Bio Facts: Lemur, Ring-tailed
South Madagascar (dry areas)
Mixed deciduous forests
Face is white with black markings-almost like a mask. The eyes are yellowish-brown. Back is brownish-gray, and tail is very long with black and white rings of fur. Forelimbs are shorter than hind limbs. The body length is 15-17 inches long, with the tail being 21-24 inches. The weight range is between 5-7.5 lbs.
18 years in the wild; up to 30 years in captivity
Flowers, fruit, leaves, bark, herbs and figs in the wild. In the Zoo, they are fed monkey chow, oranges, apples, grapes, bananas, celery, cucumber and romaine.
USFWS – Endangered, CITES I, IUCN – Vulnerable, AZA - SSP
Ring-tailed lemurs live in troops of 12 to 24 adults and juveniles. This troop is matriarchal with no male ranking higher than the dominant female. Females have a hierarchy and males have a hierarchy. The ratio of males to females is fairly equal. Troops have territories that average 14 acres in area.
Breeding occurs in April and lasts for about two weeks. A female may be in estrous for only one day out of the year. After a gestation period of 134 to 136 days, one, two or three offspring may be produced. Initially, females are very protective of newborns. Young begin to become more independent after the first month when mothers allow other females and males to carry and play with the young.
Ring-tailed lemurs have scent glands on their forearms and anal region that are quite odiferous. Both sexes engage in “stink fights.” Using their scent glands, lemurs rub the scent on the tail during regular grooming activities. When two lemurs meet, they raise their tails and jab the ends into the face of the opponent until one backs down. Whoever smells the worst wins, so to say. This is how dominance is determined within this society.
Scent glands on forearms are used to mark their tails and territory. The long tail is used for balance. Limbs are designed for leaping through the trees. The forelimbs are shorter than the hind limbs. Palms and soles of feet are bare and ridged to assure a firm grip in trees and on rocks.
Hands have a pseudo-opposable thumb that allows lemurs to grasp items. Feet are equipped with psuedo-opposable big toes also for gripping. The second toe on each foot is equipped with a specialized “toilet” claw that is used during grooming.
Dentition in lemurs is specialized for diet and mutual grooming. Central incisors are widely separated and lower canines project forward to form what is known as a dental comb. During grooming, this “comb” is used like a human comb to separate and clean between hairs.
Black and white rings on the tail may serve as a visual communication tool when the troop moves through dark forest or open grassland areas.
Lemur catta in Latin suggests that this type of lemur appears to look like a cross between a raccoon and a cat.
Lemur is an ancient Roman word that pertains to spirits of the dead.
The Island of Madagascar houses the results of a gigantic “natural experiment” in which ancestral lemurs were isolated at least 50 million years ago and gradually diversified into the modern array of over 40 species (including several large bodied species which are sadly documented only by their subfossil remains). As such, lemurs have retained numerous primitive characteristics while at the same time developing many features in parallel to the monkeys and apes of the major southern landmasses.
The ring-tailed lemur is the only primate on Madagascar to make extensive use of the ground.
It is believed that when European explorers heard unique howls and saw eyes peering through the trees at them, they named these creatures “lemurs,” meaning, “ghost.”
All the Lemuridae are threatened by habitat destruction.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
The first ring-tailed lemurs to arrive came in May of 1978. This species has successfully bred here.