Varecia rubrared ruffed lemur

Geographic Range

Varecia rubra (red ruffed lemur) currently lives, along with all extant lemurs, on the island-nation of Madagascar. Red ruffed lemurs inhabit the deciduous tropical forests of the Masoala Peninsula near Maroansetra. The Masoala Peninsula is one of the top conservation efforts in Madagascar. Its rich biodiversity includes more than just red ruffed lemurs: white-fronted brown lemurs, and aye-ayes also live there. Primates represent only a few of the taxonomic reasons why the Masoala National Park was created in the late 1990s.

The Antainambalana River dissects the Peninsula area, separating the range of red ruffed lemurs from their close relatives, black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata). ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 1997; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)


Red ruffed lemurs prefer the deciduous tropical forests of the Masoala Peninsula, although about 400 live elsewhere in captivity. This area is elevated up to 1006 m in areas. Red ruffed lemurs generally remain in the upper canopy of their tropical rainforest. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 1997; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

  • Average elevation
    1006 m
    3300.52 ft

Physical Description

Varecia rubra gets its common name from a ruff of rust red hair that flanks its black face like sideburns. The black face matches the black hands, feet, belly, and tail. Most of the body is covered by a soft, thick, rust red coat, except for a patch of white fur at the back of the head. Possibly its beautifully contrasting coat is the reason why many consider red ruffed lemurs to be the most beautiful lemurs. Varecia rubra is the largest member of Lemuridae. Red ruffed lemurs average 60 cm in body length and their tails average 50 cm. Females tend to outweigh males. Red ruffed lemurs have specialized claws on their second toe, used to brush through their long, woolly fur. Because, like all prosimians (Strepsirrhini), red ruffed lemurs are digitally uncoordinated, they have evolved other methods to groom. The dentition is specialized to form a toothcomb made up of the six bottom incisors. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    3.4 to 3.5 kg
    7.49 to 7.71 lb
  • Range length
    110 to 120 cm
    43.31 to 47.24 in


Red ruffed lemurs are polygynous. Males monitor females for signs of estrus and then solicit opportunities to mate with them. This solicitation behavior is stereotyped and consists of a submissive approach, coupled with a squeal. Males also scent mark often in the presence of estrus females, sniff and lick their genitals, emit a shrieking chorus with females, and rub their bodies against each other. Group males more frequently mate with females from their same group. But stranger males may also enter a group's territory to mate with estrus females. (Vasey, 2007)

Red ruffed lemurs breed in the dry season from May to July. Although the group breeds for three months, an individual female only goes into estrus for at most a few days and is only fertile for one day. Red ruffed lemurs give birth to litters, which can contain as many as 6 infants. Gestation lasts between 90 and 103 days, which is particularly brief for a primate of this body size. When an infant reaches 4 months of age, it is weaned. Red ruffed lemurs reach sexual maturity after 2 years. (Vasey, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Red ruffed lemurs breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from May to July.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    90 to 103 days
  • Average weaning age
    40 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years

Reproduction is costly for female red ruffed lemurs. Despite being large lemurs, female red ruffed lemurs have relatively short gestation periods and give birth to multiple offspring. To counter these reproductive costs, females leave their litters in nests or stashing locations, called parking, in the mother’s core area. While mothers travel into the forest, community members of the core area care for the young. This form of alloparenting is commonly practiced in red ruffed lemur communities, reducing maternal reproductive costs. (Vasey, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Though infant death is common due to falling from nesting sites and other accidents, red ruffed lemurs generally live in the wild for 15 to 20 years. The greatest threat to red ruffed lemurs are habitat destruction, hunting, and animal trade. (Vasey, 1997)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 (low) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    19 (high) years


Habitat determines the social systems of red ruffed lemurs. In some parts of the forest, red ruffed lemurs live in affiliation with 18 to 32 others. In other areas, they live in small networks of 2 to 5 individuals. Groups share a common core home range, in which infants are "parked." Border scuffles occur occasionally. Seasonality also affects the social system of red ruffed lemurs. During the wet season, larger groups form as food becomes plentiful. These groups break up and disperse as food become more scarce during the dry season. Unlike other lemurs, red ruffed lemurs might break from a larger group to form smaller parties while foraging. Red ruffed lemurs are very vocal, giving alarm calls and indicating a group's location. Red ruffed lemurs are active during the day. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 2007; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

