Lemur males and females are about the same size. Lemurs weigh 4.4 to 10 pounds (2 to 4.5 kilograms), depending on species, with the mongoose lemur being the smallest. Adult head and body length is 11 to 22 inches (28 to 56 centimeters). Thickly furred lemur tails are from 11 to 22.5 inches (28 to 65 centimeters) long.
For jumping ease, lemurs have strong hind or back limbs which are longer than their forelimbs, or front legs. For better branch hold, thumbs and big toes are set at an angle to the other digits, or fingers and small toes. The palms of the hands and soles of the feet are deeply ridged, or creased, adding to strong branch grip. A clawlike grooming nail is present on the second toe of each hind foot. It is used to clean their fur.
Lemurs have foxlike heads with long muzzles, or nose areas. Large, round, owl-like eyes can be bright red, orange, yellow, or blue. Ears are medium size. Special comb-shaped front teeth are used for grooming in addition to the grooming nail. Lemurs lick their noses to keep them clean and damp. This helps with odor sensing.
Lemurs can be brown, gray, black, and reddish, often with mixed colors. For example, the ruffed lemur is black and white, and the red ruffed lemur is flame-red with a black face and a white neck patch. Lemur fur is thick and soft. Males and females may look alike, or quite different, depending on the species.
Lemurs are found in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands.
Lemurs live in tropical forests, or warm damp forested areas, plus subtropical areas located near tropical areas. These include dry scrub, dry tropical deciduous forests where leaves fall off during winter months, and occasionally grassy areas.
Lemurs eat plant foods, including flowers, plant juices, fruits, leaves, seeds, and seedpods. Occasionally some feed on insects, small vertebrates such as lizards, and bird’s eggs. Bamboo lemurs prefer young bamboo shoots and leaves.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
All lemurs are arboreal, living in trees. Some species also spend time on the ground. When in trees, lemurs walk and run on all fours. They also leap between trees. Their tail helps in balancing and steering during these leaps.
Lemurs are social, living in groups of two to twenty members, depending on species. Large groups break up into smaller groups to look for food, then rejoin at night. Within each group, lemurs groom each other. This is a very important lemur activity, reinforcing group bonding.
Most lemurs search for food during the day, although some species, like the mongoose lemur, may feed in the day or evening. They are territorial, each group claiming a certain feeding area. When groups meet at territory boundaries, or edges, they get quite upset. Alarm calls and branch shaking are used to get another group to move away. Besides different alarm calls, there are sounds for greeting, meeting other lemurs, and threat calls.
Females often supervise lemur groups. A dominant, or stronger, female in each group leads males and other females in searching for food and shelter. Females have first food choices, with males waiting their turn. Females also choose their mating partners. Females are ready to have young at two to three years old.
After mating, females are pregnant about four months. They usually give birth when the monsoon, or rainy season, starts. There are usually one or two infants each birth, although the ruffed lemur may have up to six infants.
At first, a newborn lemur rides under its mother’s body, clinging onto her fur. At a month old, it begins riding on its mother’s back. Shortly after, the young lemur starts wandering on its own. It is weaned, or taken off breastmilk, by five months.
LEMURS AND PEOPLE
People hunt and trap lemurs for food. Some lemurs are kept as pets. Others are shipped overseas for the illegal pet trade. Sometimes lemurs are killed if they’re blamed for feeding on food crops. However, ecotourism (travelers coming from abroad to see local wildlife) is helping lemurs to survive. Ecotourism brings in a lot of money, so it is hoped that local people will benefit and aid world efforts to keep lemurs from becoming extinct, dying out.
Madagascar is the only place where lemurs are found. Animal grazing, farming, tree cutting for fuel and brush fires decrease habitat, or living areas. Since only 10 to 15 percent of Madagascar’s forests remain, all lemur species are threatened or could become threatened. Two species are Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild; one species is Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and five species are Vulnerable, facing high risk of extinction.