Black and white ruffed lemur

(Varecia variegata)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in lush tree branches in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar.

Size: 20-22 inches tall; 23-26 inch tail; about 8 pounds

Wild Diet: Primarily fruit, nectar, seeds, and leaves.

Predators: Raptors, fossas, and humans

Reproduction: Black and white ruffed lemurs breed during the dry season; offspring are then born during the rainy season, when vegetation is most lush and abundant. Before giving birth, females build nests in trees up to 25 meters above the ground. After a gestation of 90-106 days, a female gives birth to up to 6 young (more commonly 2-3). This is a short gestation for a primate, so newborn lemurs are less developed than other primates. After the first week, the female moves her litter to a new location, carrying each baby one at a time to its new home. She leaves her young only to forage. Within 3 weeks they are able to follow her and start learning how to find their own food. At 7 weeks old, they are able to move as well as full-grown adults. They are completely mature after 2 years.

Behavior: Black and white ruffed lemurs are diurnal and spend their daylight hours feeding, resting, and traveling. They form female-dominated social groups, known as "troops," that contain anywhere from a single mated pair to 16 individuals. Each troop establishes a large home range that they defend aggressively against other groups. Vocalizations such as loud shrieks are used to communicate the locations of group members, to warn the group of a predator, or to announce a change of location.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Over the past 30 years, the population of black and white ruffed lemurs has declined 80% due to habitat degradation and exploitation. Their homes are slashed and burned for human agriculture, logging, and mining. They are also hunted for meat--their large body size and diurnal lifestyle make them an easy target.

Did you know?

  • Black and white ruffed lemurs and red ruffed lemurs are the only primate species to give birth to litters (instead of single offspring).
  • The black and white ruffed lemur is thought to be the sole pollinator of the "traveler's palm," a 40-foot tree.
  • They are named for their body colors and the white hair that makes up their "beard."
  • They can hang from branches by their feet to reach food and will even eat while hanging upside down!