Endemic to the island of Madagascar, lemurs are a charismatic group of primates comprised of nearly 90 living species. Lemurs range in size from the small pygmy mouse lemur to the impressive indri, and fill nearly every niche the diverse country of Madagascar has to offer. However, deforestation has led to a decrease in lemur populations and consequent listing of several species on the IUCN Red List.
What makes lemurs special?
Lemurs are unique to Madagascar. Having evolved on an island, lemurs were isolated from human contact up until 2,000 years ago. After humans arrived, three lemur families went extinct; however, there are still five families remaining. The lemurs that remain on the island have adapted well to their environment, and display a wide variety of diets and behaviors.
To the trees!
Lemurs are mainly an arboreal species, which means that they live in trees. Their hands and feet are specially adapted to grip onto branches, and their long sturdy tails provide balance. All lemurs except for the largest species, the indri, have long tails. However, unlike monkeys their tails are not prehensile, meaning they cannot grip things. Even though lemurs are mainly arboreal, many of the larger species travel along the ground as well. The Verreaux’s sifaka is famous for the way it leaps across the ground. You can watch a video of a Verreaux’s sifaka “dancing”!
Since lemurs occupy all different kinds of habitats across Madagascar, there is a large amount of diversity. The five extant, or living, families of lemurs are Cheirogaleidae (mouse and dwarf lemurs), Daubentoniidae (aye-aye), Indriidae (sifakas and woolly lemurs), Lemuridae (true lemurs), and Lepilemuridae (sportive lemurs). There is a large range of physical appearances among lemurs as well. The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur bears a resemblance to a flying squirrel, while the large silky sifaka looks like it would be at home with the monkeys of the Amazon.
Threats to lemurs
The main threat that lemurs face today is loss of habitat due to deforestation. Since lemurs only occur on the island of Madagascar, it is important to preserve the forests there that house the unique animals. Conversion of wooded areas to fields for agriculture is the main reason for Madagascar’s deforestation; unfortunately, this deforestation can also lead to the erosion of land, adding to habitat destruction. Current conservation efforts for lemurs include preservation of habitat, though humans continually expand into the lemurs’ natural habitat due to a need for resources.
To check out some of the lemurs ARKive has to offer, flip through the MyARKive Lemur Scrapbook! Learn all about how special lemurs are, and how important it is to ensure the conservation of them.
You can also read ARKive’s recent blog article about a decline in taboos putting lemurs at risk.
Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA