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Ring-Tailed Lemur

Lemur catta

Photo: A ring-tailed lemur wrapped in its iconic tail

Photo: A ring-tailed lemur wrapped in its iconic tail (View larger version)

Photograph by Bates Littlehales

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Lemurs are primates found only on the African island of Madagascar and some tiny neighboring islands. Because of its geographic isolation, Madagascar is home to many amazing animals found nowhere else on Earth. Lemurs may have floated there eons ago on "rafts" of vegetation and evolved in isolation over countless centuries.

Ring-tailed lemurs are unmistakable because of their long, vividly striped, black-and-white tail. They are familiar residents of many zoos.

Lemurs use their hands and feet to move nimbly through the trees, but cannot grip with their tails as some of their primate cousins do. Ring-tailed lemurs also spend a lot of time on the ground, which is unusual among lemur species. They forage for fruit, which makes up the greater part of their diet, but also eat leaves, flowers, tree bark, and sap.

Ring-tailed lemurs have powerful scent glands and use their unique odor as a communication tool and even as a kind of weapon. Lemurs mark their territory by scent, serving notice of their presence to all who can smell. During mating season, male lemurs battle for dominance by trying to outstink each other. They cover their long tails with smelly secretions and wave them in the air to determine which animal is more powerful.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups known as troops. These groups may include 6 to 30 animals, but average about 17. Both sexes live in troops, but a dominant female presides over all.

Ring-tailed lemurs are endangered, largely because the sparse, dry forests they love are quickly vanishing.

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