Primate of the Week: Ring-tailed lemurs

Lemur catta 



  • Suborder: Strepsirrhini
  • Infraorder: Lemuriformes
  • Superfamily: Lemuroidea
  • Family: Lemuirdae


Lemur catta or ring-tailed Lemurs are gray with black and white face and ring tailed, consisting of fourteen black and white circles. Both females and males are monomorphic (same size) (Jolly, 1996; Mittermeir et al. 1994; Sussman, 2000 (The ring-tailed lemurs are located in south and southwest Madagascar (Jolly, 1966)


Ring tailed lemurs are terrestrial and spend most of their time running or walking quadrepedally with their tails up (Mittermeier et al. 1994; Jolly, 2003).


The habitat of L. catta, include scrub and dessert, dry and humid forests and bamboo plantations (Oda, 1996; Sauther et al. 1999). Ring tailed lemurs are opportunistic omnivores

Their diet consists generally of fruits, leaves, flowers, stems, bamboo, small vertebrates and insects (Oda, 1996; Sauther et al. 1999; Jolly, 2003).


Ring tailed lemurs males have scent gland on the inner surface of the forearm, their chests and arm pits. Males have a horny epidermal spine medially placed that continues down to the palm (Jolly, 1966).  Both females and males have genital scent glands (Mittermeir et al. 1994; Rowe, 1996; Groves, 2001; Palagi et al. 2004).


Lemur catta groups or troops consist of multimales and multifemales (Jolly, 1966; Redmond, 2008). L. catta females tend to form temporally and spatially stable core groups while males tend to transfer frequently, usually annually between groups. Males tend to be subordinate and are spatially and socially peripheral (Jolly, 1966; Jolly 2003). Female dominance is another important feature to the L. catta this can be seen with the high aggression between males. Aggression from Lemurs can be exhibited by chasing, cuffing, scent marking and with males their stink fighting and males also exhibit submissive actions when approached by females such as retreating and cowering or lowering hail and tail and avoiding other animals. Males tend to submissively react when females approach (Jolly, 1966; Tattersall, 1975). Although generally the dominance hierarchies of males can be detected it is difficult to detect the female dominance hierarchy (Tattersall, 1975). Females are dominant over males and juveniles. During feeding this is most evident since the core dominant group (ie the dominant females and juveniles) selects preferred feeding areas while males on the periphery remain on the periphery to eat (Tattersall, 1975).


Group progression consists of females, juveniles and dominant males moving first while subordinate males lag behind interestingly not the same animal leads during this time. During the movements animals tend to make clicking noises and there is generally moaning and wails prior the movement starting. The L. catta also making a meow sound that is used as a contact call within a group (Jolly, 1966).


Female L. catta breed seasonally and generally mate during a two to three week period. During this time females will either choose familiar males or extra group males that join the group simply during the confusion of breeding season (Jolly, 1966). L. catta also tends to participate in sunning and self-grooming. They groom via licking and tooth scraping. Scent marking is also another crucially important characteristics to L. catta (Jolly, 1966). An interesting characteristic of scent marking is the stink fights between L. catta. This consists of holding their tails between their legs and scrapping their wrist glands against the tails. Following this they wave their tails had the other males (Jolly, 1966; Redmond, 2008).


Lemur catta females have visible estrus, which leads to a swelling of their genitalia from approximately 1.5 centimeters to 3 centimeters developing from black to pink (Cowgill, 1962; Jolly 1966). Reproduction for Lemur catta is seasonal and tend to have a breeding time of 2-3 weeks (Jolly, 1984; Strier 2011). Females within social group do not overlap in their estrus (Sauther, 1991). Lemur catta females throughout studies have differed in what type of male they were mating with. For example some will mate with dominant troop males while others will mate with lower ranking or periphery males. During their estrus time female’s will has mate with more than one male. (Sauther, 1991; Sauther and Sussman, 1993) L. catta aggression between males tends to be intense during the mating season however the females and males are monomorphic (same size) (Parga 2006). This is unusual due to the fact in most species that have aggression between males for females tend to exhibit sexual dimorphism or generally the males are much large then the females (Strier, 2011).


