The ruffed lemurs of the genus Varecia are strepsirrhine primates and the largest extant lemurs within the family Lemuridae. Like all living lemurs, they are found only on the island of Madagascar. Formerly considered to be a monotypic genus, two species are now recognized: the black-and-white ruffed lemur, with its three subspecies, and the red ruffed lemur.
Ruffed lemurs are diurnal and arboreal quadrupeds, often observed leaping through the upper canopy of the seasonal tropical rainforests in eastern Madagascar. They are also the most frugivorous of the Malagasy lemurs, and they are very sensitive to habitat disturbance. Ruffed lemurs live in multi-male/multi-female groups and have a complex and flexible social structure, described as fission-fusion. They are highly vocal and have loud, raucous calls.
Ruffed lemurs are seasonal breeders and highly unusual in their reproductive strategy. They are considered an "evolutionary enigma" in that they are the largest of the extant species in Lemuridae, yet exhibit reproductive traits more common in small, nocturnal lemurs, such as short gestation periods (~102 days) and relatively large average litter sizes (~2–3). Ruffed lemurs also build nests for their newborns (the only primates that do so), carry them by mouth, and exhibit an absentee parental system by stashing them while they forage. Infants are altricial, although they develop relatively quickly, traveling independently in the wild after 70 days and attaining full adult size by six months.
Threatened by habitat loss and hunting, ruffed lemurs are facing extinction in the wild. However, they reproduce readily in captivity and have been gradually re-introduced into the wild since 1997. Organizations that are involved in ruffed lemur conservation include the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF), the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG), Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary in South Africa, Wildlife Trust, and the Duke Lemur Center (DLC).