These cute animals originated from Madagascar, but made their way to Africa either when the continent split, or by crossing the Mozambique channel by ‘rafting’ across on matted parts of vegetation over millions of years.
Lemurs are hard to spot because they are nocturnal animals and all you can see are their big bright eyes and black and white markings on their tails. The name is derived from the Latin term lemurs, which were seen as ghosts that were exorcised in the Lemuria festival in Rome. They were also referred to as ghosts because they are nocturnal and move very slowly at times. They have eerie cries that can be daunting in the middle of the night.
There are many species of Lemurs and they vary in size from about 30g to up to 7-9 kgs. They have five digits with nails on their hands and feet, with elongated nails called ‘toilet-claws’ which are used for grooming and scratching. Lemur’s hands make grasping objects difficult because they have pseudo-opposable thumbs, making it difficult to grab hold of things. However, they are able to climb trees with their feet due to widely abducted first toes. Their teeth are rodent-like and gnaw through wood and hard seeds. They also have large bat-like ears, giving them a comic-like appearance, but are used to detect hollow spaces within trees and the approach of predators.
Their long snouts are useful for easy chewing, and their sense of smell is important for communication. They will mark their territory with urine as well as scent glands that are situated on various parts of their body.
Lemurs mostly eat plant material, fruit and oddly enough the golden bamboo lemur can eat giant bamboo, which contains high levels of cyanide and not have any side effects. They have also been seen to consume poison ivy!
One species of Lemur, the sifakas will hop along the ground in a vertical position, while its arms wave up and down as it moves sideways. Here is a video clip of a few of them. Quite a sight to see!
So as you can see these quirky creatures are great to observe, if you get the opportunity to spot them while on your African safari.