Thursday 16 July 2009

Photo of the Day #36: Red-bellied Lemur

Male red-bellied lemur
Eulemur rubriventer (I. Geoffroy, 1850)
Lemuridae; Primates; Mammalia; Chordata
Linton Zoo, Cambridgeshire
July 2009

The number of lemur species in existence keeps on growing; when I began learning about them 15 or so years ago, there were something like 25 species. Now, through brand new discoveries and taxonomic splitting (when subspecies are considered species in their own right), there are almost four times that many.

There are five families of lemurs: Daubentoniidae, containing only the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis); Indriidae, containing the indris (Indri indri), 9 avahis (Avahi spp.) and 9 sifakas (Propithecus spp.); Cheirogaleidae, the 30 mouse and dwarf lemurs; Lepilemuridae, or Megaladapidae, the 25 sportive lemurs (Lepilemur spp.); and the Lemuridae.

Arguably the most well known of this latter family is the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), but there are four other genera: Prolemur, the greater bamboo lemur; Hapalemur, the gentle lemurs; Varecia, the ruffed lemurs; and Eulemur, the 'true' lemurs.

The red-bellied lemur, a male is depicted here, is typical of the genus Eulemur, in that most species are sexually dimorphic. The most striking of the genus are the black lemur (E. macaco) - where the male is completely black and the female is rufous - and the blue-eyed lemur (E. flavifrons) - much the same except both sexes have shocking blue eyes. Whilst both the male and female red-bellied lemurs have the distinctive white "teardrops" in front of their eyes, they are more noticeable in the male. He also has the red belly which gives the species its common and specific name; the female's is paler and contrasts with the dark russet-grey upper parts.

A word about Linton Zoo: a small and overlooked zoological garden just to the south of Cambridge, and less than an hour from London by car. It is most renowned for its breeding programmes of several rare and endangered lemur species. Not only has it had breeding success for this species, but also crowned, mongoose, grey gentle, red ruffed and grey-headed lemurs too. More on some of those in the near future.

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