Ring-Tailed Lemur
Lemur catta
Population size
10-100 Thou
Life Span
15-33 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 

The Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) is a large strepsirrhine primate and the most recognized lemur. It belongs to Lemuridae, one of five lemur families, and is the only member of the Lemur genus. Like all lemurs it is endemic to the island of Madagascar and endangered. Experiments have shown that the Ring-tailed lemur, despite the lack of a large brain (relative to simiiform primates), can organize sequences, understand basic arithmetic operations and preferentially select tools based on functional qualities.


The Ring-tailed lemur has a slender frame and narrow face, fox-like muzzle. Its long, bushy tail is ringed in alternating black and white transverse bands, numbering 12 or 13 white rings and 13 or 14 black rings, and always ending in a black tip. The total number of rings nearly matches the approximate number of caudal vertebrae (~25). Its tail is longer than its body and is not prehensile. Instead, it is only used for balance, communication, and group cohesion. The pelage (fur) is so dense that it can clog electric clippers. The ventral (chest) coat and throat are white or cream. The dorsal (back) coat varies from gray to rosy-brown, sometimes with a brown pygal patch around the tail region, where the fur grades to pale gray or grayish brown. The dorsal coloration is slightly darker around the neck and crown. The hair on the throat, cheeks, and ears is white or off-white and also less dense, allowing the dark skin underneath to show through. The muzzle is dark grayish and the nose is black, and the eyes are encompassed by black triangular patches. Facial vibrissae (whiskers) are developed and found above the lips (mystacal), on the cheeks (genal), and on the eyebrow (superciliary). Vibrissae are also found slightly above the wrist on the underside of the forearm. The ears are relatively large compared to other lemurs and are covered in hair, which has only small tufts if any. Although slight pattern variations in the facial region may be seen between individuals, there are no obvious differences between the sexes.




Biogeographical realms

The natural range of this species occupies the south and southwest Madagascar, where scattered populations of Ring-tailed lemurs are found from Tolagnaro in the southeast to Morondava on the west coast and Ambalavao inland. Additionally, a single, isolated population inhabits the Andringitra Massif on the southeastern plateau of the island. Preferred types of habitat are spiny forests, lowland gallery forests, dry scrubs, dry deciduous forests, and, sometimes, rock canyons. Meanwhile, the population in the above-mentioned Andringitra Massif lives at higher elevations, among bare rocks, low bushes, and subalpine vegetation. This area is known to have one of the harshest climates on the island.

Ring-Tailed Lemur habitat map

Climate zones

Ring-Tailed Lemur habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

As diurnal species, the Ring-tailed lemurs are active during the daytime hours. Although these animals are generally terrestrial, they have excellent climbing abilities. The Ring-tailed lemurs are social creatures, forming female-dominated units of 3-20 individuals. Individuals of both genders live in separate dominance hierarchies. Females of this species not only dominate over males but also defeat the latter during fights. They are known for their friendly behavior towards individuals of their gender. Females also don't tend to be infanticidal, intentionally killing infants. Instead, they are very attentive to young lemurs, babysitting and forming groups, where infants can play. Moreover, females often switch babies and nurse infants of other females. After becoming reproductively mature, males leave their natal group, moving between troops when the mating season comes. The Ring-tailed lemurs display less territorial behavior than many other lemurs. However, during the reproductive season, they become highly territorial. During this period, females are typically more territorial than males. Ring-tailed lemurs are one of the most vocal primates and have a complex array of distinct vocalizations used to maintain group cohesion during foraging and alert group members to the presence of a predator. Calls range from simple to complex. A simple call is the purr, which expresses contentment. A complex call is the sequence of clicks, close-mouth click series, open-mouth click series, and yaps used during predator mobbing. The most commonly heard vocalizations of these lemurs are the moan, early-high wail, and clicks.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Ring-tailed lemurs are omnivores. These animals generally consume plants, leaves, flowers, nectar, fruit, sap, and bark, often supplementing their usual diet with insects, chameleons, and small birds.

Mating Habits

mid-April to June
4-4.5 months
1-2 infants
5 months

Ring-tailed lemurs polygynandrous (promiscuous), meaning that both the males and females have multiple partners. However, the dominant male in the troop typically breeds with more females than other males. Females typically mate within their troop but may seek outside males. During the mating season, both males and females compete among themselves strongly, which often brings in confrontations and fights. While the former compete for space and resources, the latter defend their mating rights. Mating lasts from the middle of April to June. The gestation period is about 4 - 4.5 months, yielding 1 - 2 infants, typically in August-September. Females of this species are very attentive mothers, sheltering, grooming, feeding, and eagerly carrying their offspring. After a while, the babies can be seen traveling on the abdomen of their mothers. By around 2 months old, infants start eating solid food. Then they begin riding on their mother's back and are finally weaned at 5 months old. Females produce their first litter at 3 years old, whereas males are ready to breed at 2.5 old, although older males of their troop don't permit them to do it.


Population threats

The Ring-tailed lemurs currently face the loss of their bush and forest habitat as a result of overgrazing, burning as well as tree-cutting for the charcoal industry. Localized threats include hunting, trapping, and capture as a pet species.

Population number

The total population of Ring-tailed lemurs in 2009 was between 10,000 - 100,000 individuals. At that moment, the species was listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List. Today, Ring-tailed lemurs are classified as Endangered (EN), and their numbers continue to decrease.

Ecological niche

On one hand, the Ring-tailed lemurs act as important seed dispersers of fruit-bearing plant species they consume, thus influencing the plant communities of their habitat. On the other hand, they form a link in the local food chain by being a source of food for numerous predators of their range.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • When sunbathing, these animals adopt a yoga-like posture, sitting on their haunches and stretching out their legs to warm up their underside.
  • The typical sleeping position of the Ring-tailed lemur is the tail, curled up to cover its back and the nose, stuck between hind legs.
  • When defending their mating right, males of this species engage in ‘stink fights’, during which they smear scent on their tails to waft it at the rival.
  • The most conspicuous feature of the Ring-tailed lemur is its long, heavily furred tail that is covered with 26 black and white, alternating rings, the first one of which is always white and the last one is black.
  • The newborn babies of this species exhibit blue eyes, eventually changing in color as the infants grow up.
  • Ring-tailed lemurs have a good grip due to the opposable thumbs, resembling these of humans, as well as leather-like palms on their feet.
  • These lemurs are amazingly clean creatures, always grooming themselves after feeding. The so-called “dental comb” of these animals is a comb-like row of teeth, that helps them groom themselves. They also use the long claws on the second toes of their hind feet as a grooming tool.


1. Ring-Tailed Lemur Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-tailed_lemur
2. Ring-Tailed Lemur on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11496/0

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