Ring-tailed lemurs are clever: The furry fellows with the funny curled tail have adapted perfectly to the living conditions in their homeland of Madagascar.
What do ring-tailed lemurs look like?
Raccoon, cat, or maybe a monkey? At first glance, one does not know exactly where to classify ring-tailed lemurs in the animal kingdom. But they are neither cats nor raccoons but belong within the order of primates to the suborder of wet-nosed monkeys and to the family of lemurs, which are also called prosimians.
The animals are 40 to 50 centimeters long, and the tail can be up to 60 centimeters long. They weigh three to four kilograms. The most striking feature, however, is the black and white ringed tail. Their fur is gray to light gray, darker on the back.
They wear a black mask around their nose and eyes and on their heads. The fox-like face, the relatively long snout, and the triangular ears are also typical. Ring-tailed lemurs climb and jump through the trees. But they are also agile on the ground and can even stand upright. The front paws are used to grab and hold food. All ring-tailed lemurs have special scent glands on their forearms, the males also have such glands on their upper arms.
Where do ring-tailed lemurs live?
Ring-tailed lemurs are only found in a small part of the world: They live in the southwest of the island of Madagascar, east of Africa. In their homeland, ring-tailed lemurs live in the light dry forests on the mountain slopes. They especially like sunny places. Their habitat is very barren because it only rains there two months a year.
What types of ring-tailed lemur are there?
Ring-tailed lemurs have many relatives in Madagascar, all of whom also belong to the lemur family. Their closest relatives include the ruffed lemur, black lemur, black-headed lemur, mongoose lemur, and red-bellied lemur.
How old do ring-tailed lemurs get?
In captivity, ring-tailed lemurs can live up to 20 years.
How do ring-tailed lemurs live?
Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal animals. They are sociable and live in groups of 20 to 30 members of their own species, sometimes up to 50 animals. The groups consist of several females, some males and the young.
While the females mostly remain in their group, the males leave their group and join a new one as they grow up, or later sometimes move from group to group.
The social life of ring-tailed lemurs has a special feature: unlike most primates, the women are their boss. The groups are always led by a female. There is a certain hierarchy among both the females and the males in a group. During the mating season, males quarrel violently: they threaten each other, and when things get serious, they use their tails as weapons:
They rub it with the foul-smelling secretion from their scent glands, stretch it up, and swing it around the opponent’s nose like a whip. Whoever smells the worst wins and gets to mate with a female. But the tail has even more functions: when the ring-tailed lemurs climb and jump through the trees, it serves as a balancing pole and as a rudder; when they sit in the trees, it hangs down for a long time.
When they walk across the ground through the grass, they hold it stretched straight up – and because the conspicuously curled tail is clearly visible as a signal flag, the animals keep an eye on each other and always know where their fellows are. Each group of ring-tailed lemurs has a territory that the animals roam together in search of food.
The females and young stay in the middle of the group, the males and young animals are on the edge of the group and protect the mothers and their young. Ring-tailed lemurs mark their territory with their scent glands. This is how they show other groups: stay out, this is our territory.
But the scent marks have another purpose: Like a signpost, they show the ring-tailed lemur the way to their territory and to their fellow cats. In addition, the animals recognize each other by their scent, and strangers are also immediately recognized by their scent. Ring-tailed lemurs usually respect the territorial boundaries of other groups and peacefully avoid each other.
At noon the ring-tailed lemurs rest in the shade of the trees, in the evening they climb up the highest branches of their sleeping trees to spend the night there. Because it can get very cool at night, the animals often sunbathe in their sleeping trees in the morning to warm up
Friends and foes of ring-tailed lemurs
Above all, birds of prey such as black kites and the fossa, a feline predator, are among the ring-tailed lemur’s natural enemies.
How do ring-tailed lemurs reproduce?
The female ring-tailed lemurs in a group all become ready to mate at the same time. So the young are all born at the time when there is the most fruit. And because the females are in charge, they and their young are the first to get food – this ensures their survival in their barren homeland.
The females mate with one or more males and usually only give birth to one young after about 134 days, rarely two or three. Ring-tailed lemur babies are very independent: They have fur, their eyes are open, and shortly after birth they make their first attempts at climbing trees. The mother carries the baby on her stomach for the first two weeks and later on her back.
The little ones are suckled for six months, but taste the first leaves and fruits at the age of one month. Ring-tailed lemurs grow up at around one and a half years old. Young ring-tailed lemurs are never alone: in addition to the mother, other females, who themselves have no young, take care of the little ones. In fact, these aunts are so caring that they raise a boy when his mother dies.
How do ring-tailed lemurs communicate?
Ring-tailed lemurs can purr, meow, and emit barking calls and shrill screams. To show other groups of ring-tailed lemurs that they own a certain territory, male ring-tailed lemurs often shout in unison.
What do ring-tailed lemurs eat?
Ring-tailed lemurs are predominantly herbivores. Fruit is at the top of their menu. But they also eat flowers, leaves, tree bark, even insects, and the soil of termite mounds. Because there is hardly any water in their habitat, the animals cover a large part of their fluid requirements with the juice of the fruit. They also lick up dew and rain.