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Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Attribute Male & Female
Weight 2.2 kg (4.9 lb)
Head-Body Length 385-455 mm (15-18 in)
Tail Length 560-624 mm (22-25 in)

General Appearance

Body shape (from Mittermeier et al. 2010)

  • Large bodied
    • Relative to many other lemurs
  • Tail long
    • Longer than head and body
    • Not prehensile
    • See Pelage section, below
  • Limbs and feet
    • Feet
      • Soles black
  • Rump and genitals
    • Black skin exposed on genitalia
    • Brownish patch on the buttocks

Facial chatacteristics (from Mittermeier et al. 2010)

  • Ears
    • Rather prominent
  • Eyes
    • Amber; brownish
    • Forward facing
    • Circled by black, triangular rings
      • "Raccoon-like" face mask
  • Muzzle
    • Slender
    • Grayish; covered with sparse hairs
  • Nose
    • Black
    • Naked

Sexual dimorphism

  • Sexes similar
    • Males and females indistinguishable by weight
    • Minor differences
      • Male
        • Head, upper arms, and shoulders slightly larger than female
        • Feet and upper canines longer
        • Large, hairless, black scrotum highly visible
      • Female
        • 2 pairs of mammae, only one pair becomes functional


Overal grayish-brown appearance

  • Dense coat
  • White on the forehead, cheeks, ears, and throat
  • Ears are slightly tufted
    • Some individuals lack tufts

Tail ringed

  • Black and white alternating bands
  • Band numbers
    • 13-14 black
    • 12-13 white bands
  • Tip black

Regional variation

  • "Typical" or low elevation group
    • Light gray on rump and limbs
    • Darker gray on neck and crown
    • Brownish back
    • Underparts white and sparsely furred
  • High elevation population
    • Darker reddish brown overall
    • Dark gray-brown on limbs
    • Fewer tail rings
    • Denser fur
    • May be different subspecies


Poor vision

  • Does not rely heavily on visual input
    • Moving objects command attention
    • A motionless observer can escape detection until the lemurs are within a few meters
  • Color vision
    • Trichromic
  • Possesses a tapedum
    • Unlike most other diurnal primates

Scent Glands

Antebrachial (Carpal) Gland

  • Located on the inner forearm
    • Near the wrist
    • Present in both males and females, though appearance differs
      • Males
        • Bare skin
          • Continues distally to the palm
        • Measures about 1.5-2.0 cm.
        • Horny epidermal spur
      • Female
        • Bare skin
          • Fur line extends from gland to the palm; unlike the bare skin tract of males
        • Area c. half the size that of the male
        • Lack epidermal spur

Brachial Gland

  • Location
    • A glandular opening located high on chest
    • Internal side of upper arm near shoulder
    • Resembles a black nipple
  • Most developed in males
    • Diameter c.  2 cm
  • Use in marking
    • Often used to mark objects or lemur's own tail

Other glands

  • Glandular development in perianal region
    • Present in both sexes
    • Furred

Brachial and genital secretion longevity

  • Remain chemically active for several days

Sensory Systems

Ring-tailed Lemur eyes

Though eye-sight is relatively poor, the ring-tailed lemur has an excellent sense of smell. Scent-marking is an important means of communication used to demarcate territory.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Paws with Traction

Ring-tailed Lemur fingers and toes

Large pads on a lemur's fingers and toes provide extra traction, helping the animal stick when it jumps onto a tree trunk or branch.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Rudder-like Tail

Ring-tailed Lemur has a rudder like tail

A lemur's rudder-like tail is longer than its body and is used for balance while leaping through trees.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Groves (2001)
Mittermeier et al. (2010)
Sauther et al. (2001)
Tattersall (1982)

SDZWA Library Links