Lemurs are woolly-furred, long-tailed, arboreal animals that are found only on the island of Madagascar off the Eastern coast of Africa.
There are as many as 100 different species and subspecies of lemurs, ranging in size from the 1 ounce mouse lemur, to the 20 pound Indri.
These creatures evolved undisturbed in an isolated environment for millions of years, and thrived in their island paradise until human beings came to Madagascar about 2000 years ago. Since then, people have destroyed over 90 percent of the natural forests, leaving the lemurs, as a group, the most endangered mammals in the world.
Most lemurs are plant eaters that indulge in the tropical leaves, fruits, shoots and flowers of the island, while occasionally dining on insects, and possibly small reptiles and birds.
They are social, active animals with remarkable athletic abilities, who can leap 30 feet or more from limb to limb using their powerful, long legs and strong gripping hands and feet. The long, thickly furred tail is not prehensile, but acts like a rudder as they fly through the air, and a signalling device while on the ground.
Some species, such as the large, exquisitely black-furred Indri, are almost exclusively tree-dwelling, while the most recognizable species, the beautiful ring-tailed lemur, spends as much as 70 percent of the time on the ground, even sleeping in big, furry, communal, heaps, right out in the open on grass or rocks.
Ring-tail lemurs are small animals, overall, at about 5 or 6 pounds fully grown, but they live in alert communities of 10 to 25 individuals, and use warning calls if danger approaches.
A group of lemurs is called a conspiracy, and they will, in fact, conspire together against predators, occasionally using a technique called "mobbing", where the entire group will attack. This is seen most often against snakes, where families of lemurs will converge on a large ground boa and simply beat it to death.
Only Madagascar's largest predator, the awesome fossa, which looks like a small, brown, 25 pound mountain lion, but is actually related to the mongoose, regularly preys on ring-tailed lemurs, although buzzards, large boas, and domestic dogs are also an occasional threat.
But the biggest danger for lemurs is deforestation. With a new president elected in 2014, the government of Madagascar announced a new initiative to save their most iconic citizens. Madagascar's unique wildlife, if preserved wisely, can help the nations ecotourism trade blossom, and with over 200,000 tourists per year and growing, the thousands of species of plants, reptiles, and of course, lemurs, exclusive to this one island, must somehow survive.
Primates are broken into 2 groups, wet-nosed primates like lemurs, lorises, and galagos, and dry-nosed primates like monkeys and apes. (human beings are, apes). The wet-nosed primates are called prosimians, because they evolved millions of years before monkeys and apes. In fact, the word prosimian literally means "before monkeys". The differences between monkeys and prosimians goes beyond the wet, dog-like noses that lemurs and lorises have. Prosimians don't have the flexible, expressive faces of monkeys, and their eyes and orbital sockets are angled differently from monkeys, with more emphasis on peripheral vision, and less on stereoscopic focus. A larger percentage of the prosimian brain is dedicated to the sense of smell, than to sight.