Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creature Feature: Ringtail Lemur.

Madagascar Week would not be complete without a look at the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta). Common though they are as the poster-children of Madagascar, they are still weird in their own right.

These lemurs are particularly eccentric.

At first glance, these primates look similar to raccoons with very, very long tails. These long tails have a number of uses, from group communication to scenting. Scenting is more important for these lemurs than it is for predominantly-visual humans; these creatures even get involved in stink fights.

Ring-tailed lemurs are some of the most vocal primates around. They purr like cats mixed with a starting lawnmower when content; they make crazy clicks before shrieking when ganging up on a predator; they moan in a way that would make one classify them as ghosts, albeit comical ones.

Imagine this in one of those 'moo' toys. That's what the lemur sounds like.

Interestingly (and men, you can probably blame this on insular isolation), most lemurs, these guys included, have dominant females. Ladies get the first picks of food and therefore almost everything else. Somehow, they still wind up polygynous during mating time; humans have a loooong way to go when it comes to that level of understanding in relationships.

Despite not flaunting the tool-using skills key to the identification of primate intelligence in the wild, lemurs have proven surprisingly capable on other levels. They can select tools based on their functions, predict sequences and do simple mathematics. Hey, that's more than some humans can do.

They have also hacked the Matrix.

(Again, this was one of the harder ones for me to write about...)

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