Classification and Range
Lemurs are primates placed in the suborder Prosimiae. There are five distinct families of lemurs: Lemuridae (ring-tailed lemurs), Indriidae (woolly lemurs), Daubentoniidae (aye-ayes), Megaladapidae (sportive lemurs), and Cheirogaleidae (fat-tailed dwarf lemurs). The red ruffed lemur is a member of the Lemuridae family, which includes 10 species in four genera. There is one other subspecies of ruffed lemur, the black and white ruffed (V. v. variegata).
All lemur species live on the African island nation of Madagascar.
Red ruffed lemurs live in deciduous tropical forests of the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar, at elevations up to 3,300 feet (1,006 m).
Red ruffed lemurs are the largest members of the Lemuridae; both sexes average 43-47 inches (110-120 cm) in length including a bushy, 22-25 inch (56-65 cm) tail. Adult males weigh 7-10 pounds (3.2-4.5 kg). Females are usually heavier. Slender bodied and long legged, red ruffed lemurs have a narrow, fox-like snout and small ears that are hidden by a ruff of hair. The soft, woolly body fur is a deep rusty red while their extremities, forehead, crown, belly and tail are black. They have a patch of white fur on the nape of the neck and may have additional white patches on the feet, digits or mouth. Red ruffed lemurs (and all prosimians) lack extensive digit coordination, so they groom themselves and each other with their teeth.
Six bottom teeth form what is called the toothcomb. A specialized claw on the second toes of their hind feet is used to brush their long, fluffy coat. Red ruffed lemurs have scent glands on their rump used for group identification. They also have acute senses of smell, vision and hearing.
Life expectancy in the wild is 15-20 years; they live up to 19 years in captivity.
In the wild: Fruits, leaves, nectar and seeds. Their diet varies, depending on the season.
At the zoo: Fruits, leaf-eater chow and various greens (i.e., kale, romaine, spinach, etc.)
Red ruffed lemurs reach sexual maturity at about 2 years of age, and have young at about 3 years of age. In the wild, breeding season occurs from May through July, yet the female is in estrus for only a few days and fertile only one day during this time. Gestation lasts 90-102 days; a period remarkably short for this large of a primate. Ruffed lemurs are the only primates that produce litters of young. The most common litter size is three. Young are born in September or October at the beginning of the wet season, when food is plentiful. Unlike most primates, the female red ruffed lemur may build several nests for her young, padding them with her own body hair. Newborns have fur, and are wide-eyed at birth, however, they are not mobile at birth. The mother may park them in one of her satellite nests while foraging. At 7 weeks, youngsters can follow their parents through the treetops. Weaning occurs when young are about 4 months old.
Lemurs live in social groups consisting of two to 16 animals. They stay within a common home range, aggressively defending it from other groups of red ruffed lemurs. As the dominant individuals, females form the core of the group, and are the defenders of their territory. During the wet season, red ruffed lemur groups will increase in size, only to disperse as the dry season approaches and food becomes scarce.
Who Goes There!
Red ruffed lemurs warn each other with a complex system of at least 12 different vocalizations. These alarm calls can be low grunts, gurgling sounds or a cackle-like roar. Red ruffed lemurs can even recognize the alarm calls of their co-subspecies, the black and white ruffed lemurs. Both subspecies will cooperate in warning the other's group. Predators of red ruffed lemurs include snakes, raptors, large mammals and humans.
Location at the Zoo
Red ruffed lemurs are located outside, on the African rain forest trail section of the Tropical Rain Forest.
All lemurs are endangered species; the red ruffed lemur is considered critically endangered, and is protected under Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, (CITES). Scientists estimate that only 1,000 to 10,000 red ruffed lemurs remain in the wild. Habitat destruction, hunting and live capture for the pet or animal trades place severe pressures on lemur populations and are the leading causes of endangerment. Because the red ruffed lemur has a small geographic range and low numbers of wild specimens, it is one of the most endangered of the Malagasy lemurs. Although some red ruffed lemurs live in a protected area of Madagascar, the Masoala Nature Reserve, most of them occur outside this reserve.
The island nation of Madagascar is an area of great biodiversity, rivaling the ecosystems found in Brazil and Indonesia. Madagascar separated from Africa over 160 million years ago, and most of the animal species living there today are endemic, evolving in isolation. It is vital to preserve the habitat of this nation for all the unique species living in Madagascar. Fortunately, red ruffed lemurs breed well in captivity. Over 300 individuals are currently held by at least 70 institutions worldwide. Woodland Park Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) and the Malagasy Faunal Interest Group (FIG). It is critical for zoos to support captive breeding efforts in order to ensure the continued survival of this species.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo or other conservation organizations of your choice. Do not buy products made from wild-caught animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats. Support sustainable Madagascar industries that protect rainforest resources.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Harcourt, Caroline. 1990. Lemurs of Madagascar and the Comoros: The IUCN Red Data Book. World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, U.K. and Gland, Switzerland. 240 p.
Mittermeier, Russell A. et al. 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Conservation International, Washington, DC. 356 p.
Powzyk, Joyce Ann. 1998. In Search of Lemurs: My Days and Nights in a Madagascar Rain Forest. National Geographic Society. Washington, DC., 48 p.