Adult ring-tailed lemurs are about the size of a house cat,
weighing 2.5 to 3.0 kg (approximately six pounds). The head and
body average seventeen inches, while the tail alone is about
twenty-four inches long. The tail has thirteen or fourteen
distinctive, alternating black and white bands (Duke University
2000). They live in large multi-male, multi-female troops;
these troops range from 6-24 individuals (Jolly, 2003).
Females are always dominant over all males but within troops,
females compete for dominance over other females (Vick and
Pereira, 1989; Jolly et al., 2000). Female offspring
remain with their natal troop, but males migrate once they reach
sexual maturity (Jones, 1983; Sussman, 1992).
Exclusively diurnal, ring-tailed lemur individuals feed in
the canopy but often travel along the ground. In the wild,
troops of ring-tailed lemurs may spend up to seventy percent of
travel time on the forest floor (Holloway 1974), and forty
percent of their total time is spent on the ground rather than
in trees, although most feeding and sleeping takes place
arboreally (Duke University 2000). At the reserve, the
ring-tailed lemurs are even more terrestrial, spending well over
half of their total time on the ground, perhaps to minimize
competition with the brown and red ruffed lemurs sharing the
forest. Their diet is diverse, including leaves, shoots,
flowers, and fruit as available seasonally (Holloway 1974).
At the reserve they are given a mixture of fruit, vegetables,
and a manufactured primate biscuit. Staff and researchers
have observed the ring-tailed lemurs eating a wide variety of
browse found in the forest, including pine pollen, oak leaves,
gall berries, high bush blueberries, and the occasional insect.
Naturally occurring in the south and southwest of Madagascar,
troops of ring-tailed lemurs have adapted to a variety of living
conditions. Their three basic habitats are continuous
canopy forest, brush and scrub forest, and mixed forest, where
the first two merge (Budnitz and Dainis 1975). The
ring-tailed lemurs at the reserve demonstrate a remarkable
adaptability, comfortable in tall pines, immense oaks, and
secondary canopy. They can often be seen sunning in the
crowns of the slash pines in early morning but prefer the large,
horizontal branches of the live oaks for their afternoon rest.
Females usually give birth to one offspring a year, after a
gestation period of 134-138 days (Duke University 2000).
In Madagascar births take place between the months of August and
November (Jolly et al. 2002). During times when food is
plentiful, twins are common. At first the babies cling
closely to the mother’s abdomen, but after two weeks, they move
to riding on her back. In Florida, the breeding season is
from November to February and offspring are born sometime
between May and July.
The latest IUCN Red List assessment categorizes the
ring-tailed lemurs as Vulnerable (VU A2cd). The greatest
threat to these lemurs is human activity. The gallery
forests in which lemurs live are being converted to farmland,
overgrazed by livestock or harvested for coal production (Mittermeier,
2006). Furthermore, people hunt them for food and, more
frequently, capture them to keep as pets (Duke University 2000).
The captive ring-tailed lemurs housed at the reserve participate
in the AZA’s cooperative breeding program to help safeguard the
species against extinction.
Budnitz N and Dainis K (1975) Lemur catta: Ecology and
behavior. In: Tattersall, Sussman Eds. Lemur Biology. New
York: Plenum, p 219-235.
Duke University. 2000. Courtesy of Elwyn Simons.
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Benstead (eds.), The Natural History of Madagascar.
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and Zafison, T. (2000) Infant killing, wounding, and predation
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Ratsimbazafy J, Rasoloarison R, Ganzhorn J, Rajaobelina S,
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D.C.: Conservation International. 520 p.
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