Endangered (IUCN Red List, 2019)
What they look like
Ring-tailed lemurs stand out for their raccoon-like markings—black-rimmed eyes and a tail with 13-14 alternating black and white bands. Their fur color runs from tawny to gray, with darker gray on the crown and muzzle. Weighing 2.5-3 kilograms (about 6 pounds), they are roughly the size of a house cat, but longer, averaging 17 inches from head to the base of their splendid 24-inch tail.
Where they live
In the wild, ring-tailed lemurs roam the tropical dry and spiny forests and scrub of southern and southwestern Madagascar. Although they can be found in a relatively wide geographic range, their distribution is patchy. They usually feed and sleep in the forest canopy but spend the majority of their time on the ground as this species is the most terrestrial of all the lemurs. They are found in several protected areas including Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve and Berenty Private Reserve.
What they eat
Ring-tailed lemurs have a diverse diet although they are especially fond of the fruit and leaves of the tamarind tree. They also eat flowers, bark, sap, rotten wood, earth, insects, invertebrates, and even human crops.
How they behave
Active during the day (diurnal), ring-tailed lemurs travel in troops of 6-24 animals, a mix of males and females. Females dominate over males and may compete with each other for overall leadership. While females tend to stick with their natal (birth) group in an extended family, males migrate to another troop once they reach sexual maturity. Ring-tailed lemurs communicate through vocalizations (over 20 call types) and scent-marking. Females mark branches in their territory with their sexual organs while males scent their tails with secretions from wrist and shoulder glands. Then, they wave their tails at each other in “stink fights” until one runs away. Males may also solicit females by tail anointing.
How they reproduce
The ring-tail breeding season begins in mid-April in Madagascar. Females are sexually receptive (estrus) for only a 24-hour period. Pregnancy lasts about 134-138 days, with births in August and September. Females generally deliver one infant once a year, but twins are common when food is plentiful. Newborns cling closely to the mother’s abdomen. After a week or two, they ride on her back. After a month, they start venturing out on their own until fully weaned at 5-6 months.
What threats they face
Some people keep ring-tailed lemurs as pets. Farmers destroy habitat by allowing livestock to overgraze and cutting down gallery forests to expand cropland or to make charcoal by burning wood. This species is also hunted by humans for food. Additionally, climate change resulting in more frequent droughts may have significant negative consequences for lemurs and the plants they rely on in southern Madagascar. Natural predators include hawks, boa constrictors, fossae (carnivorous mammal, related to the mongoose with qualities of a cat), domestic cats and dogs. Human activity is causing the greatest harm to the species.
Ring-tailed lemurs at LCF’s Florida reserve
The ring-tailed lemurs at the reserve demonstrate a remarkable adaptability. They spend well over half their day on the ground but they make themselves comfortable in the trees as well. They often sun in the crowns of the tall slash pines in early morning but prefer the large, horizontal branches of the live oaks for their afternoon rest.