Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Ring-tailed Lemur

(Lemur catta)

Habitat and Distribution: Found only in the forests (primarily dry forests, but including rainforest, subalpine, deciduous, gallery, and spiny bush habitats) of the African island of Madagascar

Size: 15-18 inches tall; 4-6 pounds

Wild Diet: Fruit (especially tamarind), leaves, flowers, sap, bark, and occasionally birds and insects

Predators: Raptors, fossas, domestic dogs and humans

Lifespan: 15-18 years in the wild; 20-25 years in zoos

Reproduction: Ring-tailed lemurs are ready to mate at 2-3 years. During the breeding season (mid-April through June), males compete for dominance by wiping secretions from wrist glands onto their tails and flicking them at opponents. After a 4-5 month gestation, a single infant is born weighing up to 3 ounces. It hangs on its mother’s stomach for at least 2 weeks, then rides on her back. After 2-3 months the infant begins exploring on its own and eating solid foods. Babies are weaned after about 5 months. Twins may be born when food is plentiful.

Behavior: Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal and highly social. They live in female-dominated social groups, called “troops," including up to 24 members. Males will move between troops, but females usually stay in the troop they were born into. Lemurs engage socially by grooming, sunbathing, and communicating with a complex set of body postures and vocalizations. Ring-tailed lemurs spend most of their time in trees, but spend more time on the ground than other lemur species.

Ring-tailed lemurs spend about half of their day searching for food on the ground. When traveling, they use their tails to communicate location and social status; the matriarch's tail is the straightest and held the highest.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

The habitats of ring-tailed lemurs are being compromised by logging and livestock ranching. They depend on trees for their arboreal lifestyle; without forest protection in Madagascar, they will soon have nowhere to live.

The ring-tailed lemur has a Species Survival Plan®.

Did you know?

  • Females baby-sit and form playgroups with the young of other females, and may even allow those infants to nurse.
  • The tamarind tree is considered a keystone resource for the ring-tailed lemur because it provides up to 50 percent of the total food consumed during the year. The tamarind produces fruits and leaves at alternating times of the year, providing a constant food source.
  • Like other species of lemur, the ring-tailed lemur has special adaptations for social grooming, including "comb teeth"--bottom incisors and canines that are close together and lay straight--and a special "grooming claw" on the back index toes.
  • Ring-tailed lemurs participate in a behavior called "sun-worshipping," where they face their bellies toward the sun after waking up. This helps them warm up for the day.