Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)

I’m not a huge fan of primates, so I tend to avoid writing about them. That being said, the less human-like a primate is, the more I like it. So lemurs are right up there as some of my favourite primate species, as they don’t look anything like people, and don’t even look that much like classic monkeys.

Lemurs are a family of primates found only on Madagascar, an island known for having strange and wondrous wildlife. There are almost 100 species of lemur, ranging in size, colour, and habitat. For simplicity’s sake I’m going to focus on the most well-known lemur, the ring-tailed lemur.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in the south and southwestern parts of Madagascar. Their favoured habitat is in gallery forests — forests located on the edge of riverbanks. They will live in other types of forest, however, including deciduous forest, dry scrub, and montane forests. Though they live in forested areas, ring-tailed lemurs are not strictly arboreal. In fact, of all the lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs are the most terrestrial, and can spend up to a third of their time on the ground.


A map of the distribution of ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. Image source: Wikipedia

The bodies of ring-tailed lemurs only get to be 39 to 46 cm in length, but their tails add a whole lot more to their overall length. Their tails can reach lengths of 56 to 63 cm, and are covered in distinctive black and white rings. The rest of the lemurs’ bodies is covered in grey or brown fur, which gets lighter on the neck and belly. Ring-tailed lemurs have a black ‘mask’ on their faces, where the fur is less dense and their black skin can show through.


It’s incredible how long their tails are. And a bit silly, really. Image credit: Alex Dunkel via Wikipedia

You might be thinking that the large, extravagant tails of ring-tailed lemurs must make excellent climbing tools. After all, what better to wrap around tree branches than a super long tail? Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well for these lemurs, as their tails are not prehensile. Instead, ring-tailed lemurs use their beautiful tails for balance, communication, and social cohesion.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups called troops, which range in size from six to over thirty individuals, though the average troop size is between thirteen and fifteen lemurs. Within troops, there is a strict dominance hierarchy, which is separate for males and females. Female lemurs dominate males, and often establish dominance by biting, cuffing, grabbing, and lunging at conspecifics. Lemurs will also defend their territory from other troops, using scent to mark their territories.


Ring-tailed lemurs like to sunbathe in the mornings to warm up, and assume these wonderfully attractive sitting positions. Image credit: Keven Law via Wikipedia

Competition gets really heated during the breeding season, when males fight for the right to breed with females. Breeding season is from April to May, and females stagger their estrus so each is receptive to mating on a different day, reducing competition. Clever girls. After a 135 day gestation, female lemurs give birth to one baby, or rarely twins.

Baby lemurs are carried on their mothers’ chests for the first two weeks of their lives, and then get to piggy back on moms’ backs for the next few months. They start to eat solid food after two months, and are fully weaned at five months of age. All members of the troop can assist with rearing and protecting the young, though survival of infants can be as low as 50%. Ring-tailed lemurs reach sexual maturity at around 2.5 to 3 years.

Lemur eyes

My attempt at drawing lemur eyes… just to creep you out! 

Unfortunately for ring-tailed lemurs, human activity has made them an endangered species. Destruction of forests for agriculture, lumber and fuel have had a serious impact on lemur populations. Lemurs are also hunted for food and as pets. Madagascar is known to have periodic droughts, which can severely impact the survival rate of young lemurs. All these factors have led to a decline in lemur populations. There are a number of reserves currently on Madagascar, where lemur populations are protected, so hopefully they can bounce back.

Cover image source: Mattis2412 via Wikipedia

Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)

Most mammals I blog about are fairly cute, and even the ones that are just strange looking have a certain charm. But the aye-aye is nothing of the sort. It is probably one of the creepiest, ugliest mammals around. It looks like something someone made up for a sci-fi movie. See:


The aye-aye lives in Madagascar, which is a pretty unique island. I guess because of its size and distance from the mainland, the flora and fauna have evolved very differently from everywhere else, so there’s a lot of strange animals living there (think tenrecs!). The aye-aye is no exception, and is probably one of the strangest of the bunch. The aye-aye is a type of lemur, although it is the only extant member of its family, Daubentoniidae.

Aye-ayes are primarily active at night, spending about eighty percent of the night foraging. Which would explain its giant eyes and huge ears – big eyes let in more light which presumably is helpful in the dark when you’re climbing through trees searching for food. Sound is important for most nocturnal animals, and the aye-aye uses its ears in a very special way.

One of the most prominent features of the aye-aye is its long, thin fingers. Personally I find this the creepiest part of the animal, probably because they look a bit like spider’s legs. Here is a picture to show you:


Creepy, right? Well there’s a reason aye-aye’s hands look like that, and it has to do with the way these animals find food. The aye-ayes tap trees repeatedly with their fingers, using those big ears to listen for the sound of hollow cavities in the trees. When they find one, the aye-aye gnaws a hole in the tree with specially modified incisors. Then it uses its elongated middle fingers to scoop grubs from the tree. In an ecological sense, the aye-aye replaces the niche occupied in other areas by woodpeckers. Though obviously less attractive, more terrifying ones.

And I’m not the only person who thinks these animals are weird looking. In madagascar the aye-aye is often seen as a bringer of bad fortune, or simply as plain evil. Many superstitions surround this unfortunate animal, and often they are killed on sight, then hung up to get rid of the evil spirit inside of it. Another superstition holds that if an aye-aye points its narrowest finger at you, then you will soon die. Some people take this a little further, saying that aye-ayes sneak into houses and murder people by using their long fingers to puncture the aorta. While I’m not a particularly superstitious person, and don’t think any animal should be killed because of them, I can see where these come from. The aye-aye definitely needs a better PR rep.

Maybe that starts right here. Instead of thinking of these strange lemurs as creepy, terrifying and weird, maybe we should change those adjectives. Aye-ayes are interesting, unique, and well-adapted to their life style. While this is clearly true, I’m going to stick with the descriptions I’ve been using. Because quite frankly, they are creepy, terrifying and weird. There’s just no way around it.