Ringtailed lemurs, Lemur catta, inhabit southern and southwestern Madagascar, with an additional population on the southeastern plateau of the Andringita Mountains.
Lemurs spend most of their time in the trees, but this species also spends considerable time on the ground. Ring tailed lemurs prefer gallery forests and Euphorbia bush habitat, but they also live in many other types of forests in Madagascar.
In the Berenty Reserve in southern Madagascar, ring tailed lemurs inhabit 3 different types of forest. These include the Ankoba forest, which consists of Pithosolobium trees and a few tamarinds, figs, and Melia; the Malaza forest, which consists of Tamarindus indicus, tall figs, celtis, and creteva. (The sub-canopy of this forest type consists of Rhinorhea and Celtis, with great numbers of peppers and sometimes capers.); and finally the Berenty Reserve, which is a spiny forest. Lemur catta does not spend as much time here, but can occasionally be seen. The spiny forest contains trees called Alaudia and Euphorbia, which look like cacti. Kalanchoe, Aloe, and Xerisicyos are also found in the area.
Lemur catta is an average sized lemur, with a head and body length of 385 to 455 mm. The tail is longer than the body, measuring 560 to 624 mm. Individuals weigh between 2.3 and 3.5 kg.
The most noticeable characteristic of Lemur catta is its tail, which is black and white. In fact, the species gets its common name from the ringed pattern of the fur on the tail. These lemurs have gray or rosy brown backs with lighter gray or brown hind legs and white stomachs. Their faces are also white with triangular black markings around their eyes and black noses.
These animals breed polygynously. Although they live in multi-male, multi-female troops, there is typically one central male who interacts more with females than do the other males.
The mating season is the time when the most fighting occurs. Females compete among themselves for space and resources, and males fight for reproductive access to females. These fights include the infamous stink fights, where males rub their tails with scents from glands in their wrists and genitals, and then aim their tails at their opponents.
Lemur catta mates from mid April to June and gives birth in August or September. Females are in estrus for less than one day, and all of the females within a troop come into estrus within 2 weeks of each other. The normal gestation period is 4 to 4.5 months, after which females give birth to 1 or 2 young. Infant mortality is high, with 30 to 50% of newborns dying in the first year of their lives. Surviving young are weaned some time after 5 months of age.
Males are capable of breeding by about 2.5 years of age, but may not be allowed to do so by older males in the group. Females usually have their first offspring at the age of 3 years and continue to produce offspring annually.
Females provide the bulk of the care for their offspring. They shelter, groom, carry, and feed the young. Young are initially carried on the abdomen, but as they grow, they begin to ride on the mother's back. Although young take solid food by the time they are a two months old, they may not be weaned until they are as old as 5 months. The role of males in parental care has not been described.
A captive ring-tailed lemur is reported to have lived in excess of 33 years.
Ring tailed lemurs are social animals, living in groups of 12 to 24 individuals. Although sometimes considered less territorial than other lemur species, these animals do show territorial behavior during breeding season. Females tend to be more territorial than males.
Ring tailed lemurs live in social groups of between 3 and 20 individuals. Females are dominant to males, winning all of the fights between the sexes. Female kin appear to form the stable core of L. catta social groups. Males disperse from their natal groups around the time of sexual maturity, then migrate from troop to troop during the mating season. As many as 1/4 of all of the males leave in search of new troops each mating season. This may help to reduce inbreeding, as males are not likely to then mate with their daughters.
Although females are 100% dominant over males, males are active socially. During the birthing season, males sometimes commit infanticide.
Females are usually friendly towards the offspring of other females, and have not been documented to be infanticidal. Groups of females switch infants, babysit, form play groups and even allow infants other than their own to nurse. This sort of extended family caregiving is probably facilitated by kin relationships among females.
Ring tailed lemurs often interact socially while feeding and sunbathing. Sunbathing occurs during the early morning hours before feeding. Ring tailed lemurs can be seen sitting up right with their front legs resting on their hind legs, exposing their stomachs to the sun (picture a human meditating in a yoga position with legs crossed).
Males and females have separate dominance heirarchies.
Home range size appears to depend on habitat type. In lush forests, home ranges of troops may measure 6 to 8.8 hectares. In scrub forest, where there is presumably less food, larger ranges of 23.1 hectares have been observed.
As in other diurnal primates, communication is complex. Visual communication signals, such as body postures and facial expressions are used, in addition to vocal communication. Ring tailed lemurs are known to use scent marking, and even to engage in "stink battles" with one another, where secretions from scent glands are rubbed onto the tail, then wafted at opposing animals. Tactile communication is important between mothers and their young, as well as between mates. This includes grooming, play, and mating.
These lemurs are not meat eaters. They feed on plants, leaves, flowers, fruit, and even sap and bark. They feed from many different species of plants and trees, but are partial to Kily trees. Occasionally they eat insects.
Data on predation is lacking for this species. However, L. catta is not very large, and could fall prey to any number of mid-sized predators. Likely predators include humans, domestic dogs, raptors, and fossas.
Because of their occasional frugivory, ring tailed lemurs may aid in dispersing some seeds. To the extent that they serve as prey to other animals, they may influence local food webs. Their feeding behaviors may contribute to the structure of local plant communities.
Ring tailed lemurs are a popular sight for tourists and are easily found in protected reserves such as Isalo National Park, The Andohahela, Andringita, and Tsimanampetsotsa Nature Reserves, The Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, and The Berenty Private Reserve. The attraction of tourists brings in valuable money for Madagascar.
Although L. catta is not known to have direct negative effects on human economies, the effort to save lemur habitat may interfere with other economic ventures, such as charcoal production and farming.
Lemur catta is threatened in Madagascar because of habitat loss due to fires, overgrazing by livestock, and tree cutting for charcoal production. The IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group's Lemurs of Madagascar: An Action Plan for Their Conservation gave the species a "High Priority" rating (5).
Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Rebecca Anderson (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
union of egg and spermatozoan
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
animals that live only on an island or set of islands.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
Ganzhorn, Horg U., Kappeler, Peter M., Lemur Social Systems and Their Ecological Basis. Plentum Press, NY and London. 1993.
Tattersail, Ian. The Primates of Madagascar. Columbia University Press, NY. 1982.
Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.