Facts About Lemurs
Ring-tailed lemurs emerge from the forest at the Duke Lemur Center. Lemurs trained to come at a trainer's signal are able to roam the fenced-in grounds freely.
Credit: Stephanie Pappas for LiveScience

Lemurs belong to a group called prosimian primates, defined as all primates that are neither monkeys nor apes. Though there are many species of lemur, there are very few individuals. Lemurs are considered the most endangered group of animals on the planet. These primates are only found in one small area of the Earth. Many species have small and decreasing numbers.

There are a whopping 105 species of lemur, and they naturally come in a wide range of sizes. 

The largest lemur species is the indri. It grows up to 24 to 35 inches (60 to 90 centimeters) long and weighs 15.5 to 22 lbs. (7 to 10 kilograms).

The smallest lemurs are the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, which grows to 3.5 to 4 inches (9 to 11 cm) long, not counting the tail. The tail adds just 5 inches (13 cm) to its length. These small lemurs only weigh 1 ounce (30 grams).

There once were lemurs that were as big as gorillas. These are now extinct. [Wild Madagascar: Photos Reveal Island's Amazing Lemurs]

A male blue-eyed black lemur (<em>Eulemur flavifrons</em>) in Sahamalaza–Iles Radama National Park.
A male blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) in Sahamalaza–Iles Radama National Park.
Credit: Image courtesy of Nora Schwitzer

Lemurs only live in one place in the world, Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Islands, which are off the coast of Mozambique in Africa. They occupy many different habitats: dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, rain forests, wetlands and mountains.

For example, Sibree's dwarf lemur lives in the rainforests in altitudes above 4,593 feet (1,400 meters), according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The white-collared lemur lives in the tropical, moist lowland forests, and the red-bellied lemur lives in the east coast rain forests. Sanford's brown lemur lives in evergreen forests and dry deciduous forests.

Lemurs are very social creatures and live in groups called troops. The ring-tail lemur’s troop is led by a dominant female and can include six to 30 animals, according to National Geographic.

When lemurs are awake and active depends on their size. Small lemurs are typically nocturnal, which means they are active at night. Larger lemurs are considered diurnal, which means they are active during the day.

Some nocturnal lemurs live alone, but are still social with other lemurs. They will set off on their own during waking hours, but will sleep with groups of other lemurs.

Most lemurs spend their awake time in trees. If they aren’t eating, lemurs like to groom each other or sunbathe. 

Some lemurs are herbivores, which means they do not eat meat. They love fruit, but will also eat flowers, leaves, tree bark and sap. Other lemurs are omnivores and eat a variety of foods that include fruits, nectar, flowers and leaves with a side of insects, spiders and small vertebrates, according to the World Animal Foundation.

Mating in the lemur world is a battle of the strongest scent. Males spray their tails with secretions and wave them at each other. The male with the smelliest tail wins dominance. 

Once she has mated, the female will have a gestation period of 102 to 170 days, depending on the species. A female can give birth to one to six babies at a time. Smaller species of lemur tend to give birth to more babies, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Baby lemurs are called pups. Many lemur species will cling to the mother’s belly for the first three to four weeks of life and then the pup will ride on her back until it is three or four months old. At three to six months the babies are weaned. 

Growing up can take one to three and a half years, depending on the species. This can be a short time when compared to how long lemurs live. Some lemurs can live up to 30 years.

The grey mouse lemur (<i>Microcebus murinus</i>)
The grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus)
Credit: David Haring of the Duke University Lemur Center

This is the classification of lemurs according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): 

Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Bilateria
Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclass: Tetrapoda
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Eutheria
Order: Primates
Suborder: Strepsirrhini
Infraorder: Lemuriformes
Superfamily: Lemuroidea
Family: Lemuridae
Genera: Eulemur, Hapalemur, Lemur, Prolemur, Varecia
Species: 105 species 

According to the World Animal Foundation, 16 percent of all lemurs are classified as critically endangered, 23 percent are classified as endangered, 25 percent are classified as vulnerable, 28 percent are "data deficient" and 8 percent are classified as least concern.  

Sibree's dwarf lemur is one of the species listed as critically endangered. This is because the small population is severely fragmented and decreasing, according to the IUCN. The white-collared lemur, blue-eyed black lemur and the mongoose lemur are also critically endangered.

Like dogs, lemurs have wet noses.

Though around the same size, lemurs are not as smart as monkeys, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica

Dwarf lemurs store fat in their tails for nourishment during the dry seasons when they go dormant. 

The blue-eyed black lemur is the only primate, other than humans, that have blue eyes, according to the San Diego Zoo.

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