The Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) has to be the most popular, and easiest to recognise species of the Lemuridae family. With their grey-brown coat, and black and white ringed tail they cannot be mistaken for any other species. The ring-tailed lemur is normally seen either sun-bathing or bounding around the tree tops, and its cat-like behaviour makes it an enjoyable animal to watch.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Like all lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur is endemic to Madagascar, mainly the southern, south-central and south-west, where it is inhabits scrub and spiny forests, montane forests, deciduous forests and gallery forests along riverbanks.
Ring-tailed lemurs measure 40 - 46cm in length, and have a tail length of 56 - 63cm. They are extremely agile, and can be seen bouncing around from branch to branch. The hands and feet of the ring-tailed lemur are leathery, and have deep ridges that aid grip. The hind foot has a special claw-like nail on the second toe (toilet-claw) used for grooming. The heel is bare, whereas in other lemur species it is covered by fur. The front of the mouth contains 6 very long and narrow forward facing teeth (4 incisors and 2 canines) which form a toothcomb, this also helps with grooming. The greyish coloured pelage becomes browner on the shoulders and back. The long ringed tail is a contrasting black and white pattern, always with a black tip.
DIET, BEHAVIOUR AND REPRODUCTION
Ring-tailed lemurs live in large social groups (multi-male groups), with a single female (matriarch) in charge, like all lemurs the females are in charge of everything! When on the move the tail is usually held erect for communication and group cohesion. The tail (which is longer than the body) is unable to grip but does help the lemur balance when moving through the trees. When spending time on the ground, it is not unusual to see a lemur sat down with legs open and its white belly towards the sun in a rather comical 'sun worship' stance.
The ring-tailed lemur spends about one third of its time on the ground (over two thirds when the troop is travelling), the most of any of the lemur species. The tree tops are preferred for protection, as well as feeding as the ring-tailed lemurs primarily eat fruit and leaves, but they will also eat flowers, sap, bark, invertebrates, insects and even small birds and reptiles.
Territories are marked with urine, this is usually done in an upside-down handstand position. During the breeding season the females of a troop stagger their willingness to mate to help lower competition. To show their willingness they present their rear with the tail held high, and look back over their shoulder waiting for a male to inspect them. Usually 1 (sometimes 2) young are born after a gestation period lasting up to 135 days. As can be seen in the photographs, the young are carried on the chest for the first few weeks, and later on the back. Unfortunately males have been known to kill young (infanticide), and females have been known to kidnap others young. Sometimes other females help with bringing up the young (alloparenting). With an average lifespan in the wild of around 15 years, captivity can be as high as 27 years.
OTHER NOTABLE FACTS
Studies have shown that ring-tailed lemurs are capable of selecting and using tools in captivity. They can also understand basic arithmetic!
Its predators include the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), the Madagascan Harrier-Hawk (Polyboroides radiatus), the Madagascan Buzzard (Buteo brachypterus) and the Madagascan Ground Boa (Boa madagascariensis). Other threats included introduced species including domestic cats and dogs and the Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica). Mans intervention has further reduced numbers due to bush meat hunting and the pet trade, at present the ring-tailed lemur is listed by the IUCN as Endangered.