The Ring-tailed lemur is an easily recognizable, medium-sized Malagasy species with an extremely long, heavily furred tail, covered with black and white rings and allowing the animal to take long leaps when moving between trees. In spite of a common belief, these lemurs don't hang from their tails. The Ring-tailed lemur is the most terrestrial and one of the most intelligent primates on the island. The Ring-tailed lemurs are of high scientific interest due to their use of tools in daily life as well as excellent problem solving skills.
The natural range of this species occupies south and southwest Madagascar, where scattered populations of Ring-tailed lemurs are found from Tolagnaro in the southeast to Morondava on the west coast and Ambalavao inland. Additionally, a single, isolated population inhabits the Andringitra Massif on the south-eastern plateau of the island. Preferred types of habitat are spiny forests, lowland gallery forests, dry scrubs, dry deciduous forests and, sometimes, rock canyons. Meanwhile, population in the above mentioned Andringitra Massif lives at higher elevations, among bare rocks, low bushes and subalpine vegetation. This area is known to have one of the harshest climates on the island.
Habits and lifestyle
As diurnal species, the Ring-tailed lemurs are active during the daytime hours. Although these animals are generally terrestrial, they have excellent climbing abilities. The Ring-tailed lemurs are social creatures, forming female-dominated units of 3 - 20 individuals. Individuals of both genders live in separate dominance hierarchies. Females of this species not only dominate over males, but also defeat the latter during fights. They are known for their friendly behavior towards individuals of their gender. Females also don't tend to be infanticidal, intentionally killing infants. Instead, they are very attentive to young lemurs, babysitting and forming groups, where infants can play. Moreover, females often switch the babies and nurse infants of other females. After becoming sexually mature, males leave their natal group, moving between troops when the mating season comes. The Ring-tailed lemurs display less territorial behavior, than many other lemurs. However, during the reproductive season, they become highly territorial. During this period, females are typically more territorial than males.
Diet and nutrition
Ring-tailed lemurs are omnivores. These animals generally consume plants, leaves, flowers, nectar, fruit, sap and bark, often supplementing their usual diet with insects, chameleons and small birds.
Ring-tailed lemurs are polygynous. Their troops consist of multiple individuals of both sexes, but there is always an alpha male in a group, which breeds with most females. During the mating season, both males and females compete among themselves strongly, which often brings to confrontations and fights. While the former compete for space and resources, the latter defend their mating rights. Mating lasts form the middle of April to June. Gestation period is about 4 - 4.5 months, yielding 1 - 2 infants, typically in August-September. Females of this species are very attentive mothers, sheltering, grooming, feeding, and eagerly carrying their offspring. After a while, the babies can be seen travelling on the abdomen of their mother. By around 2 months old, the infants start eating solid food. Then they begin riding on their mother's back and are finally weaned at 5 months old. Females produce their first litter at 3 years old, whereas males are ready to breed at 2.5 old, although older males of their troop don't permit them to do it.
The Ring-tailed lemurs currently face loss of their bush and forest habitat as a result of overgrazing, burning as well as tree-cutting for charcoal industry. Localized threats include hunting, trapping and capture as a pet species.
The total population of the Ring-tailed lemurs in 2009 was between 10,000 - 100,000 individuals. On that moment, the species was listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List. Today, Ring-tailed lemurs are classified as Endangered (EN), and their numbers continue to decrease.
On one hand, the Ring-tailed lemurs act as important seed dispersers of fruit-bearing plant species they consume, thus influencing the plant communities of their habitat. On the other hand, they form a link in the local food chain by being a source of food for numerous predators of their range.
Fun facts for kids
- When sunbathing, these animals adopt a yoga-like posture, sitting on their haunches and stretching out their legs to warm up their underside.
- The typical sleeping position of the Ring-tailed lemur is the tail, curled up to cover its back and the nose, stuck between hind legs.
- When defending their mating right, males of this species engage in ‘stink fights’, during which they smear scent on their tails to waft it at the rival.
- The most conspicuous feature of the Ring-tailed lemur is its long, heavily furred tail that is covered with 26 black and white, alternating rings, the first one of which is always white and the last one is black.
- The newborn babies of this species exhibit blue eyes, eventually changing in color as the infants grow up.
- Ring-tailed lemurs have a good grip due to the opposable thumbs, resembling these of humans, as well as leather-like palms on their feet.
- These lemurs are amazingly clean creatures, always grooming themselves after feeding. So called “dental comb” of these animals is a comb-like row of teeth, helping them groom themselves. They also use the long claws on the second toes of their hind feet as a grooming tool.