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Studying mammals: Life in the trees
Studying mammals: Life in the trees

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5.5 Ring-tailed lemurs

LoM p. 239 describes the life and habits of the ring-tailed lemur, drawing attention to what are commonly called their 'stink-fights' - a further example of the importance of smell in lemur society. But here the habit is prevalent in a species that is active by day and can spend as much as 40 per cent of its waking time on the ground. In fact, these animals seem equally at home on the ground and in the trees. Over time, some populations in Madagascar have become more ground-based than others, notably near the 2520m summit of the island's second highest mountain, where there is only sparse vegetation. You'll know something of the unique social system of ring-tailed lemurs [p. 239]. They live in large and complex groups and have a repertoire of calls, facial expressions, gestures and scent marking that allows extensive communication. Unlike all other primate groups, male ring-tailed lemurs are submissive to the adult females. When rival groups of ring-taileds meet, the dominant females take the lead. Females may also kill infants of their female rivals, whereas infanticide in lions and other mammals is usually performed only by mature males. The evolutionary reasons behind this unique instance of role reversal are not known.