If King Julien III's character in the animated film "Madagascar" bears any resemblance to the real ring-tailed lemur, than he should be running the forest and living in style. The film is true to life in that the ring-tailed lemur is a native of Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, and he does live in a group called a troop. But the rest of its depiction of ring-tailed lemur lifestyle is purely fictional.
Madagascar's isolation makes it home to a number of animals that aren't found anywhere else, and the ring-tailed lemur is one of them. This small primate might have found his way to the island on rafts of vegetation and evolved there, according to the National Geographic. On Madagascar lemurs weren't disturbed by monkey primates who drove lemurs and similar species, such as bushbabies, to extinction elsewhere. The ring-tailed lemur is a member of the true lemur family, according to Wild Madagascar. His scientific name is lemur catta, but locally he's known as maki or hira. The ring-tailed lemur has a life span of 20 to 25 years.
Lifestyle and Diet
Some of Madagascar's 60 species of lemur are purely nocturnal, but the ring-tailed lemur is active during daylight. This lemur lives in dry, open areas and forests. He uses all four limbs when he moves across the ground, where he spends about 40 percent of his time -- more than other lemur species do. Although his spectacular tail can measure up to 2 feet long, unlike monkey primate species he can't hang from it or use it to swing through trees. He's primarily a herbivore and enjoys a diet of leaves, flowers and fruit, although he might eat insects and some small vertebrates, according to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. On average, a lemur covers almost four miles every day in his search for food.
Lemurs live in groups of anywhere from three to 30 members; the norm is 17, National Geographic suggests. Females stay with their birth groups, but males leave when they reach sexual maturity at age 3. King Julien would never be troop leader in real life, because female lemurs have that role. Also, females choose who with whom they mate, and females have first access to food. Social bonds in a troop are strengthened through grooming. And according to the Smithsonian National Zoo, ring-tailed lemurs are particularly fond of sunbathing; they lie on their backs with their arms and legs stretched out to maximize exposure of the belly to the sun. Troops usually forage for food together, and they're often aggressive if they find another lemur troop invading their area.
Communication and Reproduction
The lemur is highly vocal and also uses facial expressions for communication. Typical sounds include a vocalization similar to a cat's meow as a signal the troop should keep together, a series of grunts and barks that signal an alarm, and staccato grunts to repulse another lemur.
Ring-tailed females start reproducing at age 3 and usually have one baby annually. The gestation period lasts four and a half months, and births are in August and September. They have a communal approach to child care, with all the adult females in the troop helping raise the babies.
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Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.