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Mouse Lemur

Microcebus

Photo: Mouse lemur

Photo: Mouse lemur (View larger version)

Photograph by Patti Murray/Animals Animals

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The Latin word lemures means "ghost." Malagasy people have traditionally associated these primates with spirits because they are active at night, and perhaps because of their eerie, large-eyed stare.

There are eight species of mouse lemurs, and several have been identified only in the past few years. This is a rarity in primate research, and illustrates just how much remains to be known about these fascinating animals.

Like all lemurs, mouse lemurs inhabit the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa.

The pygmy mouse lemur is the smallest primate in the world. Its head and body are less than two and a half inches (six centimeters) long, though its tail is a bit more than twice that length. These endangered nocturnal lemurs live in the dry forests of western Madagascar and rarely leave the forests' trees. Little is known of these rare primates.

Mouse lemurs are forest dwellers that live in female-dominated groups of up to 15 animals. They spend most of their time in trees, and can move nimbly from branch to branch and tree to tree. Mouse lemurs sleep aloft during the day and forage at night for insects, fruit, flowers, and other plants.

These adaptable primates store fat in their tails and hind legs, burning it when forage is lean. They may store up to 35 percent of their body weight. Female lesser mouse lemurs enter a dormant state during Madagascar's dry season, from April or May to September or October. Females are inactive during this time and may not leave their tree holes. During the same season, however, males are more active. They may be establishing breeding hierarchies for the coming mating season.

Mouse lemurs are protected from hunting, but they are still captured for the exotic pet trade. They are most threatened by loss of the limited woodland habitat of their Madagascar home.

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