Ring-tailed lemurs get their names because of their long, black and white striped tail which makes them the most recognized lemur. Their tail measures about 24in. The rest of their bodies are light reddish gray to red-brown with light gray to dark brown rumps and light grey limbs. Their feet, hands and undersides are white. They have white faces with dark brown/black triangular eye patches that look like a mask around their light brown eyes with black muzzle. Their ears are white and similar to a cat’s. Males have scent glands on their chests near the armpits. They also have scent glands on the inside of their wrists with a spur-like fingernail known as a horny spur. Ring-tailed lemurs also have specialized teeth in their lower jaw that form a dental comb. These long, narrow teeth project nearly straight forward from the jaw thought to aid in grooming. Lemurs use their hands and feet to move nimbly through the trees but cannot grip with their tails as some of their primate cousins.
Ring-tailed lemurs are opportunistic omnivores. While fruit makes up most of their diet, they also eat leaves, stems, flowers, tree bark, spiders, caterpillars, cicadas, insect cocoons, tree sap, birds, chameleons, grasshoppers and even dirt from termite mounds. However, one of the most important food sources for these lemurs is the tamarind tree. This tree is abundant in gallery and more open forests away from rivers, and they produce fruits and leaves at alternating times of the year providing a reliable year-round food source for the lemurs. Tamarinds are considered a keystone resource providing up to 50% of the total food consumed during some times of the year. In the driest parts of their range, water availability is a serious issue. Ring-tailed lemurs are able to obtain water from succulent plants such as aloe and prickly pear cactus, and from dew and water that accumulates in crevices such as tree holes. Vegetation availability is strictly linked to rainfall. During the rainy season, October-April, fruit and young leaves become available to the lemurs. There are two peaks in fruit availability from October-November and then again from March-April. During the dry season, the tamarind tree is one of the only sources of fruit for Ring-tailed lemurs.
Habitat / Distribution
Ring-tailed lemurs require some forest cover and inhabit galler forests, rainforests, subalpine and spiny scrub in the southern parts of the island of Madagascar at elevations from sea level to 8530ft. Much of their habitat has been altered by human impact through clearing for agriculture, burning for charcoal production, and deforesting areas to create settlements.
Reproduction / Social System
Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups known as troops. These groups may include 6-30 animals but average about 17. There is a dominant female presence in all troops. To reaffirm social bonds, groups will huddle together which also aids in keeping warm during the cooler nights. They are the most terrestrial of lemurs. Ring-tailed lemurs become active right before dawn and move about in the branches of the troop’s sleeping tree. A troop will split into two sleeping parties each night, huddling together while sleeping. Early morning, the lemurs move into the sun, away from the sleeping tree onto exposed ground and begin feeding and sunning. The “sunning” posture is distinctive. They sit upright on their haunches, spread-eagle, rest their forearms on their knees exposing their undersides to direct sunlight. This behavior is probably linked to thermoregulation since it is often seen after a cold night/morning. After noon, the troop will settle in the shade for a quick “rest” period. They become active again in early afternoon, foraging, feeding and traveling until late afternoon. Depending on the time of year, they may take another break in the mid-afternoon on hotter days. After feeding in the afternoon, they travel back to the sleeping tree where they remain as a group for the rest of the night. However, they may move about the tree and groom and interact. Like other lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs have powerful scent glands and use their uniqe odor as a communication tool and even as a kind of weapon. Lemurs mark their territory by scent, serving notice of their presence to all who can smell. During mating season, male lemurs battle for dominance by trying to outstink each other. They cover their long tails with smelly secretions and wave them in the air to determine which animal is more powerful. This is commonly known as spur marking. Ring-tailed lemurs are also known as one of the most vocal primates using numerous vocalizations and alarm calls. In the wild, ring-tailed lemurs typically live between 16-19 years; however in captivity, they can live as long as 27 years.
Range & Population
Lemurs are found only on the African island of Madagascar and some tiny neighboring islands. Madagascar is home to many amazing animals found nowhere else on Earth since the island is in complete isolation. Ring-tailed lemurs are restricted to the south and southwestern parts of the island. They are found within nine forests: Andohahela, Andringtra, Ankilitelo, Bertenty, Beza Mahafaly, Isalo, Tsimanampetsotsa, Tsirave, and Zombitse. They have also been introduced to the United States on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia as part of a project to establish a free-ranging, breeding population that could be studied and in the future potentially serve as a source to restock parks in Madagascar. Ring-tailed lemurs home range size depends on the habitat. They seasonally expand their ranges. During the dry season they utilize larger areas because of the resource scarcity.
Ring-tailed lemurs are endangered because of habitat loss. However, they reproduce readily in captivity and is the most populous lemur in zoos worldwide, numbering more than 2,000 individuals.
Males and females are about the same size measuring about 43cm from head to rump and weighing between 4.87 and 4.89lbs. In captivity, they are slightly larger than their wild counterparts with males weighing on average 5.96lbs and females 5.9lbs.