Ring-tailed Lemur

Taxonomic Classification: Lemuridae (family), Lemur (genus), Lemur catta (species)

Common Name: Ring-tailed lemurPhysical Description:

  • Adult Body Length: 15-18 inches with an additional 22-24 inches with its tail length
  • Adult Body Weight: around 6.5-7.5 pounds
  • Facial features (said to be the least monkey-like features): Bandit-faced masks, long fox-like muzzle, dark and split moist noses,ears are more prominent compared to other lemur species, forward-facing eyes are encircled by a large black ring and have less of the “dead fish” stare that is otherwise common throughout other lemur species, dental comb that is used for grooming by running through the fur, dental formula of 2-1-3-3, high brain to body ratio
  • Body: about the size of a house cat or a small dog, hind limbs are significantly longer than the forelimbs (gives it a hunched over look, while also correlating with walking on all fours with palms down), have typical “hands” that are used concurrently–rather than one at a time, a separated big toe is used to enhance its grasping ability, have a grooming claw that is located on the second toe that is used for scratching and cleaning, main body color of gray but they are a reddish-brown on their backs
  • Unique Characteristics: have an extremely elaborate tail that stretches out to be as long as the lemur itself from head to torso, it is striped white and black and has about 13-14 rings on it; equipped with scent glands on its wrists, arms, chest, and sometimes its anus; in the males, along with the scent glands there are also tiny horn-like outcrops which they stab into the tree to add some sort of visual component to their scents
  • Note that there are not distinct differences between the male and female lemur sizes; they very much lack sexual dimorphism.

Geographic location and Range:

  • Madagascar forests: are comfortable in several types of indigenous forests, ranging from driy scrub forests to dense, closed-canopy gallery (riverside) forests; found in Madagascar Africa,
  • Troop Range: covers anywhere between 15-22 acres in densely forested acears and up to 57 acreas in scrub, territories of ringtails do not overlap


  • Herbivores: generally considered to be an herbivore, although it will sometimes eat small bird eggs and rodents; gathers food from trees, seeking foods such as leaves, berries and fruits

Social Organization:

  • Group Size: about 5-25 individuals in each troop, with an average of about 14
  • Composition: large groups for a core group of adult females and infants, along with one or more higher-ranking males,  ; females a likely to stay within the group that they were born in, males tend to wander from group to group
  • Dominance: females dominate the males in the group, with an alpha female(s) tending to reign over a period of almost two years, otherwise dominance is determined by age (mothers dominate over daughters, older siblings over younger siblings, etc.); the female is able to choose a mating partner and also gets the first pick at the food; there is not necessarily one set leader
  • Territoriality: the territories of lemur troops do not overlap–they are extremely territorial and if there is a point where two troops meet, they will most likely react by making hyperactive alarm calls and branch-shaking, a specific troop is associated with a certain territory by the distinct scents that they leave behind


  • Sexual Maturity: females reach sexual maturity at two years old, at three years old they are considered mature to start having children, males reach sexual maturity at two and a half years old
  • Birth Seasonality: have annual births, young are born between August and September; normally only one birth occurs, sometimes two, depending on food abundance
  • Mating: begins in mid April, females enter estrous for only a few hours a single day (although all the femals of a group will enter estrous within two weeks of one another), males tend to fight among one another for mating privileges, females tend to mate with more than one male, often ones from other groups!

Parental Care:

  • Weaning: mother is the primary caregiver for her young for the first three weeks of life, and that gradually decreases until at about week eight, the mother starts weaning the young lemur
  • Walking: newborn lemurs cling to the bellies of the mother for the first few days of life, and then after that are able to climb around the mother’s body and cling to the back of her; at the age of one month, the young lemurs spend about 16% of their time on the ground, following their mother; by about 12 weeks the mother refuses the dorsal rides
  • Mother/infant relationships: very close with mother, stays by her side for about 16 weeks; relationships with other mothers are frequent as well, rather it is playing with the other babies or going to be groomed by the other mother
  • Father/infant relationships: father is not seen around very often; however, they can sometimes be seen licking the infants; mothers are extremely protective and do not let new male members near the infant

Language/Communication Abilities:

  • Calls: have a very wide range of alarms and identification calls, most often heard sounds are that of a cat-like meow call that is for communication within the group, calls are very high pitched and song-like; might also be heard making yapping, rapid barking sounds to threat something or alarm the troop
  • Visual Cues: when a ringtail troop chooses to travel on the ground, their tails shoot straight up, and they act as flags so they all know if every individual is still with them
  • Scents: like mentioned earlier, ring-tailed lemurs will secrete scents from their scent glands; because the ringtails can recognize distinct smells from different lemurs, this will tell them a combination of things (territories, location of other lemurs in their troop, and the physical state of the lemur behind the scent)

Evidence of Culture:

  • Learn by watching: infants watch their mothers by riding on their backs and examining and replicating their actions



Fun Facts:

  • Ring-tailed Lemurs are the only lemur species to have adapted to a tree-less environment in the wild, spending about 25% of their time on the ground
  • Ring-tailed Lemurs have darker pelts and have fewer rings on their tail
  • When two rival males are at an altercation, “stink-fights” may cumulate. This is where one male will put his wrists together, exposing the glands, and drag his tail in between them, coating it with the smell.  He then will flick the tail at the rival, who will respond in the same or back away from the fight
  • The Lemur catta have many tiny sharp spines all over their penises.  The purpose of these spines is to alter the reproductive tract of that female so that she becomes less receptive to subsequent mating from other males; however, she does this anyway.


  • All images from Wikimedia Commons
  • Grzimek, Bernhard “Lemurs.” Grzimke’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 16: Mammals III. 2nd edition. Print.
  • Haviland, William A., et al. “Living Primates.” Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 2008. Print.
  • Hoagstrom, Carl W. Ph.D. “Ring-tailed Lemur” Animal Life. Magill’s Encyclopedia of Science.Volume Three. 2002. Print.
  • Lang, Kristina Cawthon. “Ring-tailed Lemur: Lemur catta.” Primate Info Net.National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2010. Web. 8 Feb. 2010.
  • Naoki Koyama, et al., “Long-term changes in dominance ranks among ring-tailed lemurs at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. ” Primates 46.4 (2005): 225. ProQuest Biology Journals, ProQuest. Web.  7 Feb. 2011.
  • Whitfield, Philip. Animals. New York: Macmillan Library Reference.1999. Print.
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