for gracefully perfect balance;
  • Strong hind-limbs for unerringly 32.81-foot (10-meter) leaps.

 

exceptional balance of Madagascar's ring-tailed lemur

Dierenpark, Gelderland province, central eastern Netherlands
Dierenpark, Gelderland province, central eastern Netherlands

Conclusion: Balancing sustainability of ring-tailed national symbols with super-fragmented native habitats

 

The Malagasy call ring-tailed lemurs hira and maky. They concur with the Ministry of the Environment and Forests-supervised Madagascar National Parks in considering ring-tailed lemurs national symbols. They find worldwide concern continuing unabated since:

  • Samuel Purchas’s (1575?/1577? – 1626) passing descriptions in 1625;
  • Carl Linnaeus’s (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778) scientific categorization of the genus Lemur in 1758;
  • Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas’s (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) scientific support for the species catta in 1911.

They therefore know that captive reintroductions will realize sustainability if ring-tailed lemurs imminently go extinct in their native southern Madagascar’s habitats super-fragmented by:

  • Charcoal producers;
  • Meat- and pelt-hunters;
  • Predatory buzzards (Buteo brachypterus), ground-boas (Acrantophis madagascariensis), and harrier-hawks (Polyboroides radiatus);
  • Slash-and-burn agro-industrialists.

 

illustration by Charles Reuben Ryley (1752? – October 13, 1798)
George Shaw, Museum Leverianum (1792), opp. p. 43
George Shaw, Museum Leverianum (1792), opp. p. 43

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.

 

After approximately two weeks of transport by clinging to their mothers' bellies infants switch to jockey-style position on their mothers' backs.

Infant clings underneath mother (right) in lemur procession; Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar
Infant clings underneath mother (right) in lemur procession; Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar

Image Credits

 

K. Samonds et al. "Imperfect Isolation." PLOS ONE, vol. 8, issue 4 (April 2013), Figure 3: PLOS ONE, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biogeographic_timetable_of_Madagascar_-_journal.pone.0062086.g003.png

Madagascar range map template: Alex Dunkel (Maky); IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, species assessors and the authors of the spatial data, CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lemur_catta_range_map.svg

Wingham Wildlife Park, Kent, England: Keven Law from Los Angeles, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ringtailed_lemurs.jpg

Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar: David Dennis, CC BY SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ringtailed_Lemurs_in_Berenty.jpg; David Dennis (DavidDennisPhotos.com), CC BY SA 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2479239444

Toothcomb of a Lemur catta; taken during a routine physical examination: Alex Dunkel (Maky), CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lemur_catta_toothcomb.jpg

Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar: Alex Dunkel (Maky), CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lemur_catta_-_tail_length_01.jpg

Dierenpark, Gelderland province, central eastern Netherlands: Tim Strater (Tim Sträter), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/8097907255/

George Shaw, Museum Leverianum (1792), opp. p. 43: Public Domain, via Biodiversity Heritage Library @ https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/29568778

Infant clings underneath mother (right) in lemur procession; Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar: Alex Dunkel (Maky), CC BY SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lemur_catta_003.jpg

Andringitra National Park, southeastern Madagascar: Chris (Effervescing Elephant), CC BY SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Andringitra,_Madagascar_by_Effervescing_Elephant-09.jpg

 

Sources Consulted

 

"Allison Jolly - Obituary." The Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10651392/Alison-Jolly-obituary.html

Anderson, Rebecca. 1999. "Lemur catta: Ring-tailed Lemur (On-line)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Lemur_catta/

Andrainarivo, C.; Andriaholinirina, V.N.; Feistner, A.; Felix, T.; Ganzhorn, J.; Garbutt, N.; Golden, C.; Konstant, B.; Louis Jr., E.; Meyers, D.; Mittermeier, R.A.; Perieras, A.; Princee, F.; Rabarivola, J.C.; Rakotosamimanana, B.; Rasamimanana, H.; Ratsimbazafy, J.; Raveloarinoro, G.; Razafimanantsoa, A.; Rumpler, Y.; Schwitzer, C.; Sussman, R.; Thalmann, U.; Wilmé, L.; and Wright, P. 2008. Lemur catta. In: IUCN 2013. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11496/0

"The Beza Mahafaly Lemur Biology Project." Regents of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.colorado.edu/anthropology/lemur/overview/index.html

Butler, Rhett A. 6 October 2008. "An Interview with Ringtailed Lemur Expert Alison Jolly." Mongabay.com: Wild Madagascar.org. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://news.mongabay.com/2008/1006-jolly_lemur_interview.html

Butler, Rhett A. 2004 - 2008. "Lemur catta: Ring-tailed Lemur." Mongabay.com: Wild Madgascar.org. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.wildmadagascar.org/wildlife/species/lemurs/Lemur_catta.html

Cawthon Lang, Kristina A. 21 September 2005. "Primate Factsheets: Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology." Primate Information Net. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/ring-tailed_lemur

Duff, Andrew; and Lawson, Ann. 2004. Mammals of the World: A Checklist. Yale University Press.

