1. There are over 100 species of lemur, in all shapes and sizes.
With an estimated 112 species, lemurs come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest, Madame berthe’s mouse lemur, has an average body weight of 30g, and the largest, the indri, weighs about 6-9.5kg (that’s about the size of a human child!).
The indri is the largest of the living lemurs, however subfossil records show ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ lemurs as large as 85kg! Most notably, Megaladapis edwardsi that used to roam the island of Madagascar and was thought to be the size of a gorɪʟʟa!
The number of lemur species changes often due to new discoveries and genetic testing, leading to the scientific classification of new species!
2. Madagascar is the only place lemurs naturally call home.
Located 250 miles off the east coast of Africa is the island of Madagascar, the 4th largest island in the world, and the only habitat for all wild lemurs in the world.
Madagascar is classified as one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots! With a large proportion of its wildlife found nowhere else in the world, much of Madagascar’s wildlife is also ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛened by human actions.
Interestingly, some lemur species—the brown lemur and mongoose lemur—were introduced by humans and now live on the Comoros islands, a volcanic group of islands located off the north west coast of Madagascar
3. Lemurs are the world’s oldest living primates.
A fact that few people know is that lemurs are classified as the world’s oldest primates! The story of lemurs begins over 70 mɪʟʟion years ago, long before humans. This was a world when lemur-like animals, the planet’s first primates, roamed Africa along with the dinosaurs. Scientists think that around 65 mɪʟʟion years ago, lemurs rafted across the Indian Ocean to the island of Madagascar on floating vegetation. Over the next tens of mɪʟʟions of years, the lemurs evolved and diversified on Madagascar to the 112 species that we see today.
4. Lemurs have a female-dominant society.
Who rules the world? Well, in lemur society the females rule! At the center of lemur society is a female leader who rises to the occasion of directing a social group. This happens quite rarely in mammals, where male dominance generally stands. Lemur females show signs of dominance in the way they mark their territories within the group. Another fact is that female lemurs snatch food away from the males, kick them out of sleeping spots, and show actual physical ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪon
5. Besides humans, lemurs are the only primates that have blue eyes.
Primates have a variety of eye shapes and colors, but blue irises are rare in mammals. Other than humans, the only primates with naturally occurring blue eyes are the blue-eyed black lemurs, sometimes called Sclater’s lemurs. The blue-eyed black lemur is one of the most ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛened lemur species, listed as Critically Enᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed on the IUCN Red List of ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛened species, with numbers decreasing.
Lemur Conservation Network member AEECL supports conservation efforts for the blue-eyed black lemur both in their natural habitat and in zoos.
6. Some lemurs sing a capella. Others communicate with stink!
In the rainforests of east Madagascar you wɪʟʟ often hear the songs of the indri. Indri are a talented a capella group of the animal kingdom, with both the males and females singing, and often in sync with each other. The function behind this singing is complex and can vary depending on location and the animal hearing it. One reason behind the indris song is to mark its territory and to let others know ‘Hey, this is my space. Find your own!’
Ring-tailed lemurs also communicate and mark their territory in a unique way. They have scent glands on their wrists and ᴄʜᴇsᴛ, which become particularly useful during the breeding season. A male wɪʟʟ mix secretions from his wrist and ᴄʜᴇsᴛ glands to mark his territory, and even lift his tail to be ready for a ‘stink fight’ against a rival. The ᴅɪsᴘᴜᴛᴇ ends only when one gives up as they waft the strong smells into each other’s faces with their tails!
7. Lemurs are legendary …
Lemurs play a significant role in culture to Malagasy people and are subject to many fady, or cultural taboos and traditions that originate from ancient folktales. Fady or taboos are passed on from generation to generation through stories and provide guidance on the do’s and don’ts for local people.
Many fadys involve lemurs. For example, the indri are fady for many Malagasy people. Old legends speak of the spirits of ancestors living on within these lemurs. Thus, people should not ʜᴜɴᴛ, ᴋɪʟʟ or eat indri.
Another lemur species at the center of many fady is the Aye-Aye. But unlike the indri, the Aye-Aye is thought to be associated with ᴇᴠɪʟ. It is believed that ɪʟʟ-fortune comes to any person who sees one. This has led to large scale ᴘᴇʀsᴇᴄᴜᴛɪᴏɴ of the Aye-Aye across its range in Madagascar. Education programs run by LCN member Lemur Conservation Foundation tackle the perception surrounding the Aye-Aye.
8. As crucial seed dispersers, lemurs are “creators of the forests”.
Did you know that lemurs play a huge role in maintaining forest diversity, structure and dynamics through the movement of seeds? Some lemur species play a significant role in their ecosystem by being seed dispersers. But what does this actually mean?
Being a seed disperser means they aid in the process of moving seeds and/or pollen from one area to another. Ruffed lemurs, like the black and white ruffed lemur, is a prime example of a lemur species that acts as a key seed disperser.
Individual lemurs can get pollen or seeds stuck on their fur as they search for fruits and nectar. Then, they pass this pollen and seeds on to other flowers. Sometimes seeds even get dispersed to new areas when lemurs eat fruit because the seed passes through their digestive system and is ᴇxᴄʀᴇᴛed in their ᴘ.ᴏ ᴏ.ᴘ!
Many endemic flowering plants and tree species depend highly on lemur species, such as the ruffed lemurs, to disperse their seeds.
9. Lemurs self-medicate, and some get high off of mɪʟʟipedes.
Who needs a pharmacy when you live in the forest?! Various lemur species use the forest to self medicate, acting as their own personal pharmacy. Red-fronted brown lemurs eat mɪʟʟipedes to get rid of gastrointestinal parasites, such as worms. It is thought that the ᴛᴏxɪns within the mɪʟʟipedes ᴋɪʟʟ the parasites that set up home in the lemurs’ guts.
10. Protecting lemurs benefits the Malagasy people.
The protection of lemurs not only benefits lemurs themselves but also the Malagasy people. Many conservationists believe that ecotourism is the number one way to ensure the future survival of the lemurs of Madagascar.
Tourists visiting Madagascar to see lemurs in the wild brings money, which boosts the local economy. This also shows local people that lemurs are more valuable alive than ᴅᴇᴀᴅ. Madagascar’s government has prioritized tourism in recent years, drastically increasing funding to promote the island as an ecotourism destination. Ecotourism could mean mɪʟʟions of dollars for Madagascar’s economy, and help ensure the survival of lemurs.