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Lemurs: Lemuridae

Ringtailed Lemur (lemur Catta): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Ringtailed lemurs are about the size of a cat. Males and females look alike. Adult weight is 6.5 to 7.75 pounds (3 to 3.5 kilograms). Head and body length is 15 to 18 inches long (39 to 46 centimeters). These lemurs are gray with white undersides. Black eye-rings in a white fox-like face surround bright orange eyes. They have a very long, black-and-white ringed tail, which is held straight up in the air as they walk.

Ringtailed lemurs have scent glands on their inner wrists and armpits. These glands give off a stinky substance, or liquid. Ringtailed lemurs use this to mark their feeding areas.

The female ringtailed lemur gives birth to one or two young. The mother carries them around for a few months. (John Giustina/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Geographic range: Ringtailed lemurs are found in Madagascar.

Habitat: Ringtailed lemurs live in dry brush forests and dense forests near riversides. There is a separate ringtailed lemur population living on rocky areas and cliffs within in a national Madagascar park.

Diet: Ringtailed lemurs eat flowers, leaves, some tree sap, and fruit. Tamarind tree seedpods are a favorite food.

Behavior and reproduction: Ringtailed lemurs live in groups of fifteen to twenty-five members. There are males and females in each group. The strongest female leads each group. Female ringtailed lemurs have first food choice, and may slap males on the nose and take food from them.

Ringtailed lemurs are diurnal, searching for food during the day. They spend half their food-seeking time on the ground, walking on all four limbs. Powerful hind legs permit easy leaps into nearby trees.

When ringtailed lemurs meet, they tap noses. At night, groups go to sleep under big trees. Before falling asleep, there is often a shrill group whoop-like call. Group members huddle together for warmth, sometimes making a purring sound. In the morning, before food searching, ringtailed lemurs sit upright on the ground. The sunlight warms them up. Ringtailed lemurs also like to sunbathe during the day.

Mating occurs in April. The female gives birth to one or two young. At first they are carried everywhere by the mother. By three months old, while still carried about, they are playing with other young ringtailed lemurs. Youngsters are weaned, or stop nursing, by six months old. Females in ringtailed lemur groups often have "aunt behavior." They help take care of infants and watch over the young when they play.

Ringtailed lemurs and people: Ringtailed lemurs are hunted for food and sold in the illegal pet trade. However, they are increasingly important in ecotourism.

Conservation status: The ringtailed lemur is considered Vulnerable due to hunting, fires, and tree removal for farm land, all of which destroy lemur habitat. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsLemurs: Lemuridae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Ringtailed Lemur (lemur Catta): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, LEMURS AND PEOPLE