Ruffed Lemurs

Ruffed lemurs are some of the most entertaining lemurs to see and hear. Active during the day, it is usually the noise of crashing leaves and raucous calls that gives them away, presenting the observer with the challenge of trying to predict their meandering line of travel in order to see them. 

Ruffed lemurs are predominantly fruit eaters, for which they need to stay high in the canopy. Views of can consequently involve some neck craning, unless you can find higher ground to gain horizontal perspective. 

There are two species of Ruffed Lemur (genus Varecia): the Red-ruffed Lemur (Varecia rubra) and the Black & White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata). The Red-ruffed Lemur is found exclusively in the Masoala Peninsula - a stunning rainforest-meets-coral coast wilderness in northeastern Madagascar. The Black & White exists in 3 subspecies, in a scattering of locations in Madagascar's Eastern rainforests. This scattering is in part because Ruffed lemurs require the fruits of primary rainforest. 

We like the way they move 

Ruffed lemurs are arboreal quadrupeds, which means that they spend most of their time in the canopy. Unlike larger monkeys which tend to swing by their arms, Ruffed lemurs move on all fours and leap, more like a squirrel. 

In order to extend their reach to food, they will often hang upside down, like bats, suspended by their hind legs. Ruffed lemurs also have the habit of lying on horizontal bows either on their backs, or prone on their stomachs, legs hanging either side. Ruffed lemurs spend around half the day resting like this, their thick furry tails, longer than their bodies, providing important stability and balance. 

Size & Family Matters 

Ruffed lemurs have a body length 43 to 57 cm (17 to 22 in) and a tail measuring 60 - 65 cm (24 - 26 inches). Adults weigh in at up to 4.1kg (9lbs). Whilst this means they are on the large size for lemurs, their reproductive behaviour is more akin to a small mammal. They give birth to litter of 2 or 3 young,  after a gestation of around 102 days. Parents build nests for their young, in which they leave them to go off and feed. Ruffed lemurs are the only primates that do this. 

Females have three pairs of mammary glands. The young develop relatively quickly, moving independently after 70 days and reaching full adult size just 6 months after birth. 

Ruffed Conservation 

Both species of Ruffed Lemur are Critically Endangered. Loss of the primary forest they need to survive is their greatest long term threat. Hunting for bushmeat has also been significant. 

Cyclones can also cause significant local damage to rainforests in Eastern Madagascar. Whilst this has long been part of a natural cycle of damage and regeneration in Madagascar,  with primary habitat reduced in size, it becomes a significant threat. 

The high birth rate and fast development to adulthood is an advantage for Ruffed lemurs. They breed well in captivity,  so organisations like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have for some years been able to rear and introduce captive bred animals into the wild.

  • Red Ruffed Lemur (Varecia rubra) is endemoc to the Masoala Peninsula rainforests
  • Red-ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata rubra) in the Masoala rainforests of Madagascar
  • Black and White Ruffed Lemur Varecia variagata

Lemurs of Madagascar


Madagascar National Park & Reserves Guide

  • Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur pair ((Varecia variagata) Photo: Ralph Pannell Aqua-Firma


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