Scientific Name: Lemur catta
The ring-tailed lemur’s scientific name comes from the Latin word “lemures,” meaning ghosts or specters, and “catta” meaning cat. Carl Linnaeus, who is responsible for their Latin name, was inspired by lemures of ancient Rome, which were specters or ghosts. A festival called the Lemuria was held to exorcise these spirits.
One of fifty different lemur species, ring-tailed lemurs use their tails to send signals (such as “follow me”) to each other.
STATUS: Ring-tailed lemurs are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), due to habitat destruction by various causes such as man-made fires.
HABITAT: These mammals can be found living in the southwestern highlands of Madagascar. They usually inhabit forest areas with trees and plants that have shed their leaves or environments where few trees grow. Ring-tailed lemurs require forest habitats that have undisturbed by human activity.
DIET: They are known to prefer fruits, but also eat leaves, seeds, flowers, and various other parts of plants such as the bark and sap of trees. Lemurs are capable of raiding crops to eat watermelons and leaves of sweet potatoes.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Ring-tailed lemurs have white, narrow faces with black patches around their eyes and mouth. They have palms and soles covered with soft, leathery skin, very flexible fingers, and sharp nails. Ring-tailed lemurs also have claws on the second toe of their back legs, which are used for grooming. Adult ring-tailed lemurs may reach a length of about 15 inches and a weight of about 5 to 8 pounds. Their black-and-white ringed tails are actually longer than their bodies, reaching a length of up to 22 inches.
An Tail to Remember
Ring-tailed lemurs use their famously characteristic tail in many ways. When two males fight in what is known as a “stink fight,” both use their tails to attack each other. Lemurs also use their tails, along with many different vocalizations, to communicate with each other.