Animal Info - Ruffed Lemur

(Other Names: Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur; Lemur de: Collar, Gola or Gorguera; Lémur Vari; Maki Vari; Red Ruffed Lemur; Vari; Variegated Lemur; Varignena; Varikandana; Varikandra; Varimena)

Varecia variegata (Lemur variegatus)

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Taxonomy, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution, Mortality and Survival, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur #1 (28 Kb JPEG); Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur #2 (58 Kb JPEG) (Prim. Cons., Inc.); Red Ruffed Lemur #1 (29 Kb JPEG); Red Ruffed Lemur #2 (66 Kb JPEG) (Merenlender et al. 1998)

The ruffed lemur is the largest lemur, weighing 3.5 - 4.5 kg (7.7 - 10 lb). Its head and body length is about 50 cm (20"), and its tail is about 60 cm (24") long. Ruffed lemurs get their name from the long, thick hair on their ears. There are two subspecies: the black-and-white ruffed lemur and the red ruffed lemur. The two subspecies are generally similar but differ significantly in their coloration and where they are found.  The pelages of both subspecies are long and luxuriant.  The pelage of the black-and-white ruffed lemur (V.v. variegata) predominantly consists of different-sized patches of black and white, while that of the red ruffed lemur (V.v. rubra) is mostly red, with a black crown and a white nape.

The ruffed lemur lives in primary and secondary rain forests in eastern Madagascar. The ruffed lemur is entirely vegetarian, eating mainly fruit with supplemental leaves, nectar and seeds. Fruit comprises a larger percentage of its diet than is the case for any other lemur. The ruffed lemur is an arboreal forest dweller. It prefers to spend time in the top layers of the canopy. Almost exclusively diurnal, the ruffed lemur is most active early in the morning and in the late afternoon and evening. A female ruffed lemur does not carry her offspring on her stomach or back like most primates. Rather, unlike any other primate in the world, a female ruffed lemur gives birth and leaves her young in a nest made from twigs, leaves and vines, generally 10 - 20 m (33 - 66') above the ground. 

The social structure of the ruffed lemur is variable - groups can include 1 male and 1 female, multiple males and females, or aggregations of smaller groups.  In some areas of Madagascar, the animals are found in small groups of 2 - 5 individuals. In other areas, loose affiliations of between 18 and 32 animals occupy home ranges around 60 hectares (150 acres) in size.  Females are the driving force in group dynamics and are always dominant over males. The social system changes depending on the season and the quality of the habitat. Ruffed lemurs will form larger groups during the wet season when food is plentiful, and disperse during the dry season in search of scarce fruit. 

Ruffed lemurs are confined to eastern rain forest regions of Madagascar and appear to be uncommon to rare throughout their range. The Antainambalana River in northeastern Madagascar separates the ranges of the two subspecies. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs were originally found in most forested areas along the entire east coast of Madagascar. Currently, the distribution of the black-and-white subspecies is poorly known, particularly at the northern limits. The red ruffed lemur appears to be restricted to the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar. The ruffed lemur is threatened by deforestation and by hunting and trapping for food and the pet trade. 


Tidbits

*** "The word 'Lemur' signifies a 'night-wandering ghost' and has been applied to this group of animals on account of their nocturnal habits and their stealthy, noiseless step, which renders their progress almost as inaudible as that of the unearthly beings from whom they derive their name." (Wood 1860)

*** Ruffed lemurs have an elaborate system of loud alarm barks that alert group members to danger from predators. All of the group members join in. Both subspecies of ruffed lemur can understand the alarm calls of the other and will often "join in" if they are close enough to hear each other. (Duke Univ. 1999, 2003a).

*** Prosimians such as the ruffed lemur cannot manipulate their fingers well enough to use them for grooming, as most monkeys and apes do. Instead of using their fingers, all prosimians have a toothcomb which is made up of their 6 bottom teeth. These teeth stick out, away from their jaw, to form a comb that a prosimian uses to groom its fur and the fur of other members of its social group. (Duke Univ. 2003a)

*** When appropriate flowers are available, the ruffed lemur eagerly feeds on nectar by sticking its long nose deep into the flower. During this feeding, the flower is not harmed, but the lemur’s snout becomes coated with pollen, which is then transported to other flowers. Hence for certain species of plants in the tropical forests of Madagascar, the ruffed lemur is an important pollinator. (Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

  • 1980's: Indeterminate
  • 1994: Endangered
  • 1996 - 2004: Endangered (Criteria: A1cd) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2004)

Countries Where the Ruffed Lemur Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Madagascar (IUCN 2004).

