Many consider the red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra) the most beautiful of all the lemurs. Their coat is primarily a rust-colored red, offset by the lemur’s black face, hands, feet, belly, and tail. The red ruff along its face, resembling sideburns, gives this lemur its name.

Ruffed lemurs are the largest of the Lemuridae family of primates, and the red ruffed lemur is about 60 centimeters (23 inches) long with a black, furry tail that is almost the same length. Only found on the island of Madagascar, it is particular about its habitat. It lives mainly in the deciduous tropical forests in northeastern Madagascar on the Masoala Peninsula.

Red ruffed lemurs spend most of their lives high in the upper canopy of the tropical rainforest, rarely descending to the ground. When they move through the trees, it’s quite a spectacle. They hurl themselves from tree to tree without hesitation, crashing through the vegetation of lower branches.

Their diet consists mostly of fruit, nectar, and pollen. When they stick their long, fox-like snouts deep into tubular flowers to feed on the nectar, they get pollen on their noses. They pass that pollen to another flower as they continue feeding. With this behavior, these lemurs play a key role in the pollination of some species of hardwood trees and plants.

In the late 1990s, Madagascar created Masoala Park to protect these lemurs, plus a number of other native species. In 2009, during a period of political unrest, the park was largely unprotected and people began illegally logging the forests. Rosewood, an important hardwood in the red ruffed lemurs’ habitat, was heavily logged because of its commercial value.

Logging, hunting, frequent cyclones (hurricanes), and forest fires pose threats to this species, and red ruffed lemurs are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  1. How do red ruffed lemurs keep their thick coats clean?

    • Answer

      Red ruffed lemurs keep their long, woolly fur clean with specialized claws on their second toes, which serve as a brush. Their teeth are also adapted for grooming, with the bottom six incisors forming a toothcomb. This toothcomb also helps them peel fruit easily.

  2. How do red ruffed lemurs communicate?

    • Answer

      Red ruffed lemurs are a very vocal species—barking and calling to warn of predators, such as the fossa, boas, eagles, and hawks. They also call to each other while foraging to help scattered groups stay together. And sometimes their call is a warning to other groups that the territory is taken.

  3. What important role do red ruffed lemurs play in their ecosystem?

    • Answer

      Red ruffed lemurs play a key role in pollinating certain species of plants and hardwood trees. The lemurs feed on fruit, nectar, and pollen. When they stick their noses into flowers to feed on nectar, pollen from the flower sticks to their snout. They pass that pollen to another flower when they make their next feeding stop.

  4. How did Madagascar’s political problems impact the protection of the red ruffed lemur?

    • Answer

      Madagascar’s government created Masoala Park in the late 1990s. The lands within the park were protected to help preserve the habitat of the red ruffed lemur and other native species. In 2009, during a period of political unrest, the park was largely unprotected and people began illegally logging the forests. Rosewood, one of the red ruffed lemurs’ preferred trees for food and shelter, was heavily logged because of its commercial value.

canopy
Noun

one of the top layers of a forest, formed by the thick leaves of very tall trees.

commercial
Adjective

having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

cyclone
Noun

weather system that rotates around a center of low pressure and includes thunderstorms and rain. Usually, hurricanes refer to cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean.

deciduous
Adjective

type of plant that sheds its leaves once a year.

Noun

organism threatened with extinction.

hardwood
Noun

the strong, dense wood, of flowering trees.

logging
Noun

industry engaged in cutting down trees and moving the wood to sawmills.

native
Adjective

indigenous, or from a specific geographic region.

pollen
Noun

powdery material produced by plants, each grain of which contains a male gamete capable of fertilizing a female ovule.

pollination
Noun

transfer of pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part of a plant.

Noun

area of tall, mostly evergreen trees and a high amount of rainfall.

tropical
Adjective

existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.