Lemurs, what characterizes this family of primates?

The lemurs are friendly little animals with unique characteristics. These primates are considered distant cousins ​​of apes and possibly even their ancestors. Lemurs live on the island of Madagascar. It is believed that they arrived at this destination a long time ago on floating tree trunks after a natural disaster. The first to have colonized Madagascar are the smallest that we know today. They are called the Microcèbes and were at the time, the size of a mouse.

Lemurs, emblematic animals

Lemurs can be recognized by their big round eyes often bewildered. They also have certain behaviors that can be described as human mimicry. We want to stroke them so much, they look sweet and kind. But, be careful, do not trust them, because they remain wild animals and some of their ancestors were twice the human size and even weighed up to 200 kg. Lemurs are emblematic on the island because they have often been the subject of Malagasy legends and tales. Sometimes, they were described as cannibalistic creatures and then as good luck charms or even bad omen. Thus, some were driven out and others worshiped according to their species. Today, these animals are preserved. The Malagasy adopt some as pets. Others, on the other hand, like the Aye aye scare them and are always considered a bad omen. Is it for the lugubrious cries and their ghostly appearance that they still terrify the native population? There is the question.

Where to meet lemurs?

To meet lemurs living in the wild, you have to go to Madagascar, because they are only present on this island. While walking, we meet them everywhere near the forests. Some are also present in Mayotte and Comoros, but in zoos like everywhere else in the world. Lemurs are endangered because their natural habitat has been destroyed by humans over the years in the rainforest.

Lemur species

Lemurs are all endemic strepsirrhine primates. There are more than a hundred species currently. The smallest is represented by the Microcèbe weighing 30 grams upIndri weighing almost 10 kg. To date, the larger species have all disappeared from the face of the globe.

Physiology of lemurs

Lemurs, like all primates, have five toes with strong nails that allow them to cling to branches. Many species have even developed a thicker nail than the others known as the toilet claw. This claw allows the animal to wash and scratch itself. The big toe is separated from the other fingers in order to be better hooked to a branch. Their vomeronasal organ makes it possible to detect their congeners thanks to the pheromones they give off.

The rear legs are more developed than the front legs to allow them to jump far enough. Their tongues are very long to catch the nectar and pollen of the flowers they feed on. Teeth are very different depending on the species. Some like the Indris have teeth for cutting leaves and crushing seeds. Others like the Phaner have longer teeth to bite into tree bark to get their sap. They all have a comb made up of six teeth except some who only have four when they are adults because they lose the young incisors.

Smell, a very important sense in lemurs

Lemurs are endowed with a strong sense of smell which they use to communicate especially at night. We can notice that their muzzle is quite long. Contrary to what one might think, lemurs move more with their sense of smell than their visual capacity. Their visual acuity is also quite low although they have a strong retinal summation.

The metabolism of the lemur

The lemur can conserve its energy during the dry season. It can thus lower its water and food needs by up to 20%. In the sun, the lemur exposes itself seated, hunched back and snuggles in a group to reduce heat loss in order to conserve as many calories as possible. Before the dry season arrives, the lemur accumulates fat at the base of its hind legs and tail to fight the heat when the time comes.

The behavior of the lemur

The behavior of the lemur varies depending on:

  • His locomotion
  • His diet
  • Its social system
  • His activity
  • His communications with his fellows
  • Raising her young

This behavior also varies depending on the species. Small lemurs are more nocturnal than large lemurs which are diurnal.

Lemur food

From one species to another, the food of the lemur is very variable. The smallest are frugivorous and insectivorous while the older ones are herbivores. On the other hand, in order to preserve the breed, when they are hungry, they eat all that is edible and become omnivorous. Plants growing in Madagascar remain the majority of their diet, because most species are arboreal except the black and white Maki Vari which only consumes grass.

The lemur is a sociable animal and lives in groups of at least fifteen individuals. In contrast, nocturnal lemurs, although social, often live alone to forage for food and then nest with others during the day. Today these cute little animals are threatened by many environmental problems like hunting, the exotic animal trade, climate change and especially massive deforestation. Many associations and zoos are trying to save them from extinction. Wish that this nice little primate can survive and reproduce in its natural environment and repopulate the island of Madagascar in the years to come.

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