Monday, October 8, 2007

Common Brown Lemurs

Here is a common brown lemur, and a mother and baby. The babies hang on to the mothers until they are old enough to climb around on their own, and like all mammals, they nurse. I was there at a good time of year to see lemur babies of several types.

Although their name is "common," they are no longer common, they are endangered like all lemurs. There were several troops of brown lemurs in Andasibe, and the family groups are led by a female. A troop can have up to thirty or so, or as few as just a couple. They move through the forest to gather food rather than stay in established territories.

These lemurs make a grunting sound like a tiny pig. I heard them before I saw them, and it was very strange to see the sound was coming not from a bush pig, as I initially thought, but from lemurs. I was surprised how close these lemurs got to me. When I was out on an afternoon walk, a family of four with a baby climbed down a branch and crossed the path I was on about 5 feet from me. Another day I was looking at a brown lemur who was traveling alone and he climbed within two feet of me, looked at me carefully, then dropped to the ground literally just inches away and walked off down the path, jumping into a tree maybe 50 feet later. (I didn't move to take a picture or make any other movement that might startle him away).

In addition to their little grunts they make several other sounds, but none as distinctive. They move quickly through the trees and stop to feed only for a little while in each place. Mid-morning they seem to take a little rest and can be found sunbathing in the trees, their tails curled up over their shoulders.

Brown lemurs have long, narrow, almost fox-like faces. Other lemurs, like the bamboo and the sifaka, have very flat faces. The evolutionary differences are really interesting to observe. Lemurs are early primates who did not evolve into monkeys or great apes, but instead into very specialized primates (all lemurs) which took advantage of different niches in the environment of Madagascar. As a result, each is very specialized in what they eat and the areas in which they live. Common brown lemurs had a larger range of habitat than most other lemurs, when habitat was still left, probably leading to the designation "common."

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