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Ring-Tailed LemursRing-Tailed Lemur

Lemur catta [lE' mur kat' tuh]


The coat of the ring-tailed lemur is light reddish gray to dark red-brown in color, with the limbs and belly being lighter in color. The extremities are white, and the long, pointed muzzle is black. The characteristic features of this lemur are the white rings around the eyes and the black and white bands on the tail.

Adults are up to 18 inches in length, not counting the tail, which can be up to 24 inches long. They weigh from 6 to 8 pounds. Both sexes are similar in size and coloration.

Distribution and Habitat

As are all other lemurs of the world, the ring-tailed lemur is only found on the island of Madagascar, which lies off the east coast of Africa. It inhabits the forested regions of southwestern Madagascar, but tends to prefer areas that have plenty of open space. While it does spend a considerable part of its life in the trees, the ring-tailed is the only lemur that frequently travels on the ground.


All mating occurs within the span of about two weeks in either late April or early May. A single baby (twins are rare) is born after a gestation period of about 3.5 months. Individual babies are cared for by the entire group, and it is not uncommon for a female to adopt an orphan, even if she already has an infant of her own. The infant is carried on its mother's belly for the first two weeks of its life, and then on her back for another one or two weeks; it will be independent at four weeks, but will continue to return to its mother for up to a year or so. Ring-tailed lemurs live 16 to 19 years in the wild.


Ring-tailed lemurs are primarily herbivorous, with a variety of fruits taken, as well as leaves, flowers, grasses, bark, and tree sap. They will occasionally take insects and other small animals, as well as bird eggs.

Other Habits and Behaviors

Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups of up to 24 individuals. These groups are comprised of both sexes and all ages. Females generally stay with their natal group, while males tend to go from group to group. The "top spot" within any group always belongs to a female, and there is a social hierarchy amongst female group members. There is also a dominance hierarchy among males, but the status of any one male within that hierarchy often changes from one mating season to another. Most dominance "fights" consist of two individuals waving their tails and scent glands at each other, with the one producing the most vile smell often being "declared" the winner.

Groups typically begin their day in the early morning hours, coming down out of their sleeping trees onto the forest floor to feed. As the day warms up the lemurs can often be seen stretched out it the sun seemingly basking in the sun.

Mutual grooming is as important in ring-tailed lemur society as it is in many other primate societies. Unlike most other primates, however, ring-tailed lemurs use their hands only to grasp each other's fur; the actual grooming is done by literally eating the parasites off the companion.

Ring-tailed lemurs have different calls to warn their brethren of potential threats -- one type for threats from the ground, another for threats from the sky. They also have a vocalization that sounds very much like a cat's purr, which accounts for the species name catta.

Conservation Status

As are all other lemurs (and most other animals on Madagascar for that matter) the ring-tailed lemur has been seriously threatened by the destruction of Madagascar's forests. Fortunately it does relatively well in captivity, and many zoos around the world have been successful at breeding them and there is a conscious effort to establish a large enough captive breeding population to keep the species from going extinct.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Primates
suborder Prosimii
family Lemuridae
genus & species Lemur catta

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This page was last updated on August 31, 2016.

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