Common Name: Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Scientific Name: Varecia variegata
Species: V. variegata
The lemur is a kind of primate, which means it is related to apes and humans. You would never know it from the way it looks though! There are many kinds of lemurs, but most have long, pointy noses, which contribute to their excellent sense of smell. Each type of lemur looks very different. The color can vary from reddish brown to gray.
They come in many different sizes. The smallest lemur, the pygmy mouse lemur, weighs only one ounce. But the biggest lemurs, the Indri and Diademed Sifaka lemurs, can weigh up to fifteen pounds, which is about as much as a big cat. Lemurs use their sense of smell to communicate with each other.
These primates have scent glands on their bottoms and on their feet that leave odors on surfaces they cross. When other lemurs pass by, they smell those odors and can tell that another lemur has been there. Lemurs have big, bushy tails that they wave in the air as another form of communication. These big tails also help lemurs balance when they leap from tree to tree.
Most lemurs are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time in trees and bushes. They have a good grip for hanging on to branches. Only the Ringtail lemur spends most of its time on the ground. Usually lemurs that are awake during the day live in groups. Besides using scent glands and tails to communicate, they also make noises.
Nocturnal lemurs, that are active at night, tend to live alone. All lemurs are found only in Madagascar (an island off the coast of Africa), and the neighboring Comores Islands. But on these islands, lemurs live in a variety of habitats. Some live in moist, tropical rainforests, while others live in dry desert areas.
When lemurs are born, they are carried in their mothers' mouths until they are old enough to hang on to her fur by themselves. Most lemurs live for about eighteen years. Lemurs usually have a vegetarian diet, consisting of leaves and fruit, although they will occassionally eat insects or smaller animals. Out of the fifty different kinds of lemurs, ten of those types are critically endangered, seven are endangered, and nineteen are considered vulnerable.
Lemurs play an important role in the ecology of Madagascar and the Comores Islands, because they disperse seeds from the fruit they eat. These seeds can then grow into new plants, which is important because the forests of Madagascar are being destroyed at a very high rate. Lemurs are threatened largely because their habitats are being destroyed.
People in Madagascar cut down the forests there to use the wood, and to grow agricultural crops in its place. In fact, eighty percent of the lemur's original habitat in Madagascar has been destroyed. Although the lemurs themselves help to disperse seeds for new plants, they cannot keep up with the people that cut the forests down.
Lemur populations are also hurt by hunting. Fortunately, however, all types of lemurs are protected by CITES, which makes it illegal to hunt or capture lemurs for trade, except for scientific research, and to breed in zoos. These laws are well-enforced, and the lemur has been a long-time focus of conservation efforts.
Author: Emily B.