Lee Richardson Zoo

Red Ruffed Lemur

Order: Primates – Monkeys, Apes, Gorillas, Humans
Family: Lemuridae - Lemurs

Scientific name:  Varecia variegata rubra


DescriptionThe Red Ruffed Lemur is an arboreal (tree dwelling) primate that can grow to be 3.5 feet long from its head to the end of its tail.  The tail alone can account for almost 2 feet of this total length and is used for balance when jumping from branch to branch through the trees.  They are the largest member of the Lemuridae family and are called “ruffed” lemurs due to the tufts of long, thick fur on their ears.  They have soft fur that is mostly reddish-brown in color with a black face, feet, tail, and belly.  They usually have a white patch of fur on the nape of their neck and can weigh anywhere between 7-10 lbs.  Their snout is elongated and gives them a fox-like appearance.


Home RangeIsland of Madagascar, specifically the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar

Habitat typeTropical rainforests

Reproductive habits: The breeding season occurs from May through July in the wild, with the female in estrus for only a few days during this time, and only fertile one day during estrus.  After a gestation period of 90-102 days, the female will produce a litter of 2-6 newborns, with 2-3 being the average.  Ruffed lemurs are the only primate that can produce a litter of offspring instead of only a single newborn or twins.  They even have six mammae to allow for feeding of all of the young.  When born, the Red Ruffed Lemur will have its eyes open and be fully furred, but will not have enough strength to cling to its mother.  Because of this, the mother will pick the newborn up and place it in a nest of branches and leaves that she constructed prior to the birth.  Often she will pad these nests with fur picked from her own body.  The mother may construct several of these nests and move the developing young around to various locations while she is foraging.  By the time the young reach 7 weeks of age, they are capable of following the mother around the treetops.  Weaning occurs around 4 months, and sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years, but the females do not reproduce until they are about 3 years of age.


Diet in WildRuffed lemurs are completely herbivorous and have a diet consisting of fruits, nectar, seeds, leaves, and flowers.


Diet in Zoo:  Zupreem Primate diet, leafeater biscuits, a variety of available seasonal  mixed fruit or vegetables.


General InfoThe Red Ruffed Lemur has little dexterity in their hands, so they are unable to groom themselves or each other by picking out parasites with their fingers like apes and monkeys do.  Instead, they have a row of six teeth on the bottom of their mouth that are called a “toothcomb” that they use to remove parasites.  They also have a specialized claw on the second digit of their hind feet that they use to brush their long fur.


These lemurs have a very loud warning system.  When a predator is nearby, they use an elaborate series of barks and calls to alert other lemurs in the area to the threat.  These newly alerted lemurs will then take up the warning call as well until all those in the area are aware of the danger.  The warning call will actually vary depending on whether the threat is on the ground, in the air, or in a tree.


Like most primates, the Red Ruffed Lemurs have a complicated social system.  Most social groups consist of 2-5 individuals but some groups have been known to have up to 30 members.  The females are always dominant and rank higher in social status than the males.  

Red Ruffed Lemurs have an excellent sense of smell and rely heavily on scent as a way to identify group members and mark territories.  They have scent glands located on their wrists and on their bottoms that aid in this process.


Predators: Boa constrictors, eagles, hawks, and large mammals


Conservation Status:  Listed on Appendix I of CITES and Endangered under Red List.  Species Survival Plan (SSP) managed by AZA. 



Animal Info Ruffed Lemur, Accessed May 8, 2008


Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol 14.  Second Edition.  2004.  The Gale Group, Inc., Farmington Hills, MI.  pp. 47-52, 58-59.