Ring-Tailed Lemurs: Facts, Behavior & Locomotion

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be learning about the famous ring-tailed lemur of Madagascar. We'll learn about the unique adaptations this animal has because of isolation on the island, as well as interesting facts about its behavior and locomotion.

What Are Ring-Tailed Lemurs?

Scurrying across the floor of the dry forests in southwestern Madagascar is a strange animal. Its long tail is striped like a raccoon, but its fur is white and black. It vaguely resembles a monkey, but with much more interesting markings, and orange, cat-like eyes. This creature is a type of primate called a ring-tailed lemur. The ring-tailed lemur is named for its black and white striped tail.

Ring-tailed lemurs are named for their characteristic tails
ring tailed lemur

All lemurs, including the ring-tailed lemur, are endemic to Madagascar. With hundreds of thousands of years of isolation from mainland Africa, the lemurs on this island have been left to evolve to perfectly fit their habitat without competition from other primates. The result is a truly stunning animal with unique characteristics that is able to survive in some of the most hot, dry and inhospitable climates on Earth.

Ring-tailed lemurs are small, weighing only up to 7.5 pounds. However, their characteristic tails can grow over 21 inches long, longer than the length of their bodies which only grow up to about 17 inches long. Their long tails help them balance when traveling through the trees.


The ring-tailed lemur lives in a large troop, or group, with up to 30 individuals. The day starts with the troop waking up and emerging from their sleeping trees. Lemurs sleep in trees at night to stay safe from predators. The morning in the dry forest can be chilly though, and the ring-tailed lemurs engage in a behavior called sunning, where they take an upright posture exposing their white belly to the sun to get warm.

A ring-tailed lemur sunning in the trees

Living with so many roommates can be tough, but ring-tailed lemurs are social creatures and have evolved to work together. They are highly vocal with different alarms to alert the troop of danger. When a ring-tailed lemur's predator, such as a hawk, snake or fossa appears, the alarm is sounded and the troop springs into action together.

During mating, ring-tailed lemurs don't necessarily resort to violence. Instead of a face off, these strange primates resort to a stink off. Male ring-tailed lemurs have scent glands on their wrists that produce a strong odor. During a competition for mates or between rival troops, males rub their scent glands on their long tails, wafting their scent in the enemy's direction.

Although males and females live together in a troop, one alpha female is typically the boss of the troop. With her important job of giving birth and caring for newly born lemurs, the females run the show in their hot forest home, getting first preference for food, which can be helpful when food runs scarce in the dry season.


Females give birth once a year, usually to only one baby. However, if food is plentiful, ring-tailed lemurs may give birth to twins. Once the babies are born, they cling to their mother's belly, even as she runs through the forest floor and trees. After about a month, the infants are old enough to start riding on the mother's back. As the infants get older, they venture farther from their mother, returning to nurse or sleep until about six months of age when most are done weaning and can begin to gather food on their own.

A baby ring-tailed lemur clings to its mother
mom and baby

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