What is a Lemur?
The lemur monkey is a type of prosimian, which means it is a primate animal that has evolved before monkeys and apes. Lemur animals are more primitive than their cousins but they share some similar characteristics. Lemurs are found in only one area on Earth and that is Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Island.
The lemur monkey is considered the most endangered group of mammals in the world. Today there are around 100 lemur species. Around 60 million years ago their lemur-like primate ancestor is thought to have rafted over to Madagascar from the continent of Africa. The original lemurs evolved to fill a large number of island’s varying niches.
Now that you have the answer for what is a Lemur, so, with no further delay, let's start knowing them better and understand the lifestyle, habits, structure, and types of lemur animal!
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Characteristics of a Lemur
If one does not know what a lemur was, one may guess that it was related to a cat, squirrel, mouse, or dog. Lemurs are usually small in size. Their face resembles somewhat a mouse’s face in smaller species or a fox’s face in larger species. Most of the lemur species have a snout. All of them have a wet and hairless nose with curved nostrils. This is unique among primates and makes the lemur monkeys superior to sniffers.
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Their hands and feet are tailor-made for living in the trees. Pads on their hands and feet help them to stick when they jump onto something. They have 5 fingers on the front and hind limbs. Some lemur species have longer hind limbs than forelimbs for jumping. Their tail is not prehensile. The tail varies in length, depending on the species. Lemurs may make their home or sleeping spot depending on their size. They make it in the tree hole, tree fork, or leaf nest.
Lemur monkeys range greatly in size from the pygmy mouse lemur to the indri. They have bright round eyes and soft fur that varies in color which depends on the species. The most common colors are white, gray, black, brown, and also red-brown. In some lemur species, males and females have distinct coloring. For instance, blue-eyed black lemur males are solid black whereas the females are reddish-brown.
Diurnal lemurs are very social and they like to live in family groups or troops. They follow the safety-in-numbers idea. They use an alarm call when a predator is spotted to inform the rest of the group. Nocturnal lemurs do not live in large groups as they have the cover of night to protect themselves. Some lemurs are active in the day as well as at night. Their primary predator is the fossa. They can fall prey to large boas, harrier hawks, and also introduced species.
Diet of Lemur Species
The diet of lemurs depends on their species. Small lemur species feed on fruit and insects while large species are usually herbivorous, chowing fruits, leaves, flowers, nectar, shoots, bark, and sap. At San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the lemurs are fed nutritionally complete biscuits that are made especially for primates. They are also fed some fruits, vegetables, and greens.
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Family Life of Lemurs
Lemurs live in social groups and are led by the dominant female. The female decides where and when the group will move. In between eating and resting, they sometimes spend their time sunbathing or grooming. Lemurs use an elongated nail on the second toe known as toilet claw, finely spaced teeth as a tooth comb, for grooming.
Every kind of lemur has a strict breeding season. Depending on the species, the breeding season lasts from a few days to months. The number of young produced varies among species. They can range from 1 to 6. In various species, the infants cling to the belly of the mother for the first 3-4 weeks of life and then start to gradually spend time riding on Mom’s back. When they are 3-4 months of age, the mother encourages her babies to find other methods of transportation.
Lemur babies try solid foods when they are three to four weeks old and are weaned at 5-6 months. The infants of gray mouse lemur are unable to grasp onto the mother and are carried by mouth when being moved. Some lemur species first nest and then park them on a small branch in dense vegetation which keeps the little ones hidden from predators while the mother goes to search for food. This method of care works for about a month then the babies are mobile.
Communication Between Lemurs
Lemurs communicate through scents and vocalizations. The sounds vary with species. Grunts like the sound are done by the brown lemurs and sifaka, loud alarm calls and sounds that sound like the mewing of a cat are by the ring-tailed lemurs, chirps are of mouse lemurs, and wailing calls that are reminiscent of whale songs are of indri. Lemurs rely on their sense of smell. They leave scent markings to communicate with each other. They rarely use physical signals as a method of communication. Lemurs lack facial muscles that other primates use to communicate with facial expressions.
The ring-tailed lemurs use their tail for communication which is held up for other lemurs to see it in the brush. Male ring-tailed lemurs fight by rubbing their wrist scent glands all over the tail, then waving in front of each other’s face.
Types of Lemurs
If we talk about the Lemur species then there are many more species of Lemurs than one can realize. It is said that there are at least 99 species that still survive including subspecies. It is also believed that many have already gone extinct millions of years ago.
Ring-Tailed Lemur: When one sees a photo of the well-known Ring-Tailed Lemur then there is no mistake what one is looking at. This is because its body is very different from other primates. It is considered to be one of the most intelligent of all the species as well.
Red Ruffed Lemur: The Red Ruffed Lemur is of a medium-sized species and they do not associate with any other types of Lemurs. They seem to turn their noses up at them and will not even nest or feed in the same locations.
