We get asked all the time: how can you tell the lemurs apart?

Often, external cues help distinguish our residents, like radio collars and tail shaves. But some species exhibit a striking amount of individual difference, if you know what to look for!

To celebrate World Lemur Day 2023, we’re offering a quick crash course in the easiest way to identify specific ring-tailed lemurs here at the DLC: their ears.

A plot of the ears of various ring-tailed residents of the DLC, based on the axes of Round-Elf and Cat-Airplane. Created by Abby Flyer.

From Round to Elf

The spectrum from Round to Elf refers to the tips of a ring-tailed lemur’s ears. If you look in the top right corner of the graph, you’ll see two-year-old Atticus, whose ears have distinct, spiky tufts of fur reminiscent of an elf’s ears. In contrast, if you shift your gaze to the top left corner, you’ll see two-year-old Scout, whose barely-there tufts highlight the inherent roundness of her ear tips.

Interestingly, siblings tend to cluster together on the Round-Elf axis, implying that genetics likely play some role in how tuft-y a ring-tailed lemur’s ears are.

Pairs of ring-tailed lemur full siblings are circled to highlight their proximity on the Round-Elf axis. Orange: Scout (top) and Gatsby (bottom). Green: Mr. Popper (left) and Atticus (right). Red: Seagrams (left) and Schweppes (right). Blue: Hedwig (left) and Griselda (right). Created by Abby Flyer.

From Cat to Airplane

The spectrum from Cat to Airplane refers to to orientation of the lemur’s ears. Cat ears point upwards, like you’d typically picture on a house cat, while airplane ears are angled more perpendicularly out of the lemur’s head, like airplane wings. This characteristic also trends with family lineage, even more generally than Round-Elf. Notably, members of Stewart’s lineage tend to have ears near the cat end of the spectrum, while members of Liesl’s lineage tend to have ears near the airplane end of the spectrum.

Ring-tailed lemurs related to the previously circled full sibling pairs have been highlighted. Green: Stewart (left) is the father of Mr. Popper and Atticus; Thea (right of Stewart) is the boys’ aunt. Orange: Sierra Mist (center of graph) is Scout and Gatsby’s mother; Licinius (far right) is their father. Blue: Aracus (above Hedwig and Griselda) is their father; Liesl (directly left of Hedwig) is their mother; Brigitta (top left of Liesl) is Hedwig and Griselda’s full sister; Persephone (bottom left) is their half-sister by way of Aracus. Created by Abby Flyer.

Putting Your Skills to the Test

Let’s put the chart into practice! What characteristics can help you identify this beautiful ring-tailed lemur?

Ring-tailed lemur with eyes closed sitting up near tree in forest.

Photo by Sara Nicholson.

Another challenge: this darling ring-tailed lemur isn’t featured on the chart, but her siblings are. Which family (green, orange, or blue) does this lovely lady belong to?

Ring-tailed lemur sitting upright in a field of grass

Photo by Sara Nicholson.


Have you made your guesses? Spoilers in 3…



The first photo is the gorgeous Scout! You can help place her by noting her round, cat-angled ears. And if you know Scout’s family, you’d be able to differentiate her from brother Gatsby by the shaved area in the middle of her tail—a haircut we give lemurs to help tell family members apart!

The second photo is lovely Lulu, and she’s a member of the green family! Lulu is the full sibling of Stewart (the leftmost member of the green family), and she has the same elf-ish, cat-angled ears.

Congrats: you now have a discerning eye for ring-tailed lemur ears!