See A. Jolly, Lemur Behavior (n.d.).
In general, any of the prosimian primates (including galagos), all of which have a naked, moist tip to their muzzle; comblike, forward-directed lower front teeth; and clawlike nails on the second toes of the feet. More strictly, the name refers to the typical lemurs (the nine species in the family Lemuridae), found only on Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, which have large eyes; a foxlike face; a slender, monkeylike body; and long hind limbs. All lemurs are docile and gregarious. Species range from 5 in. (13 cm) to about 2 ft (60 cm) long. The bushy tail may be longer than the body, and the woolly fur is reddish, gray, brown, or black. Most are active at night and spend most of their time in trees, eating fruits, leaves, buds, insects, and small birds and birds' eggs. A number of species are listed as endangered.
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Lemurs make up the infraorder Lemuriformes and are members of a group of primates known as prosimians. The term "lemur" is derived from the Latin word lemures, meaning "spirits of the night" or "ghosts". This likely refers to their large, reflective eyes and the wailing cries of some species (the Indri in particular). The term is generically used for the members of the four lemuriform families, but it is also the genus of one of the lemuriform species, the Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta). The two so-called flying lemur species are not lemurs, nor are they even primates.
The small cheirogaleoids are generally omnivores, eating a variety of fruits, flowers and leaves (and sometimes nectar) as well as insects, spiders and small vertebrates. The remainder of the lemurs, the lemuroids are primarily herbivores, although some species supplement their diet with insects.
Except for the Indri, all lemurs have long tails that they use for communication with each other and balance when leaping between trees. They have opposable thumbs and long toes adapted for gripping tree branches. Lemurs have nails rather than claws on all digits except the second toe of each hind foot, which has a "toilet claw" for grooming. All lemur species have a tapetum, the reflective layer over the retina that causes their eyes to shine at night. Lemurs are thought to have limited color vision. Lemurs depend heavily on the sense of smell and have large nasal cavities and moist noses.
Unlike most other primates, lemur species that live in groups have a Matriarchal society (i.e., females are dominant over males). Most lemur species are arboreal and traverse the canopy by vertical clinging and leaping or quadrupedalism, with the exception of the Ring-Tailed Lemur, which spends most of its time on the ground.
Hybrids may occur between different species of lemur. In The variation of animals and plants under domestication Charles Darwin noted: "Several members of the family of Lemurs have produced hybrids in the Zoological Gardens.
Most lemurs are listed as endangered or threatened species. Many species have gone extinct in the last centuries, mainly due to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting. Conservation of lemurs in Madagascar is a high priority, but the country's poor economic situation and the lemurs' limited range make it an uphill battle. There are 85 living lemur species accounted for in current publications,, with more documentation currently awaiting publication.
One of the foremost lemur research facilities is the Duke Lemur Center.
As shown here, the four families of lemurs are split into two superfamilies. The Cheirogaleidae have a pedal structure similar to the other strepsirrhine families and the haplorrhines, suggesting they split off from the other lemurs first. As such, the Cheirogaleoidea are a sister clade to the Lemuroidea.
Female dominance is a very rare social structure in mammals only observed consistently in hyenas and lemurs. It occurs when all adult males exhibit submissive behavior to adult females in social settings. These social settings are usually related to feeding, grooming, and sleeping site priority. Interestingly, lemurs do not exhibit sexual dimorphism (males and females are the same in physical appearance and size). Therefore, male deference is a social construct and not a matter of size or strength.
Female social dominance was first observed in the Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta). Since then, many, but not all, species of lemurs have been found to demonstrate female social dominance including the Crowned Lemur (Eulemur coronatus) and the Gray Mouse Lemur (Microcebus murinus).
There are three basic proposals for the evolution of female dominance:
Since these original proposals, scientists like Peter Kappeler have modified and integrated other ideas, but there is no single hypothesis that can fully explain female social dominance in lemurs at this time and all three are likely to play a role.