Indri Lemur: The Indri Lemur which is also called the Babakoto in many regions is one of the largest Lemurs found in the whole world. They seem to have many behaviors that are related to humans. They have characteristics that are very distinct from various other species of Lemurs.
Gray Mouse Lemur: The Gray Mouse Lemur is a primate. Many people would like to wager money claiming that it is a rodent by name and the appearance of it. But as we all know that DNA doesn’t lie and therefore it is correctly classified as a primate.
Golden-Crowned Sifaka: It is one of the medium-sized primates. The Golden-Crowned Sifaka Lemur are very limited in number and location. It isn’t much known about them and the Golden-Crowned Sifaka Lemur were only identified as a unique species in 1974.
Coquerel’s Sifaka: The Coquerel’s Sifaka Lemur is a medium-sized one. It belongs to the primate family and features some very interesting behaviors. Also, the look is different from other Lemurs.
Collared Brown Lemur: The Collared Brown Lemur is a primate and that is medium in size. There are only 12 species of Brown Lemurs in the whole world and are the most well-known of these Brown Lemurs.
Black Lemur: The Black Lemur is a type of primate. Black Lemur has two subspecies that have been identified and they are as follows- the Slader Lemur and the E. Macaco Lemur.
Aye-Aye: Of all the Lemurs in the world, it is the largest primate that is nocturnal. One may argue if they didn’t realize that this was a primate.
Verreaux’s Sifaka: The Verreaux’s Sifaka Lemur is medium in size in comparison to other species and it is a primate. Verreaux’s Sifaka looks very similar to many small species of monkeys and therefore it is usually accurately categorized as a primate.
Conservation of Lemur Monkey
To save lemurs, the forest left for their habitat needs to be protected. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has a study site in Maromizaha, which is a rainforest in eastern Madagascar. It is to study aye-ayes. To know about the natural behavior of lemurs camera traps are used. The cameras monitor lemur and other wildlife activities.
There are at least 13 lemur species in the Maromizaha area. Also, other conservation scientists work with local educators for teaching students about the native wildlife.
Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot and popular location for ecotourism. To see the distinctive and amazing wildlife people travel to the island, and their visits help the local people. This can be used to encourage the locals to save the forests for ecotourism purposes.
FAQs on Lemur
Q1. Write about the Habitat and Diet of Lemurs.
Ans: The habitat and the terrain lemurs live on differing greatly. Madagascar has a very high mountain range. The range running down its center has given the creation of several climate areas. The east side is wet, the west side is dry, and the south side is even drier. The plant life in these areas grew based on the rainfall, and lemurs evolved to fill the various niches, from rainforests to semi-deserts.
The Alaotran gentle lemur scientifically known as Hapalemur alaotrensis is even more specialized than others. It has adapted to live its life in the marshland habitat surrounding a lake in eastern Madagascar. It spends its days moving on reeds and papyrus stalks and feeding on them. Most lemurs are seen spending their time up in the trees, feeding, resting, sleeping, and giving birth. The ring-tailed lemur spends its day on the ground. Generally, lemurs tend to move on all fours.
Q2. How are We Conserving the Lemur Species?
Ans: The unique lemur species of today were able to evolve because of their isolation on the island of Madagascar. The arrival of humans on Madagascar almost 2,000 years ago, has led to the extinction of at least 17 lemur species. The largest lemur was Archaeoindris fontoynontii. It's the size of a gorilla’s and weighed over 400 pounds.
The conservation status of every lemur species ranges from vulnerable to critically endangered. The northern sportive lemur Lepilemur septentrionalis has just 18 individuals left. The decline in lemurs is because of habitat loss and hunting. Illegal logging and forest clearing for agriculture and mining have led to the decline in lemur habitat. They are hunted for food. The aye-aye are hunted more because of their bizarre appearance, many people in Madagascar regard them as an omen of sickness, death, or evil. They are at risk from dogs and cats that have been introduced by humans.
Q3. Write a Short Note on the Aye-Aye and Sifaka Lemurs.
The aye-aye is one of a kind that is covered in coarse, black hair with white tips. It has a long, bushy tail and also large radar-like ears. Their large incisor teeth are like rodent teeth in that they never stop growing which allows the aye-aye to chew through tree bark and nuts to eat.
The aye-aye has a specialized designed middle finger which is very thin and bare. It is for finding and pulling out grubs and is also designed to fit in small holes that the aye-aye has gnawed. Aye-aye has sensitive ears and therefore they can hear grubs moving under bark. They then tap their middle finger on the tree until they can find the right spot to pry open.
Sifakas are a kind of lemur that have more human-like proportions than other lemurs. They have short arms and long legs which helps them leap between trees that are more than 20 feet apart. Sifakas are not very graceful while on the ground. When crossing open ground, sifakas bound along on their back feet while in a vertical position. The Malagasy name sifaka originates from their different call that sounds like “shif-auk.”