  • Range territory size
    .25 to .60 km^2

Home Range

Depending on the group size, a home range might stretch from 25 to 60 ha. Although every group has a core area, members move throughout the forest when foraging, covering up to 1200 m in a day. (Vasey, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Red ruffed lemurs are very vocal; they bark to each other in a guttural yap. Their vocalizations convey a number of distinct messages. Alarm calls are used to warn group members of nearby predators. While foraging, vocalizations help scattered groups keep together. Red ruffed lemurs also use calls to warn other groups that a territory is already occupied or being used for foraging. Red ruffed lemurs also communicate through scent. Groups are identified through the smells produced in glands on their rears. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 1997; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

Food Habits

Red ruffed lemurs eat mostly fruit, nectar, and pollen. During the dry season, when food is scarce, these lemurs also occasionally eat some leaves and seeds. When feeding on the nectar of flowers, red ruffed lemurs play a vital role in the pollination of some hardwood trees. Like all lemurs, red ruffed lemurs have insectivorous dentition slightly modified for frugivory. In addition, the toothcomb used for grooming enables easier peeling of fruit. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 2007; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • pollen


Red ruffed lemurs give alarm calls to warn other members of their group of approaching predators. Fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox), are the only natural predators of red ruffed lemurs. Recently, human hunting also poses a major predation threat. (Vasey, 2007)

Ecosystem Roles

Red ruffed lemurs play an integral role in pollination for many hardwood tree varieties in their range. The long, fox-like snouts of these lemurs are covered with pollen after feeding from the nectar of deep, tubular flowers. The next flower fed on receives this pollen. (Merenlender, et al., 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red ruffed lemurs are trapped and hunted by the local community. These lemurs are brought into the live animal and pet market. Hunted lemurs provide meat for locals. Lemurs as a group positively affect Malagasy tourism because they are found no where else on earth naturally. ("Red ruffed lemur", 2007; "Red-Ruffed Lemur", 2007; "Red Ruffed Lemur", 2001; Vasey, 2007; "Red ruffed Lemur", 2007)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of V. rubra on humans.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature acknowledges that red ruffed lemurs are critically endangered, but currently only recognize them at the subspecies level (Varecia variegata rubra). Varecia is classified as endangered, along with all members of Lemuridae by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists species in the family Lemuridae in Appendix I. Threats to red ruffed lemurs are mainly from deforestation, hunting, and live capture. The Masoala National Forest now protects some of their habitat from further destruction. (Vasey, 2007)

Other Comments

Red ruffed lemurs and white-and-black ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) can hybridize. Such interactions produce black, white, and red offspring. This species was previously recognized as a subspecies of V. variegata: Varecia variegata rubra.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kerstin Frailey (author), Yale University, Eric Sargis (editor, instructor), Yale University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Central Florida Zoological Park. 2001. "Red Ruffed Lemur" (On-line). Central Florida Zoological Park. Accessed May 09, 2007 at

Woodland Park Zoo. 2007. "Red ruffed Lemur" (On-line). Woodland Park Zoo, Seatle WA. Accessed May 07, 2007 at

2007. "Red ruffed lemur" (On-line). Bristol Zoo Gardens. Accessed May 07, 2007 at

2007. "Red-Ruffed Lemur" (On-line). Duke Lemur Center. Accessed May 07, 2007 at

Merenlender, A., C. Kremen, M. Rakotondratsima, A. Weiss. 1998. Monitoring Impacts of Natural Resource Extraction on Lemurs of the Masoala Peninsula, Madagascar. Conservation Ecology, 2: 5. Accessed September 09, 2008 at

Vasey, N. 1997. How Many Red Ruffed Lemurs Are Left?. Primates, 18: 207-216. Accessed May 04, 2007 at

Vasey, N. 2007. The breeding system of wild red ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra): a preliminary report. Primates, 48: 41-54. Accessed May 04, 2007 at