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A look into Lemurs

As we have just passed World Lemur Day on October 27th, this is the perfect occasion to acquaint ourselves with these charming creatures. Many of you may already know what a lemur is, due to the large popularity of the hit movie Madagascar, in particular the rise of the character King Julien. Lemurs, like apes, monkeys, and humans, are also primates. Unlike monkeys and apes, lemurs have wet noses, and use their sense of smell to determine whether something is edible. While King Julien might be the most familiar lemur for many, there are actually over 100 species of lemurs, including other commonly known ones being mouse lemurs, or aye-ayes.

Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, meaning that they can only be encountered in their natural habitat. It is believed that the oldest lemur ancestor landed in Madagascar about 70 million years ago, making them the world’s oldest living primates. In their natural habitat, most lemurs like to stay high up in trees, allowing them to rest, sleep, and feed without disturbance. Moreover, they are extremely agile, and are able to bound from tree to tree with ease. The specialized pads found on their hands and feet is a characteristic that facilitates their movement, enabling them to adhere securely when jumping from one surface to another. In all the species of lemurs, a majority of them are known to be herbivores, with a select few being omnivores. Even then, the only “meat” they consume are insects. Their main diet is composed of fruit, sap, and leaves, with a favorite being the tamarind tree.

Another unique feature are their “tooth combs”, which are special teeth at the front of their jaw that stick out at an angle. Lemurs participate in social grooming using these tooth combs, which helps to strengthen bonds between individuals and groups. An adaptation that has developed to aid in times where hair gets stuck in their “combs”, is a second tongue. This second tongue is smaller, lacks taste buds, and is used to remove debris from the tooth comb.

As of 2021, lemurs are one of the most endangered mammals, with 98% of lemur species being threatened with extinction, and 31% critically endangered. Lemur conservation is taking place in Madagascar, with some key actions such as habitat protection, reforestation, and rescue centers. However, the lemurs of Madagascar still need our help. You can make a difference by supporting conservation organizations, by educating and spreading awareness, or by donating to support lemur habitats. Though spreading awareness may seem like a small action, it can help trigger many more small efforts, and reach the larger goal of preserving this endangered group of primates, and the rich biodiversity of Madagascar.

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