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.
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.
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.
Putting Your Skills to the Test
Let’s put the chart into practice! What characteristics can help you identify this beautiful ring-tailed lemur?
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?
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!