Lemurs are a diverse lineage of primates that call the island of Madagascar home. With many different species occupying various niches, these animals come in a variety of shapes and forms. Read on to learn about a few spotlighted species!
1. Ring-tailed lemur
The ring-tailed lemur is perhaps the most iconic of all lemurs with its distinctive appearance. Native to tropical dry forests throughout Southwestern Madagascar, ring-tailed lemurs are highly social and live in groups where females are dominant over males. While females typically stay within their birth groups throughout their lives, males disperse to join others at around three to five years of age.
Ring-tailed lemurs spend around 40% of their lives on the ground, much more than any other lemur. They’ll raise their tails up like a flag to keep individuals together. Males will also use their tails to engage in “stink fights” when competing over females. They have scent glands on their shoulders and wrists, which are applied onto their tails, then will proceed to wave them at each other. This continues on until one finally gives up.
When first discovered, naturalists debated what creature the aye-aye was. Due to its constantly-growing incisors, it was at first thought to be a rodent. As more studies were conducted, the aye-aye is now known to be a lemur. Aye-ayes are the largest nocturnal primates in the world, being found in both tropical dry and rainforests throughout Eastern and Western Madagascar.
The aye-aye is an omnivorous animal, feasting on fruits, sap, seeds, honey, and insects. It sports a very elongated, thin middle finger on each hand, which is used to detect grubs through the wood. It will tap on tree bark and will listen for any signs of hollow chambers inside. The aye-aye will then chew through the wood with its teeth and then will proceed to scoop out any grubs inside with its fourth finger. This finger is the longest of its digits and sports a hooked claw to help pull out grubs.
3. Coquerel’s sifaka
The Coquerel’s sifaka is a lemur most likely well-known by the public thanks to the popular children’s TV show, Zoboomafoo. The titular character is represented as a member of this species.
Sifakas are named after their warning call, which sounds like “shi-fak”. The Coquerel’s sifaka is well-adapted for life in the trees, being adept at climbing and hopping with their long hind legs. Most iconically, the Coquerel’s sifaka travels across the ground by leaping, lifting their arms up for balance. This is because the back legs of the sifaka are so long that climbing on all fours can be rather difficult!
Coquerel’s sifakas are found in tropical dry forests of Northwestern Madagascar. Like other sifaka species, Coquerel’s sifakas feast on plant material such as leaves, bark, and fruits. Unique to this species however is their method of leaping. Most sifakas leap sideways, but the Coquerel’s sifaka is the only species that instead leaps forwards!
The indri is the largest lemur species living today. They can be found in both lowland and montane rainforests throughout Eastern Madagascar. Its name derives from the native Malagasy word for this animal, endrina. In some parts of its range, the indri is also known as the babakoto, which means “father of a little boy” as some Malagasy legends see them as “fathers of mankind”.
Indri, like their sifaka cousins, are well-adapted to an arboreal lifestyle. They rest vertically along the tree trunks, and their long, powerful legs allow them to leap from tree to tree. Also, like sifakas, indri cannot walk on all fours well and, therefore must leap across the ground.
To communicate with other members in their groups, the indri produces long, wailing songs which can last for up to three minutes! They’ll sing to communicate amongst each other and to establish territories against other indri groups. As indri eat mainly leaves which provide very little energy, they’ll rest for long periods of time and can often be seen sunbathing.
5. Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur
The Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur can only be found in papyrus swamps around Lake Alaotra, located in Northeastern Madagascar. This species is locally known as the bandro, and is also known as the Lac Alaotra gentle lemur or the Alaotra reed lemur. Unlike other bamboo lemurs, which feast mainly upon bamboo, this species prefers snacking on papyrus reeds. It is the only known primate to specialize to live on papyrus reeds, and it is also the only one to live exclusively in wetlands.
Despite this peculiar lifestyle, some believe that the Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur is instead a subspecies of the Eastern lesser bamboo lemur, as some researchers suggest that there aren’t enough genetic differences to warrant separate species status.
6. Black-and-white ruffed lemur
The Black-and-white ruffed lemur is a species that can be found in tropical rainforests throughout Eastern Madagascar. Ruffed lemurs are the most frugivorous of all lemurs, with their diets consisting mainly of fruit.
Like some other lemur species, ruffed lemurs live in groups whose females are dominant over males. Group sizes may vary depending on resource availability. This species is also notably noisy, hosting a repertoire of loud, raucous calls. These sounds can vary from roars to growls to even screams. Ruffed lemurs produce these calls to communicate amongst each other and to warn of predators.
Ruffed lemurs are unusual in that, unlike other lemur species, the babies do not cling to their mothers. Instead, ruffed lemurs will build nests which they’ll then guard against potential threats. The babies will then stay in their nests until they’re ready to leave.
7. Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur
The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is a record-breaker in that it is not only the smallest lemur species living today, but is also the smallest primate in the world. Not including tail length, this species’s body is only around 4-5 inches long. This small creature can only be found in Kirindy Forest, a dry forest located in Western Madagascar.
Mouse lemurs are omnivores, feasting on various foods such as seeds, flowers, fruits, insects, and even reptiles. Besides size, it is virtually similar in appearance to most other mouse lemur species, forming what is known as a cryptic species complex. The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur was only recognized as a separate species in 2000 and has been named in honor of Malagasy primatologist Berthe Rakotosamimanana.
Lemurs and Conservation
Unfortunately, all lemur species mentioned here are animals that are highly threatened with extinction, being listed as Endangered or even Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Lemurs are losing their habitat as forests and wetlands are being converted for agricultural use. Logging operations also contribute to their destruction.
Lemurs are also being poached for their meat and fur, and they’re also being snatched from the wild for the illegal pet trade. In the case of the aye-aye, there is also a superstitious belief that this creature is a bad omen and is therefore persecuted.
Zoos and other conservation organizations are working effortlessly to save these primates from extinction. Some lemur species, particularly ring-tailed and ruffed lemurs, are kept through breeding programs; others, such as the indri and the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, are only found in the wild.
You can help lemurs and their natural habitats by raising the awareness of their plight to your friends and family. You can also support organizations that are working hard to protect and conserve these primates.