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One big lemur family

If you have been around the Monkeys of Makokou complex or seen the lemurs of The Living Treehouse recently, then you know the primates who call Zoo Atlanta home come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Each species has a unique set of traits and behaviors that are specifically adapted to thrive in their wild habitats, including how they interact with other species. In their natural habitat, most animals are used to interacting with their neighbors, and some have even evolved to rely on each other for survival. In order to mimic these important relationships, it has been increasingly common for zoos to house multiple species in the same habitats, providing for greater animal well-being and behavioral enrichment.

Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have three species of lemur that share a habitat in The Living Treehouse: black-and-white-ruffed lemurs, ringtailed lemurs, and crowned lemurs. This is not unlike how they would naturally interact on the island of Madagascar, which is the only place in the world where lemurs are indigenous. Even though lemurs are only found on Madagascar, there are still over a hundred different species that are indigenous to the island! Most of these species are arboreal and nocturnal, which means that they often interact with one another. Although our three species of lemur are not normally found in the same types of forests in the wild, here they are able to fill the role for one another that other species would have naturally taken.

Chewie is our young adult male crowned lemur, and he is the most adventurous when it comes to interacting with the other species of lemurs. He can often be seen playing on habitat with the ringtailed boys, or engaged in social grooming with the black-and-white-ruffed family. Social grooming is a very common bonding activity for all kinds of animals, and our lemurs are no exception. In fact, all but one species of lemur has evolved a “toothcomb,” a specialty structure made up of the bottom teeth which helps them to better groom both their own fur and that of their group mates. 

Like all families, not every interaction the lemurs have with one another is affectionate, but confrontational behaviors are just as important to their relationships. Displacement over food and position in the habitat is the most common confrontational behavior our lemurs exhibit; this helps them to reinforce, and maintain the social dynamics of the entire group. If you stick around The Living Treehouse for long enough, there is a good chance that you will hear some pretty loud alarm calls coming from the lemur habitat, especially from the ringtailed and the black-and-white-ruffed lemurs. Though these calls can sound quite intense to us, this does not mean that our lemurs are actually in any danger, merely that they are communicating with one another in ways very similar to how they naturally would in the wild.

Next time you swing by the lemur habitat, stick around and see if you can see the different species interacting with one another! I, for one, am very excited to see if Chewie’s younger sibling decides to follow in his footsteps and become a social companion with the ringtailed and black-and-white-ruffed lemurs. Keep your eyes peeled!

(Photo: Pam W.)

Michaela F.
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl