Lemur catta: Ring-Tailed Lemur

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 Behavior & Interactions

 

Male and female ring-tailed lemurs live together in groups of 5 to 30, with an average of 17 members. 

 
Unlike other members of the suborder Prosimii, ring-tailed lemurs are more terrestrial and mostly diurnal, or active mainly in the daytime.  These lemurs usually wake before dawn and begin foraging and sunning themselves.  Ring-tails are known for their sunning position with their bodies sitting upright, exposing their bellies to sunlight (as seen in the photo below).  This act is an adaptation to help thermo regulate their bodies after a cool night.  They typically rest at mid-day and then continue foraging and traveling until the evening.  After a long day of foraging, the ring-tailed lemurs will return to their sleeping tree where they interact and groom each other.  They sleep through the night by huddling together in the sleeping tree.
 

 

Photograph - Chris Lee 2002      Location - Suffolk Wildlife Park

 

Ring-tailed lemurs have a unique social hierarchy with a dominant female leading the group.  The dominant female is flanked by a close-knit group of upper females that have a friendly relationship.  In contrast, the dominant female will show aggressive behavior towards more distantly related females.  She holds her dominance by lunging, chasing, grabbing, or biting  lesser females or males.  The dominant female does not inherit her rank; she must fight for it. Females typically remain in the same group they were born in for their full lifespan.

There are also one to three other high-ranking males.  The males are usually ranked by age, with lemurs between six to nine years ranked highest.  Unlike females, the males leave their natal groups when they are between three and five years old and try to join another group.

Dominant females and males are privileged by leading the group, getting better food resources, and with more reproductive success.

If a ring-tailed lemur group gets too big, it will break into smaller groups.  This helps to decrease competition within the group for food. However, the smaller group can have a disadvantage when it comes to claiming feeding grounds.

 

Photograph - Chris Lee 2002     Location - South Lakes Wild Animal Park

 

Ring-tailed lemurs communicate with each other with short grunting sounds or a quick bark to keep the group together while foraging or to warn each other about approaching predators.

      *Interesting facts:

        *Ring-tailed lemurs are one of the most vocal primates!

        *They also raise their tails like flags when traveling through their home range to keep the group together! 

 

Another characteristic, unique to the ring-tailed lemurs, is their use of scents.  They have apocrine and sebaceous sweat glands in their genital regions.  Males have special glands on their wrists and shoulders.  The lemurs use the greasy, scented substance created in these glands to mark their territory.  Males also participate in a special rival act of "stink fighting".  They put get the secretions on their tails and wave their scented tail at other rival males to establish dominance.

 

When two groups of lemurs encounter each other, the dominant females will stare, glare, or even fight and bite each other.  Dominant female combat can be serious or even fatal.  After inter-group encounters, the groups typically separate and retreat to their home ranges.
   

 

 

 

 

Interactions with Other Species

 

Ring-tailed lemurs are sympatric with nine other primate species:
Bamboo lemur White-footed Sportive Lemur
Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur Greater Dwarf Lemur
Verreaux's Sifaka Red-tailed Sportive Lemur
Ruffled Lemur Brown Lemur
Aye Aye  
 

Competition:

Ring-tailed lemurs have little competition with other sympathetic species for food because ring-tailed lemurs forage during the day, unlike their nocturnal counterparts.  The different daily activity patterns separate the species.

Competition commonly occurs during breeding season when lemurs are looking for mates.  If a lemur is threatened, they strike out with their short nails.

Predation:

Little is known about other animals hunting ring-tailed lemurs.  Some potential threats are raptors, snakes, and domestic cats released into the wild.  There have also been reported cases of brown lemurs kidnapping and eating ring-tailed young.

 

 

Interactions With Humans:

Humans are putting pressure on ring-tailed lemur populations as development is expanding into lemur territory.  The destruction of the limited forests of Madagascar for agricultural development, cattle grazing, and human settlement is making lemur populations vulnerable.  Currently, ring-tailed lemur populations range between 10,000 to 100,000 in the wild and more than 1,000 in captivity.  Now, ring-tailed lemurs are considered vulnerable to endangered.  Even though population figures are large now, they are expected to decline substantially due to the destruction of their natural habitat. 

There is only one documented case of a ring-tailed lemur attack in America.  At Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minnesota, a young boy entered an exhibit and threw a pebble at the lemur.  The lemur responded by scratching and bit the student.  The boy was taken to the hospital, and the lemur was euthanized shortly thereafter.