Ringtail Lemur Babies

10th July 2010

Last year, we were blessed with four little ringtailed who made it all safely to a teenage phase (ringtailed lemurs are only fully grown at about 3 years of age) and are now full-time members of their group.

Anyday, now, could bring the birth of more of these little Madagascar primates, for reproduction, in the ringtailed lemurs works in a very special way. Indeed, in this species, females are only sexually receptive for a day or two, out of the entire year (sometimes for only 6 hours)! In a group, all the females tend to become sexually receptive at the same time, so that the breeding season lasts between 1 and 3 weeks. As a result, all babies are also born almost at the same time, after a gestation period of 135-145 days.

Ringtailed lemurs are not monogamous and often have several mates during the short breeding season. The high ranking males are usually favoured by the females, though they might prefer more distantly related males. Mating can be initiated by either males or females, but since females are highly dominants over the males, the final choice of the mating partner is theirs. Males will sniff the genitals of a female. If the female is not receptive, she will become very aggressive, often slapping the male away. Females solicit mating by approaching a male, presenting their rumps and lifting their tails.

In the wild, females generally give birth to a single baby, but in captivity, twins, or even triplets aren't uncommon, and at Monkeyland, we've had every set of figure. Females tend to have babies every year, sometimes every second year. Births are seasonal, with most infants being born in September in the wild, when food is more abundant for the lactating mother.

Newborns are first carried on the mother's stomach, before moving to a more confortable position on her back, at about 10 days. When they are a bit older, other group members begin to care of infants in addition to the mother, and we have even seen babies suckling from another mother. All the ringtailed lemurs in a group, whether males or females, help care for young ones and protect them in case of danger. The group will even adopt and raise orphans! Occasionally this goodwill goes too far and a female "kidnaps" an infant and will not return it to its mother.

The little ones start playing together at about 1.5 months old. They practice tree climbing and hopping and little males mock the scent marking methods of their fathers, using the spur on their arms. Weaning takes place at around 2 months, though younger babies are happy to test the fruits we provide for them a month before that.

By 4 months, the babies spend 85% of their time exploring away from their mothers and barely nurse anymore. It is a dangerous time for the youngsters, as they are more likely to fall prey to a predator, once away from the protection of their mother and group. Infant mortality is high amongst wild ringtailed lemurs: between 37 and 80% depending on environmental conditions. Our sanctuary born little one has a better chance of reaching adulthood, at around 3 years, and of having, one day, babies of its own, at around 2.5 to 4 years of age, or maybe even younger, being in a favourable environment. It might also reach the old age of 25 years, a figure quite unattainable for a wild ringtailed lemur.