The ring-tailed lemur is a diurnal species (2) (6) and spends much of its time on the ground, although it is also able to move well through the trees (6). This lemur can often be seen sunning itself by sitting on its haunches and spreading its limbs in a yoga-like position, exposing its underside to the sun. The ring-tailed lemur often sleeps with its nose tucked between its hind legs and its long tail curled up over its back (6).
The diet of the ring-tailed lemur is quite varied, consisting of fruit, leaves, flowers, bark and sap (10), as well as large insects and even small vertebrates such as chameleons (9). This species usually feeds primarily on fruit, but the exact composition of the diet varies between habitats and seasons (2) (6). The ring-tailed lemur is also known to supplement its diet by consuming soil, possibly to increase its sodium intake (6).
A social species, the ring-tailed lemur occurs in larger groups than any other primate in Madagascar (2). Groups usually contain equal numbers of males and females, plus their young, and typically number between 3 and 25 individuals (2). Within the group, females are dominant over males (2) (6), with the ‘alpha female’ forming the focal point of the group as a whole (2). There are well-defined dominance hierarchies between group members (2).
Ring-tailed lemur groups are not strictly territorial, but do occupy preferred, overlapping home ranges and show strong territorial defence when they come into contact with another group. Territorial confrontations are generally dominated by females, and involve facing off against the opposing group, sometimes calling and alarm barking and occasionally fighting (2) (6). After such an encounter, the group will usually retreat towards the safety of the centre of its home range (2).
Both male and female ring-tailed lemurs use scent marks to mark their home range. Females use genital smears and males use scent from a wrist gland which has a horny pad that allows the male to gouge scent into bark (2). The ring-tailed lemur also communicates using a wide range of vocalisations (6).
Mating in the ring-tailed lemur is highly synchronous, taking place over a short period in mid-April (2) (6). The young are then born around September (2) (6) (9), after a gestation period of about 130 to 144 days (6), with this careful timing ensuring that the young lemurs are weaned just as food becomes most plentiful (2) (9). Male ring-tailed lemurs compete for access to females by daubing their tails with scent from their wrist glands and wafting this pungent odour towards their opponent (2) (6) (9). These ‘stink fights’ are usually sufficient to establish rank, but physical aggression can also occur (2) (9).
The female ring-tailed lemur occasionally gives birth to twins, but a single infant is more common. The young lemur clings to the female’s underside at first, but after two weeks or so it moves around to ride on the female’s back, and begins to explore its environment (2) (6). The ring-tailed lemur reaches sexual maturity at about 2.5 to 3 years old, and females usually give birth once a year (2) (6). Female ring-tailed lemurs rarely leave the group into which they were born, but males leave the group on reaching maturity, and will continue to move between groups every three to five years throughout their lives (2) (6) (9).
In the wild, the ring-tailed lemur is thought to live for up to 15 or 16 years (6). Predators of this species include the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), Madagascar harrier-hawk (Polyboroides radiatus) and Madagascar buzzard (Buteo brachypterus) (2) (6).