When it comes to hierarchy, the lemur species goes against the norm of male dominance found in most species. In the lemur world, girls rule and families reign supreme.
Lemur hierarchy is well defined, with an alpha female acting as the leader and all females outranking any males.
When sorting out mating rights, male ring-tailed lemurs compete for females in an interesting, if not slightly disgusting way: They have stink fights! They smear scent from wrist glands onto their tails and lob that smell toward their opponents with a flick of their tail. Generally the winner of the stink fight wins, although the battle sometimes becomes more aggressive.
Though the entire group helps care for the young, mothers are very protective. Babies cling to their mother's belly for the first couple of weeks. They then begin to get a bit more adventurous, venturing out little by little, but always returning to mom to nurse and seek protection.
Females usually give birth to one baby but sometimes they do have twins. This is the case at our own Pueblo Zoo!
Photo: Christopher May
Shasta is an experienced mom and has already given birth twice to singlets. (A fun fact about "Shasta's" line of relatives is they are named after sodas: "Sierra," "Ginger" and "Pepper" -- for Dr. Pepper -- are some examples.)
Shasta outdid herself this year and had twins in February. The two new babies are now getting to that adventurous stage. Like human children, they learn by exploring, touching and testing their limits within the protective supervision of their mom.
The baby lemurs may soon be venturing out to the outdoor island with their mom as soon as weather and bravery permits. Wherever they are, they are mesmerizing to watch and doing something different on any given visit. They demonstrate well the kind of interactive play the zoo is increasingly trying to promote.
The Zoo is creating opportunities for human and animal youngsters alike to explore and spend quality time with their family through play. For example, the new remodel at the EcoCenter (penguin exhibit) gives kids a chance to stretch their imagination by dressing up like a penguin, creating a seascape and playing a fishing game. So when you stop by to see the baby lemurs, make sure to carve out some time to check out this new fun stuff at the EcoCenter.
Just the Facts:
Scientific name: Lemur catta. The word "lemur" comes from the Latin word for 'ghost'.
Common name: Ring-tailed lemur.
Description: The ring-tailed lemur is so named for its distinct black-and-white ringed tail. The rest of its body is typically covered in a gray colored fur, with lighter white fur on the belly, throat and face. They have black skin surrounding their eyes, nose, and mouth. Males and females are similar in coloring and size. They are the most terrestrial of all lemur species, although they are adept at moving around in trees.
Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups, varying between 3 and 25 in size. There are usually an equal number of males and females within this group. A well-defined hierarchy exists and is female dominated. An alpha female is the focal point for the whole group, while all other females outrank the males.
When lemurs travel, they keep their tails raised like flags so that the group can stay together as they move. Groups will defend their home range by marking the territory using scent glands and vocalizing, although they will occasionally have to fight off rival groups. Ring-tailed lemurs also enjoy sunbathing to warm up. They will sometimes be found sitting in a yoga-like position with their arms open and belly facing the sun.
Diet: Omnivorous. Ring-tailed lemurs primarily eat fruit, leaves, flowers, bark and sap; however, they will also eat large insects and small lizards.
Range: Lemurs are only found on the island of Madagascar. Ring-tailed lemurs are found in the southern and southwestern parts of the country.
Habitat: They are often found in spiny forests, lowland gallery forest, dry scrub, dry deciduous forests and rock canyons. Ring-tailed lemurs can withstand more habitats than any other lemur species, including the hottest and coldest conditions in the region.
Reproduction and rearing: Ring-tailed lemurs mate in mid-April, with young born in September after a 4 1/2- to 5-month gestation. Females typically give birth to a single young, but twins occasionally occur. Babies cling to their mother's stomach for the first few weeks of life, but begin to hang onto her back and then explore nearby as they grow. Food becomes most abundant in Madagascar just as young are weaned, after 5 to 6 months. Young mature at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. Females usually stay within the group they were born in for their entire lives, while males leave and find a new group every 3 to 5 years.
Lifespan: 15 to 18 years in the wild. Under human care, many live into their late 20s. Pueblo Zoo had a lemur named Mamu that lived to be 37.
Threats: Classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, ringtail lemurs are hunted for food, although the largest threat comes from habitat destruction. Ring-
tailed lemurs were once thought to be one of the more common lemur species; however, recent studies have revealed that there are far fewer than previously thought.