The ring-tailed lemur, Lemur catta, is one of 101 extant species of lemur, all of which are found on the islands of Madagascar and the Comoros off the East coast of Africa. Ring-tails use their distinctive and eponymous tail as a territorial and mating display, but it is not prehensile so they cannot use it to climb, hang from, or hold anything. It is the only member of the genus Lemur.
The ring-tailed lemur is found in dry forests and bush throughout the South and Southwest of Madagascar. Though its range is relatively large in relation to the size of the island itself, ring-tailed lemurs are found in fragmented and sometimes completely isolated pockets across the Western and Southern coasts, with some extremely isolated populations found in the eastern mountains. Population density is often described as “patchy” at best. Threats to the ring-tailed lemur are primarily habitat loss and human hunting. Its preference for gallery forest and Euphorbia bush limits the ring-tailed lemur to relatively restricted geographical regions in the South which are continuously under threat from burning to produce pasture for agriculture.
Ring-tailed lemurs possess a wide range of ecological flexibility and are able to colonize a diverse range of habitats including gallery, littoral, and dry deciduous forests; spiny bush, brush, and scrub; high-altitude ericoid bush; and rocky outcrop vegetation. This extreme flexibility leads the scientific community to summarize the ring-tailed lemur as the “best-suited” of Madagascar’s lemur species.
Highly social and matriarchal, the ring-tailed lemur lives in family groups called “troupes” that can be up to 45 members strong. Population density ranges from 0.004 individuals per hectare to 6.6 individuals per hectare, giving a wide range of territorial sizes and densities.
Ring-tailed lemurs are opportunistic omnivores. While their diet primarily consists of tamarind, they are mostly fruit, flower, and leaf eaters but will occasionally prey on insects, birds, and small reptiles.