Taxonomy:

There are two subspecies of the ruffed lemur: the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata), also known by the names vari, varikandana, and varikandra; and the red ruffed lemur (V. v. rubra (or ruber)), also known by the names varimena and varignena. The two subspecies are generally similar but are different in coloration and are found in different (but adjacent) areas in Madagascar

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

Ruffed lemurs are confined to eastern rain forest regions of Madagascar and appear to be uncommon to rare throughout their range. The Antainambalana River in northeast Madagascar separates the ranges of the two subspecies. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs were originally found in most forested areas along the entire east coast of Madagascar. Currently, the distribution of the black-and-white subspecies is poorly known, particularly at the northern limits. Its approximate range extends from the Antainambalana River to the northwest of Maroantsetra south to the Mananara River south of Farafangana, and includes the Andringitra Massif. There is also an introduced population on the island of Nosy Mangabe in the Bay of Antongil. The red ruffed lemur appears to be restricted to the Masoala Peninsula, to the east of Maroantsetra, in northeast Madagascar. The northern limit of the red subspecies' range is poorly understood, but is generally thought to extend as far as the Ankavanana River. The red ruffed lemur only occurs at low densities and appears to be rare throughout its limited range. (Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)

Distribution Maps: Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur (18 Kb GIF) and Red Ruffed Lemur (17 Kb GIF)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The ruffed lemur is threatened by deforestation and by hunting and trapping for food and the pet trade. The ruffed lemur is one of the first species to disappear after selective logging. Unfortunately, many of the larger fruit trees essential for the survival of the ruffed lemur are also regarded as the most desirable hardwoods by logging interests, and thus are often the first to be cut down when a forest is selectively cut. (Rowe 1996, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head and body length of the ruffed lemur is 50 - 55 cm (20 - 22"), and its tail is 60 - 65 cm (24 - 26") long.  It weighs 3.5 - 4.5 kg (7.7 - 10 lb).

Habitat:

The black-and-white ruffed lemur lives in the primary and secondary lowland and mid-altitude rain forests of eastern Madagascar, where it is found up to 1200 meters (3900') above sea level. The red ruffed lemur is restricted to the primary and secondary rain forests of the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar. The Antainambalana River divides the ranges of the two subspecies.  The red ruffed lemur has been observed in all primary forest types known to occur on Masoala. (Merenlender et al. 1998, Duke Univ. 1999, 2003a)

The ruffed lemur is one of the species that live in the Madagascar & Indian Ocean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl. 2005).

Age to Maturity:

Females can become pregnant at 20 months, but the average age at first reproduction in captivity is 3.4 years (Nowak 1999).

Gestation Period:

90 - 102 days.

Birth Season:

The ruffed lemur reproduces seasonally. Mating occurs between May and July, with most offspring being born in September and October. (Garbutt 1999)

Birth Rate:

Twins appear to be the norm, but litter sizes of up to 6 have been reported in captivity (Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004). Although the interval between births can be one year, the findings of one study (Merenlender et al. 1998) support an earlier suggestion that the ruffed lemur successfully reproduces only once in two years in the wild.

Early Development:

A newborn ruffed lemur is not very developed, weighing only about 100g (3.5 oz). Though its eyes are open and it is fully furred, it is too weak to cling to its mother, and it is placed in a nest of branches and leaves which the mother has built prior to birth. Sometimes she lines the nest with fur plucked from her flanks. Between 1 - 2 weeks after birth, the mother begins to move her young. Initially they are carried in her mouth; later, they are ‘parked’ in trees, sometimes for several hours, allowing her to forage more efficiently. (Napier & Napier 1985, Garbutt 1999)

Maximum Age:

15-20 years in the wild (Duke Univ. 2003a). Several have lived in captivity for more than 25 years, and one was still living at about 33 years (Nowak 1999).

Diet:

The ruffed lemur is entirely vegetarian, eating mainly fruit with supplemental leaves, nectar and seeds. Fruit comprises a larger percentage of its diet than is the case for any other lemur.

The diet of the black-and-white ruffed lemur consists primarily of fruit and nectar, supplemented with small amounts of leaves and seeds. Nectar is only available for short periods each year but constitutes the dominant food source when flowers are in bloom. 

Approximately 75% of the red ruffed lemur's diet is fruit, with the remainder being made up of leaves, nectar and, to a lesser extent, flowers. A wide variety of plant species are utilized by the red ruffed lemur throughout the year (over 40 species have been recorded in its diet). 

(Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)

Behavior:

The ruffed lemur is an arboreal forest dweller. It prefers to spend time in the top layers of the canopy. During feeding, it utilizes a wide range of feeding positions, enabling it to reach even the most delicate terminal branch by hanging upside down by its feet. It normally progresses by walking or running on larger branches and makes leaps from tree to tree. The ruffed lemur is almost exclusively diurnal, being most active early in the morning and in the late afternoon and evening (except for occasional bouts of nocturnal activity in the case of the black-and-white subspecies). (Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)

A female ruffed lemur does not carry her offspring on her stomach or back as do most primate mothers. Rather, unlike any other primate in the world, a female ruffed lemur gives birth and leaves her young in a nest made from twigs, leaves and vines, generally 10 - 20 m (33 - 66') above the ground.  When a mother needs to move her infants, she carries them in her mouth one at a time.  (Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)

Social Organization:

The social structure of the ruffed lemur is variable - groups can include 1 male and 1 female, multiple males and females, or aggregations of smaller groups.  In some areas of Madagascar, the animals are found in small groups of 2 - 5 individuals. All group members use a common core home range, and groups are occasionally aggressive towards other groups at the borders of these areas. These groups typically have a home range of 25 hectares (63 acres). In other areas, loose affiliations of between 18 and 32 animals occupy home ranges around 60 hectares (150 acres) in size.  Females are the driving force in group dynamics and are always dominant over males (Female dominance in primates is unique to prosimians.).  

The social system changes depending on the season and the quality of the habitat. Ruffed lemurs will form larger groups during the wet season when food is plentiful, and disperse during the dry season in search of scarce, but much desired, fruit. There is a strong correlation between location of home ranges and location of the largest fruiting trees in the area. When foraging for fruit, large groups might fragment completely as individuals go their separate ways. This is in striking contrast to other diurnal lemurs, which always forage and move through the forest together as cohesive groups. 

(Merenlender et al. 1998, Garbutt 1999, Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004)

Age and Gender Distribution:

Ruffed lemur populations have approximately the same number of adult females and adult males.

Mortality and Survival:

Infant mortality is very high among black-and-white ruffed lemurs. About 65% of offspring fail to reach the age of 3 months and many die from accidental falls and related injuries. (Garbutt 1999)

Density and Range:

Reported densities for various locations in Madagascar include:

  • Black-and-white ruffed lemur (V.v. variegata)
    • The densities of V.v. variegata in Betampona (1.5 - 2.2 individuals/sq km (3.9 - 5.7 individuals/sq mi) are far lower than those recorded at other sites (e.g. 16.2 individuals/sq km (42 individuals/sq mi) at Valohoaka in Ranomafana National Park and 20 - 30 individuals/sq km (52 - 78 individuals/sq mi) on the island of Nosy Mangabe). (Britt et al. 1998) 
    • This subspecies appears to occur at relatively low density at the majority of mainland localities: At Ranomafana a figure around 5.5 individuals/sq km (14 individuals/sq mi) has been calculated. On Nosy Mangabe densities are much higher, estimates varying between 20 - 30 individuals/sq km (52 - 78 individuals/sq mi). (Garbutt 1999)
    • The density of V.v. variegata at Antanamalaza is between 10 - 15 individuals/sq km (26 - 39 individuals/sq mi), considerably higher than the estimate of 2.5 - 3.1 individuals/sq km (6.5 - 8.1 individuals/sq mi) at Betampona. (Britt et al. 1999)
  • Red ruffed lemur (V.v. rubra)
    • Population densities of the red ruffed lemur in one study on the Masoala Peninsula ranged from 7 - 28 individuals/sq km (18 - 72 individuals/sq mi) (Merenlender et al. 1998).
    • The red ruffed lemur only occurs at low densities and appears to be rare throughout its limited range. The highest density probably occurs on the west side of the Masoala Peninsula, where estimates of 20 - 25 individuals/sq km (52 - 65 individuals/sq mi) have been proposed. (Garbutt 1999)

Home ranges of the red ruffed lemur estimated in two studies on the Masoala Peninsula varied from 24 - 58 hectares (60 - 143 acres) (Merenlender et al. 1998)


References

Britt et al. 1998, Britt et al. 1999, Burnie & Wilson 2001, Burton & Pearson 1987, Cons. Intl. 2005, Duke Univ. (1999, 2003, 2003a), Duke Univ. Prim. Ctr. 2004, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Macdonald 1984, Macdonald 2001, Merenlender et al. 1998, Mittermeier et al. 1994, Napier & Napier 1985, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Prim. Cons., Inc., Rowe 1996, WCMC et al. 2000, Wildl. Cons. 2000c, Wood 1860


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