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Black-and-white ruffed lemur

With its thick, black and white patterned fur, the black-and-white ruffed lemurs belong to the most beautiful lemur species of Madagascar. In the meantime, they have become very rare and are found only in a few areas on the east coast of the island. Currently, primatologists can distinguish between three subspecies, where the differences are mainly in the patterns of their fur.

Special features

A black-and-white ruffed lemur at the outdoor enclosure at the DPZ. Characteristics of these animals are their thick, black and white fur, the long tail and the dog-like snout. Photo: Karin Tilch
A black-and-white ruffed lemur at the outdoor enclosure at the DPZ. Characteristics of these animals are their thick, black and white fur, the long tail and the dog-like snout. Photo: Karin Tilch

Characteristics of the black-and-white ruffed lemur are their dog-like snout, the neck ruff, ear tufts and the long, hairy tail. The coloration of their fur is dependent on their habitat and subspecies. The proportion of white fur on these lemurs increases from the north to the south of Madagascar. The color of their eyes is yellow to amber.

Diet

The diet of the black-and-white ruffed lemur consists mostly of ripe fruit and they are therefore more dependent on fruit-bearing trees than any other lemur species. In addition, they eat leaves, seeds and flowers. With the help of their long snouts and tongues, they are furthermore able to lick nectar from flowers and in so doing they fulfil an important pollination function for a number of Malagasy plants.

Habitat and lifestyle

Black-and-white ruffed lemurs prefer to live in forests. They inhabit mainly humid rainforests of lowland and mountain forests up to 1300 m. They are diurnal and spend most of their time foraging, wandering and taking breaks. They preferably live in treetops and are therefore rarely found on the ground. They are good climbers and can cover distances adequately. The animals are most active in the early morning and the evening hours. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs communicate with each other through loud calls.

Black-and-white ruffed lemurs mainly live in trees and are therefore excellent climbers. Photo: Anton Säckl
Black-and-white ruffed lemurs mainly live in trees and are therefore excellent climbers. Photo: Anton Säckl
A black-and-white ruffed lemur sunbathing in the outdoor enclosure at the DPZ. The animals are active in the field both during the day and at twilight. Photo: Anton Säckl
A black-and-white ruffed lemur sunbathing in the outdoor enclosure at the DPZ. The animals are active in the field both during the day and at twilight. Photo: Anton Säckl

Social behavior and reproduction

Concerning their social organization, black-and-white ruffed lemurs are variable. Most animals live in family groups of two to five individuals. The groups can however also grow to 16 members. In cases where there is a food shortage in their habitat, the groups often split into smaller units. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs are polygamists. The females reach sexual maturity after two years and the males with approximately three. Mating occurs mostly from May until July. During the 30-day cycle the female is fertile for only one day. After a gestation period of 99 to 106 days, the female gives birth to one or two infants. The young lemurs are born in a nest made of twigs, leaves and the fur of the mother. Initially the newborns are very helpless and weigh only about 100 grams. Their eyes are blue at birth and turn yellow during the second week. During the first few weeks, the female leaves the infants in the nest when she forages. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs must sometimes cover vast distances in search of food and since a large amount of energy is needed for the task, the infants are left in the nest. When the infants are bigger, the mother carries them around in her mouth and parks them in a safe place, for example in a forked branch covered with leaves before she forages. The entire group is responsible for raising the young. The group members take care of guarding, carrying, cleaning and feeding the infants. The infants are nursed for up 135 days. They grow rapidly and are fully grown at the age of six months.

Endangerment

According to the IUCN, the black-and-white ruffed lemurs are threatened with extinction. The reason for this lies mainly in the destruction of their habitat due to slash and burn, deforestation and mining. In addition, they are hunted for their meat and fur and are kept as pets.

 

Source: Handbook of the Mammals of the World: Primates (edited by Mittermeier, R.A., Ryland, A.B., Wilson D.E., published by Lynx Edicions, Conservation International, IUCN, 2013)

Distribution

Distribution area of the black-and-white ruffed lemurs on the island of Madagascar. Image: Sylvia Siersleben
Distribution area of the black-and-white ruffed lemurs on the island of Madagascar. Image: Sylvia Siersleben

Profile of the black-and-white ruffed lemur

Scientific nameVarecia variegata
Taxonomy

Suborder:
Lemurs

Familiy:
Lemuridae

Genus:
Varecia

Species:
Black-and-white ruffed lemur

HabitatNortheastern Madagascar
Head and body length45 cm
Tail length60 - 61 cm
Weight

3,6 kg
(males)

3,7 kg
(females)

Dietfruits, young leaves, seeds, blossoms, nectar
Lifestylecrepuscular and diurnal, arboreal
Social organizationsmaler family units,
mixed-sex groups, cooperation in rearing the young
Mating systempolygamous
Life expectancy (husbandry)up to 35 Jahre
Status
(IUCN Red List)
critically endangered (threatened with extinction)