Lemur (Ring-tailed)

A lemur at the Zoo

What they look like

The ring-tailed lemur has a distinctive large bushy black-and-white striped tail. They have white faces with black ringed features and fluffy white ears. Their coat is otherwise grey with a white underbelly.

Animal facts

There are many mysteries to the lemur species; here are a few our favourites:

  • Despite their cat-like appearance, lemurs are actually part of the primate family. Primates are recognisable by their good binocular eyesight, developed brains and their flexible hands with opposable digits. However, although lemurs possess opposable thumbs their grasp is quite weak, which means eating large chucks of apple can be a challenge (#lemurproblems).
  • Lemurs come in all shapes and sizes, for example, the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is the smallest primate in the world, weighing up to just 30 grams! The indri is the world’s largest lemur and can reach almost a meter in height, leap over ten metres and is known locally as babakoto meaning ‘man of the forest’.
  • Lemur is a Latin word meaning ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit of the dead’. This name is derived from lemur’s vocal behaviour. Their calls were so loud that early explorers in Madagascar thought spirits made the eerie shrieks coming from the forest canopy. The ring-tailed lemur’s scientific name lemur catta translates as ghost cat. This may be because of their cat-like qualities such as walking on all fours, their propensity for grooming and their ability to pur
  • Ring-tailed lemurs are very social and live in troops of up to 30 individuals. They are highly communicative and have around 30 distinct types of calls including grunting, howling and meowing. They spend much of their time grooming each other with comb-like front teeth, this helps establish their tight-knit social bonds.
  • During mating season, male ring-tailed lemurs compete to be the smelliest.
  • They rub their tails with scent from glands on their wrists and stink fight by wafting the pungent odour towards their opponent and glaring at them. The fight ends with the least smelly male conceding and dashing away.
  • In lemur society, the females are in charge! They have the pick of the food and choose their mates.

What they eat

Plants, leaves, flowers, fruit, sap, bark and occasional insects.


Dry open areas and forest.

Where they live

Lemurs are indigenous only to Madagascar and a few small surrounding areas, meaning any environmental damage puts most of the species in danger.


As the population of Madagascar grows, and with most of the Malagasy people relying on subsistence farming, the island’s precious forests are diminishing as they are cleared for pastoral land stock, charcoal production and illegal logging.

Visit our lemurs at ZSL London Zoo