Due to the breeding season males compete with each other through copulatory plugs that form in the vagina following ejaculation this is seems to be an attempt to prevent the females from mating with other males. This is also evident by mate guarding following the copulation. Other males compete by removal or breaking on the plug in order to allow for more mating of the female (Evans and Goy, 1968; Parga, 2003; Sauther 1991). Higher ranking males tend to mate first and then guard the females likely trying to improve their chances of having offspring and passing on their genes. Female mating choice involves mating with more than one male, avoiding mating with natal males, mating with males form other troops or newly transferred males. This allow for successful fertilization, better chance of receiving viable sperm and avoid interbreeding this in turns leads to better offspring which then pay off for the investment the females makes in gestating (Sauther, 1991). These goals of course conflict with the males, which leads to, the very different mating strategies illustrates by the characteristics above. Males want to prevent females from mating with any other males while females want to mate with as many males possible. Finally incest avoidance is another important subject. Incest is necessary to avoid in order to produce healthy infants. Natal males will either remain in the troop or transfer from the troop. Transferring out of the troop fully avoids incest due to the access to new females. If they remain in the group then they will mates with females from other troops. This will allow for incest avoidance and create better functioning offspring (Sauther, 1991).


Work Cited/Read more  

Jolly A. 1966. Lemur behavior: a Madagascar field study. Chicago (IL): Univ Chicago Pr. 187 p.

Jolly A. 2003. Mammals: Lemur catta, ring-tailed lemur, Maky. In: Goodman, SM, Benstead JP, editors. The natural history of Madagascar. Chicago: Univ Chicago Pr. p 1329-31.

Jolly A, Caless S, Cavigelli S, Gould L, Pereira ME, Pitts A, Pride RE, Rabenandrasana HD, Walker JD, Zafison T. 2000. Infant killing, wounding, and predation in Eulemur and Lemur. Int J Primatol 21(1): 21-40.

Jolly A, Dobson A, Rasamimanana HM, Walker J, O’Connor S, Solberg M, Perel V. 2002. Demography of Lemur catta at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar: effects of troop size, habitat and rainfall. Int J Primatol 23(2): 327-55.

Jolly A, Rasamimanana HR, Kinnaird MF, O’Brien TO, Crowley HM, Harcourt CS, Gardner S, Davidson JM. 1993. Territoriality in Lemur cattagroups during the birth season at Berenty, Madagascar. In: Kappeler PM, Ganzhorn JU, editors. Lemur social systems and their ecological basis. New York: Plenum Pr. p 85-109.

Mittermeier RA, Konstant WR, Nicoll ME, Langrand O. 1992. Lemurs of Madagascar: an action plan for their conservation 1993-1999. Gland ( Switzerland ): IUCN. 58 p.

Mittermeier RA, Tattersall I, Konstant WR, Meyers DM, Mast RB. 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Washington DC: Conserv Intl. 356 p.

Oda R. 1996. Predation on a chameleon by a ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) in the Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. Folia Primatol 67(1): 40-3.

Oda R. 1999. Scent marking and contact call production in ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Folia 70(2): 121-4.

Palagi E, Telara S, Borgognini Tarli SM. 2004. Reproductive strategies in Lemur catta: balance among sending, receiving, and countermarking scent signals. Int J Primatol 25(5): 1019-31.

Parga, Joyce. 2006. Male Mate Choice in Lemur Catta. International Journal of Primatology. 27, no. 1: 107-131.

Rowe N. 1996. The pictorial guide to the living primates. East Hampton (NY): Pogonias Pr. 263 p.

Sauther ML. 1989. Antipredator behavior in troops of free-ranging Lemur catta at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. Int J Primatol 10(6): 595-60

Sauther ML. 1991. Reproductive behavior of free-ranging Lemur catta at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. Am J Phys Anthro 84(4): 463-77.

Sauther ML. 1998. Interplay of phenology and reproduction in ring-tailed lemurs: implications for ring-tailed lemur conservation. Folia Primatol 69(Suppl 1): 309-20.

Sauther ML, Sussman RW. 1993. A new interpretation of the social organization and mating system of the ringtailed lemur (Lemur catta). In: Kappeler PM, Ganzhorn JU, editors. Lemur social systems and their ecological basis. New York: Plenum Pr. p 111-21.

Sauther ML, Sussman RW, Gould L. 1999. The socioecology of the ringtailed lemur: thirty-five years of research. Evol Anthro 8(4): 120-32.

Strier, Karen B. 2011. Primate Behavioral Ecology. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Sussman RW. 1991. Demography and social organization of free-ranging Lemur catta in the Beza Mahafaly Reserve, Madagascar. Am J Phys Anthro 84(1): 43-58.

Sussman RW. 1992. Male life history and intergroup mobility among ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Int J Primatol 13(4): 395-413.

Sussman RW. 2000. Primate ecology and social structure. Volume 1, Lorises, lemurs and tarsiers. Needham Heights (MA): Pearson Custom. 207 p.

Sussman RW, Green GM, Porton I, Andrianasolondraibe OL, Ratsirarson J. 2003. A survey of the habitat of Lemur catta in southwestern and southern Madagascar. Prim Cons 19: 32-57.

Tattersall, Ian, and Robert W Sussman. 1975. Lemur Biology. New York: Plenum Press.


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