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Ring-tailed Lemur

Scientific Name: Lemur catta

Land of the Lemurs

Millions of years ago, Madagascar was joined to Africa’s East Coast, but it is now an island found about 500 miles away. Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unusual animals. Among these are lemurs, relatives of monkeys that are native only to Madagascar. More than 20 lemur species live in different parts of the island. Ring-tailed lemurs live in the southern and southwestern part, favoring dry forests and bushy areas, dry mountainous areas and the central plateau.

Recognizing Ring-tails

Ring-tailed lemurs are easily recognized by their fox-like faces, rounded ears and banded or “ringed” black and white tails. As they walk from place to place, they hold their tail high as a visual signal that can be quite intimidating to other lemurs. When rivals meet, they wave their scent-smeared tails at each other to engage in what is known as “stink fighting.”

Lemur Lunch

Ring-tailed lemurs are born from August through November, corresponding with the arrival of spring in Madagascar. From birth to about 5 weeks old, young lemurs nurse. Babies are weaned from their mother’s milk about the same time that fruits and insects become available, thus encouraging young lemurs to start exploring new foods. Adult and juvenile ring-tailed lemurs are omnivorous, foraging for figs, bananas, flowers, grasses, bark and sap. Insects are also considered a tasty snack.

Keeping Close Contact

For the first two weeks of their lives, young ring-tails cling to their mother’s belly. At about three weeks old the babies move to their mother’s back, where they can have a better view of their surroundings, at the same time becoming aware of other members of their social group. Lemurs are gregarious by nature, so there are usually a number of adult males and females, juveniles and other young lemurs with which to interact.

What’s Their Future?

Lemurs are unusual primates found nowhere else on Earth. As habitats have decreased and people have moved into their areas, they have become endangered species. The Malagasy government put laws in place to protect lemurs from being captured and hunted. Ecotourism, travel to other countries to see its native wildlife, plays an important role in lemur preservation as well. Ring-tailed lemurs are known as a “flagship species.” They are the symbol of the entire lemur population because they are easy to see. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to make the journey to Madagascar. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see the lemurs. Ring-tailed lemurs are on view at Riverbanks in the Entrance Plaza.