Like all species of lemur, ring-tailed lemurs are native only to the island nation of Madagascar. There, they live in a variety of forest habitats, including spiny forest, lowland gallery forest, dry scrub, and dry deciduous forest. They are able to tolerate more diversity of habitat than any other type of lemur and are found in some of the hottest, driest, and coldest environments in Madagascar. At the Maryland Zoo, they are located on Lemur Lane in the African Journey.
A social species, ring-tailed lemurs live in female-dominated family groups. Females typically remain with the groups into which they were born while mature males shift between groups. Family groups travel together from feeding site to feeding site and occupy the best feeding tree. Females and offspring get first dibs at the food, while males either wait their turn or settle into a nearby tree. Ring-tailed lemurs are not strictly territorial but when groups encounter each other in overlapping home ranges, it often results in confrontation. Females will defend their groups vocally and sometimes physically before each group retreats back to the center of its home range. Ring-tailed lemurs are active during the day, foraging, feeding, grooming, and resting, both on the ground and in trees. They feed on a variety of plant materials, including flowers, as well as insects and chameleons. They spend more time on the ground than any other species of lemur. They like to sunbathe and they strike a signature pose, sitting on the ground with arms and legs splayed, facing into the sun.
Ring-tailed lemurs are easily identified by their super-long, bushy, black-and-white striped tails. They have masked faces that resemble a cat or a raccoon. They are distinctive in their movement as well. When walking or running, they travel on all fours and hold their tails straight up, with the tip curving away from the body in the shape of a question mark.
Ring-tailed lemurs have some predators – Madagascar’s largest carnivore, the fossa, being one – but the greatest threat to their survival is habitat loss. They are also hunted in parts of their range and are frequently taken as pets.
Male ring-tailed lemurs compete to establish a hierarchy, which determines access to females. Females tend to synchronize breeding and birthing, which occurs roughly at the beginning of September. Females usually give birth to a single offspring at a time. Baby ring-tailed lemurs cling to their mothers’ bellies for about the first 2 weeks of life, then shift onto their mothers’ backs, and then start exploring their surroundings with increasing independence.
Ring-tailed lemurs thrive in a number of protected territories within their range but fare less well outside of these areas. They are currently listed as a “endangered” species by the IUCN, the world’s leading conservation organization.
The Zoo’s Lemur Lane exhibit is generously sponsored by: