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Our Colony In-depth

Ring-tailed Lemur
Lemur Catta
(Linnaeus, 1758)

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.

Works Cited:

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.

Holloway RL (1974)  Primate Aggression, Territoriality, and Xenophobia.  New York: Academic Press.

Jolly, A.  2003.  Lemur catta, ring-tailed lemur, maky.  Pp 1329-1331 in:  S.M. Goodman and J.P. Benstead (eds.), The Natural History of Madagascar.  University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Jolly, A., Caless, S., Cavigelli, S., Gould, L., Pitts, A., Pereira, M.E., Pride, R.E., Rabenandrasana, H.D.. Walker, J.D., and Zafison, T. (2000) Infant killing, wounding, and predation in Eulemur and Lemur. International Journal of Primatology 21:21-40.

Jolly,A., Dobson, A., Rasamimanana, H., Walker, J., O’Connor, S., Solberg, M., and Perel, V.  2002.  Demography of Lemur catta at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar:  Effects of troop size, habitat and rainfall.  International Journal of Primatology  23:  327-353.

Jones, K.C. (1983).  Inter-troop Transfer of Lemur catta males at Berenty, Madagascar.  Folia Primatol.  40 (1-2):  145-160.

Mittermeier R, Konstant W, Hawkins F, Louis E, Langrand O, Ratsimbazafy J, Rasoloarison R, Ganzhorn J, Rajaobelina S, Tattersall I, Meyers D. 2006. Lemurs of Madagascar. Washington D.C.: Conservation International. 520 p.

Sussman R.W. (1992).  Male life histories and inter-group mobility among ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta). International Journal of Primatology, 13:395-413.

Vick LG, Pereira ME. 1989. Episodic targeting aggression and the histories of Lemur social groups. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 25:3-12.








 
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