Ring-tailed lemurs are easily identified by their characteristic, black and white ringed tails, which can be twice as long as their bodies. They weigh roughly 5 pounds with a head-body length of up to 18 inches and are highly social, congregating in groups of up to 30 individuals. Sporting fox-like snouts and slender frames, they are unusual among lemurs, spending a considerable amount of time on the ground feeding on leaves and fruit and socializing, said Sauther.
In "gallery forests" near rivers, ring-tailed lemurs regularly sleep high in the canopies of tall trees. But in "spiny forests," most of the trees with woody stems are covered in rows of spines, making them uncomfortable as well as dangerous sleeping sites because predators can easily climb them, Sauther said. The new study documents their cave sleeping behavior in the dry spiny forest habitat adjacent to limestone cliffs.
The lemur observations were made at the 104,000-acre Tsimanampesotse National Park and the Tsinjoriake Protected Area in southwestern Madagascar between 2006 and this year. The research team used field observations and motion-detector camera traps to chart the behavior and movements of 11 different troops of ring-tailed lemurs.
One of the early clues to the cave sleeping by the lemurs was their presence on limestone cliffs adjacent to spiny forest trees or on the ground when Sauther's research team arrived at the study sites early in the morning. "They seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was not from the trees," she said. "We were baffled. But when we began arriving at the study sites earlier and earlier in the mornings, we observed them climbing out of the limestone caves."
The primary predator of the lemurs is a cat-like, carnivorous mammal called a fossa native only to Madagascar that is closely related to the mongoose and may weigh up to 20 pounds. Fossil evidence shows a cougar-sized relativ
|Contact: Michelle Sauther|
University of Colorado at Boulder