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.

Early Paleocene, approximately 65 million years ago:

around the time of evolution of lemurs and their colonization of Madagascar
Mollewide (oval globe) projections of global paleogeography for past 600 million years.
Mollewide (oval globe) projections of global paleogeography for past 600 million years.

 

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.

 

Range of Madagascar's Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)

Madagascar range map template
Madagascar range map template

 

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.

 

sunbathers: and meditators?

Om mani padme hum.
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;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

sunbather

Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar
Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar

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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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

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  • 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.

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

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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).

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  • 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

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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 (Lemur catta) sunbathing on ground, Berenty, southern Madagascar: photo by Last Refuge Inc.

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) on camera, Berenty, southern Madagascar: photo by Last Refuge Inc.

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

Ring-tailed Lemur baby, Berenty Private Reserve, southern Madagascar: photo by Mark Carwardine

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle` Ardea Wildlife Pets

Ring-tailed Lemur with baby on back: photo by Thomas Marent

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle ~ Ardea Wildlife Pets

Ring-Tailed Lemur Climbing a Tree, Berenty Reserve, southern Madagascar: photo by Panoramic Images

Ring-Tailed Lemur Climbing a Tree, Berenty, Madagascar

Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur Catta) Berenty Reserve, Madagascar: photo by Pete Oxford

Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur Catta) Berenty Reserve, Madagascar

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: 10/04/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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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!

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