Red Ruffed Lemur

by Camila Olivella

The red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra) is a primate mammal of the prosimian suborder native to the island of Madagascar. The red ruffed lemurs belong to the Lemuridae family and the varecia genus and are of the species v. rubra. This diurnal species of lemur is found primarily in the rainforests of the Masoala peninsula and it is restricted to the rainforest due to its feeding habits and its preference for heights and high trees. Unfortunately, the red ruffed lemur is currently classified as an endangered species by the IUCN.


As its name implies, the red ruffed lemurs sport a rich red coat, as well as a black face, chest and tail, and a white nape, which makes it very distinguishable from other lemur species. All lemurs are classified as Prosimians as they have what is considered very primitive traits and behavior unlike the simians, such monkeys and humans (Strier, 2003). Unlike simians, lemurs lack digit coordination, so they have to groom themselves and others with their teeth.
There is also a very similar species, the varecia variegatus, that instead of the red and black fur, it spots black and white fur and is consequently called the black-and-white ruffed lemur. The red ruffed lemur has an elongated face and the ears are covered with long furry red hair giving them that ruffed appearance by which they are named after.
They are also the largest species of lemurs, reaching body lengths of 22 inches, ranging from 16.9 to 22.4 and their tail, which is longer than the body, can measure up to 24 inches. Between males and females, there is no sexual dimorphism as do other species, such as lions and some species of birds . Females weigh an average of 7.3 pounds and males 7.9 pounds. The red ruffed lemurs have slender, agile bodies that allow for quadrupedalism and bipedalism, as well as rapid climbing of trees and leaping.The life expectancy in the wild is from 15 to 20 years, and in captivity, 19.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Habitat and Feeding Habits
As the rest of the lemurs, this species is also native to Madagascar. They are mainly found in rainforests in the peninsula of Masoala. This diurnal species prefer to spend the majority of their day elevated from the ground, perched high on the trees. They eat seeds, fruits, flowers and leaves they find on the trees and ground, and their diet is seasonal. As a diurnal species, they are often facing many predators, which is why they prefer to forage for food in groups.


Social Behavior (group image needed here)

The red ruffed lemurs organized themselves into core groups that make up a community. The groups are then divided into pairs or up to 5 lemurs per group in some areas. As the seasons change, so does the number of lemurs that make up a group. If the season is dry and there is food scarcity, the lemurs will disperse. If the season is prosperous and food plentiful, such as during the wet season, then the lemurs will come together and form larger groups.
The red ruffed lemurs are very vocal animals. As a result, they are a very efficient, very furry alarm system that warns other groups of incoming danger.

The red ruffed lemurs are polygynous, define. They reach sexual maturity at two years of age. Mating occurs during May and July, and birthing during between September and November.Male lemurs often mate with females of their own group and sometimes they mate with females of other groups and communities. The males emit high pitched sounds, demonstrate a submissive behavior, lick and scent mark a female and the female genitals. The females, in turn, squeal, bite and bump into the males and position their bodies for mounting.

Females are highly likely to give birth to multiple offsprings. Baby lemurs are taken care of by ther mothers in nests. When the mothers needs to forage her food, she stashes the young (called parking) and hides them why she is away. Other members of the community care for the young while the mothers are away.

Cultural Significance – needs development

Disney’s Mort the Lemur

Zoombomafo children’s cartoon

Lemur Kingdom on Animal Planet

cultural significance (see page 11): also referred to as ‘Ancestor of Man’ locally.


Madagascar: Challenges That Affect the Lemur Population (deforestation image needed)

Sadly, the red ruffed lemur is an endangered species. Human resource extraction such as mining and logging are destroying the habitat. All lemurs are endangered, and they are in risk of extinction not only to deforestation and mining but are exposed to pet trade and animal trafficking, as well as human hunting for fur and for their meat, as it is considered very tasty.Lemurs are found around the world in captivity, obtained through legal means for preservation efforts or illegally, through animal trafficking and pet market. Illegal logging, mining and hunting are the primary reasons why these species are endangered. However, there is an economic factor and drive that affects the lemurs, and that is poverty. Poverty drives people to resort to illegal activities to sustain themselves and their families, and illegal activities and outsourcing proliferate during times where income is low and unemployment is high. Food and meat scarcity is also a major factor as to why lemurs are hunted, not only for their pelts but for their meat.

Current Efforts to Save Lemurs

Beyond preservation efforts through captivity and care in zoos around the globe, in Madagascar there is a new initiative and movement to halt the declining population of all species of lemurs through Eco-turism.

External Links 

add sources for more information


  • Frailey, K. (2008). Varecia Rubra. 
  • Jolly, Allison. (1966). Lemur behavior: A Madagascar study. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago. Smith, A.P, Horning N., & Moore D. (1997). Regional biodiversity planning and lemur conservation with gis in western Madagascar.Conservation Biology, 11 (2), 498- 512.
  • Strier, Karen B. (2003). Primate behavioral ecology (2nd edition). New York, NY: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Primate Info Net. (2013). Ruffed Lemur.