Lemurs are amazing creatures, but most people don’t know much about them. King Julian and Mort are fan favorites from the movie Madagascar, but how much do you really know about their real-life counterparts? Lemurs are often mistaken for other classifications of animals. Some people think they may be related to cats or even koalas, but they are actually members of the primate family.
Lemurs are from Madagascar, just as the movie tells us! World Lemur Day takes place every year on the last Friday in October. It became a celebration back in 2014 and is celebrated annually in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s Capital. Since then, it has spread around the world as a way to celebrate these amazing creatures and to raise awareness about the conservation actions we can do to help lemurs. By helping protect lemurs, we are also helping preserve the biodiversity that Madagascar holds. There are many different types of lemurs and they all fill different ecological roles in the environment; one lemur, called the aye-aye, is even specialized to fill the role of a woodpecker. This type of lemur is nocturnal and uses a specialized digit to tap on wood and find bugs! Below is a Sifaka which you may know as the famous Zoboomafoo character! These guys are known for their vertical clinging and leaping.
Although they are in the primate family, they have some biological differences from monkeys and apes. Monkeys, apes, and tarsiers are in the Haplorrhine suborder while lemurs and lorises are separated into the Strepsirrhine suborder. This results in our lemur friends having features such as wet noses, vibrissae (think whiskers), and more prominent ears.
King Julian is a ringtail lemur, and although he might have been a king in the movie, in real life, the girls run the show. Some lemurs, like the ringtail lemur, have female dominance in their social groups, where the females get first access to resources such as food. The male ringtail lemurs also participate in “stink fighting” where they approach other males’ wrists held high to show off their stench and battle the other male.
And of course, I can’t leave out our fan favorite, Mr. Mort!
Mort, from the movie Madagascar, is supposed to represent a mouse lemur. Mouse lemurs are the smallest of the primate family weighing only a few ounces. They are mainly nocturnal, but they have a few superpowers to help them thrive in the nightlife lifestyle. They have a special reflective component in their eye called a tapetum lucidum which allows them to see well even when there is little light. Cats also have this feature, which is the same component that makes their eyes have a glow-in-the-dark look.
One of my other favorites is the black and white ruffed lemur. These lemurs contribute to the environment as pollinators! It isn’t often that we hear of a mammal as a pollinator, but because these guys eat fruit and nectar, they are sticking their snout into the flower. As the messy eaters they are, the pollen gets stuck on their snout and is brought to the next plant!
There are over 100 types of lemurs so there are many cuties to choose from as your new favorite. I encourage you to do a bit of your own googling and learn more! You can also help lemurs by buying sustainable chocolate or vanilla from Madagascar. Make sure to mark your calendars to celebrate these cuties next year on the last Friday of October. Next year it is on October 25th!