Lemuridae is a family of prosimian primates native to Madagascar, and one of five families commonly known as lemurs. These animals were thought to be the evolutionary predecessors of monkeys and apes, but this is no longer considered correct. The family gets its name from the Ancient Roman belief that the animals were ghosts or spirits ('lemures'), because many species are nocturnal.
Lemurids are medium-sized arboreal primates, ranging from 32 to 56 cm in length, excluding the tail, and weighing from 0.7 to 5 kg. They have long, bushy tails and soft, woolly fur of varying coloration. The hindlegs are slightly longer than the forelegs, although not enough to hamper fully quadrupedal movement (unlike the sportive lemurs). Most species are highly agile, and regularly leap several metres between trees. They have a good sense of smell and binocular vision. Unlike most other lemurs, all but one species of lemurid (the Ring-tailed Lemur) lack a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer in the eye that improves night vision.
Lemurids are herbivorous, eating fruit, leaves, and, in some cases, nectar. They have the dental formula:
With most lemurids, the mother gives birth to one or two young after a gestation period of between 120 and 140 days, depending on species. Though the ruffed lemur species are the only lemurids that have true litters, consisting of anywhere from 2 to 6 offspring. They are generally sociable animals, living in groups of up to thirty individuals in some species. In some cases, such as the Ring-tailed Lemur, the groups are long-lasting, with distinct dominance hierarchies, while in others, such as the Common Brown Lemur, the membership of the groups varies from day to day, and seems to have no clear social structure.
The family Lemuridae contains 5 extant genera, and 22 species.
This family was once broken into two subfamilies, Hapalemurinae (bamboo lemurs and the Greater Bamboo Lemur) and Lemurinae (the rest of the family), but molecular evidence and scent glands similarities have since placed the Ring-tailed Lemur with the bamboo lemurs and the Greater Bamboo Lemur.
Lemur species in the Eulemur are known to interbreed, despite having dramatically different chromosome numbers. Red-fronted (2N=60) and Collared (2N=50–52) Brown Lemurs were found to hybridize at Berenty Reserve, Madagascar.
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