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Red-ruffed Lemur (Varecia rubra) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship & Mating

Polygamous (from Vasey 1997)

  • Males and females take multiple partners
    • May mate with more than one partner in a single mating season

Copulation (from Vasey 2007 unless otherwise noted)

  • Soliciting a partner
    • Males solicit more often than females
      • Various combinations of stereotypical male behaviors
        • Lower and extend the head and nose
          • Ears often flattened (Brockman et al. 1987)
        • “Squeal approach”
          • Submissively advance toward a female in a quivering crawl
          • Often emit a roar-shriek chorus; along with the female
        • May brush past the female’s body, sniffing and licking her genitals
          • Male suspends himself beneath the female and chatters submissively
        • Mount and thrust at female
        • Scent mark branches on which a female recently sat
          • Rub the chest, mandible, head, and/or ano-genital region onto substrates
      • Female response includes variable combinations of stereotyped behaviors
        • Vocalize, producing a roar-shriek chorus with the male
        • Positioning the body to allow mounting by the male
        • Aggressively strike at or bite at the male
        • Lick own genitals
  • Pairing time
    • May last for extended periods
      • Together for 2-9.5 hours, one study population
    • Couplings between core group members may last longer than those between members of separate core groups


Seasonal reproduction (from Vasey 2006)

  • Mating
    • Early July, in the wild
  • Gestation
    • Typically July-October
  • Lactation
    • Typically November-February

Estrus cycle, captive notes (from Brockman et al. 1987; Foerg 1982)

  • Timing
    • Experience up to 3 cycles during the breeding season
      • Cycle intervals of 40-42 days
      • Conception typically occurs during the first cycle
  • Cycle duration
    • 8-22 days; average of 14.6
  • Indications of estrus
    • Physical changes in vaginal morphology reflect reproductive condition
      • Anestrous
        • Vulva completely black, imperforate, and somewhat inverted
      • Immediately prior to estrus
        • Vulvus becomes swollen
      • Onset of estrus
        • Vulvar slit begins to separate
          • Forms a visible pink line
          • Occasionally a small (2-4 cm), pink, circular opening is visible
      • Mid-cycle
        • Pink separation enlarges and everts; forming a dark pink, oval opening
      • Late-cycle
        • Vulva begins to shrink
        • Pink coloration fades
    • Behavioral changes
      • Increase in anogenital scent marking
      • More solicitous of the male and receptive to his mounting attempts
        • Non-receptive females lunge at the male and chase him away
        • Receptive females approach the male and slap or beat his head with her hands

Nests (from Vasey 2007)

  • Function
    • Site of birth
    • Provides safety for infants while mother is way foraging
      • Infants remain within the nest for c. 2 weeks
      • Left alone for periods of 46-90 minutes a few times each day
      • Guarded by other members of the mother’s core group while she is away
  • Structure
    • Shallow, dish-shaped construction
    • Entwined branches, dense foliage, and/or lianas
  • Location
    • Placed 15-25 m above the ground
    • Situated within each mother’s core area

Birth rate (from Vasey 2003)

  • Average birth rate: 0.86/year

Cooperative or communal infant care (from Vasey 1997)

Gestation and Birth


  • 99-106 days, 102 days average; captive records (Brockman et al. 1987; Whipple 2014a)
    • Shortest of all species within the family Lemuridae (Vasey 2007)


  • Location and timing
    • Deliver within the nest (Brockman et al. 1987; Vasey 2007)
    • Parturition typically at night, captive observation (Brockman et al. 1987)
      • 20:00-04:00
      • Rarely deliver in daylight
  • Dam’s (mother’s) behavior (from Brockman et al. 1987)
    • Female assumes a hunched posture, with legs extended
    • Continually licks to clean the vaginal opening
      • Leaving minimal evidence of birth, other than the presence of a wet neonate
  • Infant characteristics (from Vasey 2003)
    • Weight at birth
      • c. 98 g (0.2 lb)
    • Click here to view Red Ruffed Lemur Babies by Zoo TV Series, Dublin Zoo

Interbirth interval

  • c. 1 year between consecutive births (Vasey 2003)

Litter size

  • 1-6 (Eddie et al. 2015; Vasey 2003)
    • Commonly 2-3
    • In managed care, c. 37% twins, c. 30% triplets (Eddie et al. 2015)

Life Stages


  • Care (from Vasey 2007 unless otherwise noted)
    • Infant stashing
      • Infants remain within nests or other concealed arboreal spots while mother travel distantly
        • Mother transports infants (one at a time) within her mouth
          • Infant’s belly held (transversely) within her jaws
        • Non-siblings often stashed together by their separate mothers
    • Alloparenting
      • All age-sex classes assist in the care of infants
        • Males and females coordinate vigilant activity to guard stashed infants (Vasey 1997)
        • Communal nursing, lactating females nurse one another’s offspring (Vasey 1997; Vasey 2007)
      • Evidence for infant adoption (Vasey 1997; Vasey 2007)
  • Development (from Vasey 2007 unless otherwise noted)
    • Ingest solid food at 40-50 days (Vasey 2003)
      • Eat young leaves and fruit
      • Weaned c. 3-4 months
        • May suckle for another 2 months (Vasey 2003)
    • Locomotor skills fully develop by 70 days (Vasey 2003)
      • Locomotor play common by 6 weeks
        • Walk, leap, climb, and hang suspended
      • Follow older animals through the tree crown
        • Mother continues to transport young in her mouth to move across large gaps
        • May cling to mother’s head, neck, or belly
    • Grow rapidly
      • 70% of adult weight c.4 months of age (Vasey 2003)
        • Becomes difficult to distinguish juveniles from adults

Adults (from Eddie et al. 2015 unless otherwise noted)

  • Age at sexual maturity
    • Males, in managed care
      • 2 years
      • Fecundity peaks c. 6 years of age
    • Females, in managed care
      • 1 year
        • Estrus cycling begins as early as 9 months (Brockman et al. 1987)
      • Fecundity peaks c. 6 years of age
  • Reproductive senescence
    • Males
      • Reproduction declines gradually after 6 years of age
      • No records of reproduction after 30 years of age
        • May be able to reproduce through the end of life
    • Females
      • Reproduction declines after 6 years of age
        • Downturn more pronounced than that of males
      • Minimal reproduction after 23 years of age
        • Oldest dam (mother) nearly 30 years of age

Typical Life Expectancy

Wild populations

  • Not reported

Managed care

  • Median life expectancy
    • 19.9 years (AZA 2023)

Young Red-ruffed Lemurs

Red-ruffed lemur baby

Infant red-ruffed lemur.

Image credit: © Mulhouseville at Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.


Red-Ruffed Lemur young

Young red-ruffed lemur. ZOOM Erlebniswelt, Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

Image credit: © Silke at Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Brockman et al. (1987)
Eddie et al. (2015)
Foerg (1982)
Vasey (1997)
Vasey (2003)
Vasey (2006)
Vasey (2007)
Whipple (2014a)

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