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Ring-tailed lemurs can be recognised by their conspicuous black-and-white ringed tail. This tails helps the lemurs to keep balance, but is also used to let others know where they are: the tail is raised like a flag above tall grass. Ring-tailed lemurs have glands on their anogenital region, wrists and underneath their armpits. They use these glands to leave traces for other animals, e.g. to indicate their territory. Male ring-tailed lemurs have an additional gland on their wrist including a spur which they use to carve in their odour onto the surface. This can leave a visual mark and produces an audible clicking sound.
Ring-tailed lemurs are prosimians and have a long, pointed face with black, wet nose. Their eyes are directed forward as well. The dentition of the ring-tailed lemurs have a remarkable feature. Their lower teeth are slightly skewed forward, so they can use this as a comb. This ‘comb’ is used to groom each other and themselves and maintain social bonds. Additionally, they use a special nail, the second toe on their feet, to groom as well.
Ring-tailed lemurs live on the African island Madagascar. They occupy different forest types, including tropical dry scrub and wet and deciduous gallery and montane humid forest.
Ring-tailed lemurs live in large multimale-multifemale groups of 10-30 animals. The females are dominant over the males. The males often live in the periphery of the group.
Ring-tailed lemurs are cathemeral, which means they are flexible in their activity patterns depending on the season and habitat. They spend quite some time on the ground and are true sun-worshippers. Ring-tailed lemurs will try to catch every bit of sunlight they can get by spreading their arms wide and directing their faces towards the sun. This way they will warm up after a cold night. The coat of the ring-tailed lemurs is quite thin at the inside of their arms and on their bellies. Assuming this sunning position therefore actually helps them to absorb as much warmth as possible.
Ring-tailed lemurs communicate through smells. They will leave their odours on substrates such as trees, branches and bushes. The odour can even be smelled after a week and tells something about the age and sex of the animal that left the smell. And provides information on their readiness to mate. Next to odours, ring-tailed lemurs communicate with different sounds and calls. The most famous sound being a sort of ‘meow’ like a cat.
Ring-tailed lemur females are only fertile for a short period once every year. The males will display ‘stink fights’. Here they will rub their tails with their wrist glands and spread the odour by fanning their tails. The winner gets to mate with the female. During the birth season, the females are particularly snappy towards each other. After birth, the female carries her offspring in ventro-ventral position, but after only two weeks the young are moved to their backs and start to become independent.
The entire group takes care of the offspring. After five to six months the infants are quite independent and after two years they become fertile themselves. Females will remain in their natal group throughout their lives, but they still have to work to maintain a good position in the group hierarchy. Males will emigrate from their natal group after two years of age.
Situation in the wild
The habitat of the ring-tailed lemurs is threatened. More and more forests are logged and the lemurs are hunted for their meat. This makes the ring-tailed lemur an endangered species in the wild.
The ring-tailed lemurs at Apenheul live in a free-roaming area, and can walk among the visitors. You can find them in the Madagascar area together with other lemur species. Apenheul is part of the EAZA Ex Situ breeding programme (EEP) for the ring-tailed lemur. Together with other zoos, we actively strive to maintain genetically healthy and demographically stable populations for this species in zoos.
- The ring-tailed lemurs at Apenheul live between the visitors. Their living area is quite large and you can encounter them at several places: on sunny spots, between the bamboo, on the roof… Luckily, you can easily recognise them by their tails and sounds.