Jolly, Allison (Ed.). 2006. Ringtailed Lemur Biology: Lemur catta in Madagascar. NY: Springer.

Kennedy, Heather. 2008. "Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." Tree of Life. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=4730

Myers, P.; Espinosa, R.; Parr, C.S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G.S.; and T. A. Dewey. 2014. "Lemur cattta: Ring-tailed Lemur (On-line)." The Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Lemur_catta/pictures/

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Volume I. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

"Ring-Tailed Lemur." Atlanta Fulton County Zoo Animals: Mammals. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.zooatlanta.org/home/animals/mammals/ringtailed_lemur#ff_s=aDnTK

"Ring-Tailed Lemur." Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/primates/facts/fact-ring-tailed-lemur.cfm

"Ringtailed Lemur: Lemur catta." Pp. 55-56 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Volume 14: Mammals III, edited by Michael Hutchins, Devra G. Kleiman, Valerius Geist, and Melissa C. McDade. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc., division of Thomson Learning Inc., 2004.

"Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." National Geographic Society. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/ring-tailed-lemur/

"Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." The Sacramento Zoological Society. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.saczoo.org/Document.Doc?id=43

"Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." San Francisco Zoo. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.sfzoo.org/ringtailedlemur

"Ring-Tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.lowryparkzoo.com/bio_primate_ring_tail_lemur.php

"Ring-Tailed Lemurs." National Geographic Society Kids. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/ring-tailed-lemur/

Samonds, Karen E.; Laurie R. Godfrey; Jason R. Ali; Steven M. Goodman; Miguel Vences; Michael R. Sutherland; Mitchell T. Irwin; and David W. Krause. 2013. "Imperfect Isolation: Factors and Filters Shaping Madagascar’s Extant Vertebrate Fauna." PLOS ONE, vol. 8, issue 4 (April 23, 2013): e62086.

  • Available via PLOS Journals @ https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0062086

Shaw, George. Museum Leverianum, Containing Select Specimens from the Museum of the Late Sir Ashton Lever, Kt. With Descriptions in Latin and English. London: James Parkinson, MDCCXCII (1792).

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/29568376

Smith, P.A. 2007 - 2014. "Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta." Animal Fact Guide. Retrieved on March 24, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/ring-tailed-lemur/

Wilson, Don E.; and Hanlon, Elizabeth. 25 March 2010. "Lemur catta (Primates: Lemuridae)." Mammalian Species 42(854):58-74.

  • Available at: http://www.mammalsociety.org/uploads/Wilson%20and%20Hanlon%202010.pdf

Wilson, D.E.; and Reeder, D.M. 2005. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Third Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press. 

 

diverse landscape of ring-tailed lemur: treeless, vertical cliffs in Andringitra National Park

Andringitra National Park, southeastern Madagascar
Andringitra National Park, southeastern Madagascar
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Ring Tailed Lemur and Baby by Lantern Press

1,000-piece puzzle. Size: 19x27 inches. Thick, Grade A puzzle board. !00% Made in America.
Ring Tailed Lemur and Baby (1000 Piece Puzzle, Size 19x27, Challeng...

Group of Lemur Monkeys Looking at The Camera by Lantern Press

500-piece jigsaw puzzle. Size: 13x19 inches. Thick, Grade A puzzle board. 100% Made in America.
Group of Lemur Monkeys Looking at The Camera (13x19 inches, Premium...

Walker's Mammals of the World (2-Volume Set)

Thoroughly describes every genus of the class Mammalia known to have lived in the last 5,000 years.
Walker's Mammals of the World (2-Volume Set)

Mammals of the World: A Checklist by Andrew Duff and Ann Lawson

Includes English and scientific names for 5,049 species.
Mammals of the World: A Checklist

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/02/2022, DerdriuMarriner
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
5

Comments

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
DerdriuMarriner on 03/25/2014

VioletteRose, The lemurs' long tails are quite dramatic. Me, too, I agree that the exceptionally long, striped tails are distinctive. It's fun for me to write about lemurs, so I'm glad that you appreciate their story.

VioletteRose on 03/25/2014

They look really different, with exceptional long tails with stripes. Thanks for sharing so many interesting details!

You might also like

Ring-Tailed Ground Squirrels (Notocitellus annulatus): Mexican...

Squirrels appear to enjoy digging. Tree squirrels descend from treetops to bu...

Ringtails, State Mammal of Arizona

Is it a cat? Is it a fox? Is it a raccoon? It is a ring-tailed cat, a raccoon...


Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...
Error!