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
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
Dominant females and males are privileged by leading
the group, getting better food resources, and with more reproductive
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.
*Ring-tailed lemurs are one of the most vocal primates!
raise their tails like flags when traveling through their home range to
keep the group together!
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:
||White-footed Sportive Lemur
|Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur
||Greater Dwarf Lemur
||Red-tailed Sportive Lemur
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.
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
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