The Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta), popularized in the animated film series Madagascar and the Animal Planet film series Lemur Kingdom, is a fun-loving primate that lives on the island of Madagascar.
Anatomy of the Ring-Tailed Lemur
Ring-Tailed Lemurs are considered large strepsirrhine primates, though they are not as big as they look in pictures. In fact, they generally weigh 6 1/2 pounds, the same size as an average house cat. They have a gray outer coat and thin, white, underbelly. Their front legs are shorter than their hind legs. They have long, slender fingers and fingernails that resemble those of humans.
The Ring-Tailed Lemur's most distinguishing physical characteristic is their exceptionally long, bushy, black and white ringed tail, which is used for both balance and communication with other troop members. Their muzzle is dark gray and their eyes are bright yellow or orange surrounded by black patches of fur. They are one of the more vocal primates, calling to each other with loud meows, screeches, purrs, and other sounds depending on the situation. They are also capable of using tools and believed to be capable of understanding basic mathematics.
Ring-Tailed Lemurs are diurnal, which means they are most active during the day. They eat fruit, flowers, occasional insects, herbs, and favor the Tamarind Tree. They spend most of their time on the ground in groups, called "troops," of 20 to 30. The troop has a female hierarchy. The females are dominant and related to each other and stay with their relatives their entire lives. Males in the group are either unrelated or youngsters who have not yet reached sexual maturity.
In the Family Way
When a male Ring-Tailed Lemur reaches sexual maturity at two to three years of age, he leaves the troop in search of another. According to the Ring-Tailed Lemurs Species Survival Plan website, young males challenge dominant males for breeding rights through "stink fighting"--they rub their tails across scent glands between their legs and on their arms then fling their tails over their heads and shake them at rival males.
Threats to Survival and Conservation Efforts
Threats to the Ring-Tailed Lemur include the Fossa, which is a cat-like native animal, raptors, civets, boas, and feral cats and dogs. However, pollution and loss of habitat are also affecting the survival of the Ring-Tailed Lemur and there are many organizations working to protect the animal habitats of Madagascar.
Ring-Tailed Lemurs in Popular Culture
In 1996, Nature filmed a documentary titled A Lemur's Tale, filmed at Berenty Reserve, a privately-owned reserve and tourist attraction in Madagascar. The documentary followed a troop of Ring-Tailed Lemurs in a way similar to the popular Meerkat Manor. The 1997 John Cleese film Fierce Creatures also featured Ring-Tailed Lemurs. One of the Lemurs in Fierce Creatures is named after Cleese's character, Rollo. In 1998, Cleese hosted the BBC documentary In The Wild: Operation Lemur.
- "Primate Fact Sheet: Ring-Tailed Lemurs." Primate Info Net. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
- "The Natural History of Ring-Tailed Lemurs." Ring-Tailed Lemurs Species Survival Plan. Retrieved May 3, 2010.