The ancestors of today’s lemurs reached their island homeland somewhere between 50 and 80 million years ago. This is the only surviving member of its family. The striped appearance of the lemur's tail, as well as its unusual purring sounds, are reminiscent of a cat, which explains its scientific name. There are a number of glands on the lemur's body, ranging from the forearms to the genital area, which it uses for scent-marking. Males scrape the spur on their front legs to leave a scent behind on trees.
The ring-tailed lemur has a pointed muzzle, large eyes and triangular ears. Its fur is thick and soft, and its bushy, distinctively ringed tail accounts for more than half its total length. Both sexes have special scent glands on the lower forelimbs. Males have larger glands than females. Females have scent glands in the genital region.
Ring-tailed lemurs are forest animals, but they spend quite long periods of time on the ground, searching for fallen fruit and other plant material. Although fairly common throughout their range in southern Madagascar, these animals are declining in number.
Their habitat is a dry forest, and ring-tailed lemurs must endure long periods of drought. During these times they may eat insects, but they are reliant on dry fruits, such as those of the kily tree, a type of tamarind. Ring-tailed lemurs live in mixed-sex groups, but in most cases only one of the males is sexually active. During the breeding season, which runs from April to June, both sexes fight. Troops of between 20 and 40 lemurs occupy a territory. Females and young form the core. Females are dominant. Males move between troops. The females are battling for resources, while the males are competing for access to mates. During a fight, the lemurs may never touch. Instead they do battle with smell. Each combatant in a stink battle coats its bushy tail with secretions from a gland on the wrists and near the genitals and wafts the strong smell toward its opponent.
Perhaps the most recognizable of all the lemur species of Madagascar, ring-tailed lemurs are named after their striking tail markings.
From the age of three, a female produces one or two young every year. The newborn clings to its mother’s belly, before moving to ride on the back by the age of two weeks. Weaning occurs at 5 months.
Distribution: Restricted to the island of Madagascar, mainly in the southern and southwestern parts of the island, extending inland to the Andringitra mountains.
Habitat: Forests and bushes.
Weight: 2.3 - 3.5 kg (5.1 - 7.7 lb).
Length: 103 - 110 cm (41 - 43 in) overall; tail is much longer than the body.
Maturity: 2.5 - 3 years.
Gestation Period: About 135 days.
Breeding: 1, very rarely twins; weaning occurs by 5 months.
Diet: Fruit and leaves, particularly of the tamarind tree; also eats flowers, nuts, invertebrates and small vertebrates.
Lifespan: Up to 19 years; 27 years in captivity.
The bright yellow or orange eyes are surrounded by black spectacles of fur.
This is dense, grey on the upperparts and paler on the underparts.
These are longer than the front legs, as with other lemurs.
Between 13 and 15 alternating black and white bands run down the tail, ending in a black tip.
The tail is not prehensile, in spite of its length, but is very useful for communication purposes.
ON THE GROUND
Ring-tailed lemurs are more terrestrial than most other lemurs, and are sometimes observed travelling across the ground in groups.
Ring-tailed lemurs have highly specialized hands, with a sharp claw on each front foot for grooming purposes.