Black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata)

Black-and-white ruffed lemur resting, close up of head
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Black-and-white ruffed lemur fact file

Black-and-white ruffed lemur description

GenusVarecia (1)

The handsome black-and-white ruffed lemur is, along with the red ruffed lemur, the largest member of the Lemuridae family (2). Its long and luxuriant fur is a patchwork of pure white and pitch black, with the overall pattern of this distinct coat varying throughout the species’ range. Generally, in the northern parts of its range, the pelage is mostly black, while white dominates in those individuals in the south (2). The face and top of the head are typically black, which contrasts with the large, vivid yellow eyes and the striking white ruff that frames the face and gives this species its name (2). Its hands, feet and long, bushy tail are also typically black (2) (4) (5). In groups, the black-and-white ruffed lemur produces a chorus of deep, barking, alarm calls that can be heard from great distances on a still night (5) (6), and it calls with a wailing howl when defending its territory (5).

Also known as
Ruffed lemur.
Lémur Vari, Maki Vari.
Lemur De Collar, Lemur De Gola, Lemur De Gorguera.
Head-body length: 50 – 55 cm (2)
Tail length: 60 – 65 cm (2)
3 – 4.5 kg (2)

Black-and-white ruffed lemur biology

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon (7). It travels through its forest habitat by walking or running on larger branches and leaping from tree to tree (4), and is capable of leaping significant distances with great accuracy (6). It enjoys a rich diet of fruit, seeds, leaves and nectar, obtaining the nectar by using its long snout and tongue to reach deep inside the flowers (7). Through its taste for nectar, the black-and-white ruffed lemur has developed a fascinating relationship with the traveller’s tree (Ravenala madagascariensis), a tall palm-like tree topped with a single vertical fan of large leaves. Using its strength and dexterity, this lemur pulls open tough bracts which hide numerous pale, yellow flowers within. As it drinks the nectar, the plant’s pollen sticks to the lemur’s fur, and will be carried with the lemur when it goes to feed at the next tree. As a result, the black-and-white ruffed lemur acts as pollinator for the traveller’s tree, and is in fact thought to be the largest pollinator in the world (8).

This lemur reproduces seasonally with mating occurring between May and July, and offspring being born in September and October (7). It commonly gives birth to twins, sometimes even triplets (5). Unlike other lemurs, the black-and-white ruffed lemur gives birth in nests made from twigs and leaves, which are well-hidden in trees, 10 to 20 metres above the ground (2). Here the young will remain whilst the mother goes off to forage (5). At just four months of age, the young are independent and are just as active as adults. However, infant black-and–white ruffed lemurs are lucky to reach this age; many die from accidental falls and related injuries, and only around 35 percent of offspring live past three months (2).


Black-and-white ruffed lemur range

The black-and-white ruffed lemur inhabits eastern Madagascar, where it can be found between sea level and 1,350 metres (1). Three subspecies are recognised, each occupying a different range: Varecia variegata subcincta is the most northerly subspecies, occurring from the Antainambalana River south to the Anova River. It has also been introduced to the island of Nosy Mangabe (1). Varecia variegata variegata occurs south of the Anove River, to about Betampona and Zahamena National Park, a range that is thought to overlap with Varecia variegata editorum, the southernmost subspecies, which is known from Mantadia southwards to Manombo Special Reserve (1).


Black-and-white ruffed lemur habitat

This species inhabits primary and secondary lowland and mid-altitude rainforest in Madagascar (2).


Black-and-white ruffed lemur status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). Three subspecies are recognised, the southern ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum), the white-belted ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata subcincta) and the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata), all of which are classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Black-and-white ruffed lemur threats

As with other lemur species, the black-and-white ruffed lemur is threatened by habitat loss through logging, agriculture, mining and other development in Madagascar (1) (7). When human activities encroach upon rainforest habitat, this species is one of the first lemurs to disappear (1). Hunting also threatens this rare primate; unfortunately its large size and daylight activity pattern makes it an attractive target, and it is among the most heavily hunted of all Madagascar’s lemurs (1).


Black-and-white ruffed lemur conservation

The black-and-white ruffed lemur occurs in a number of protected areas, such as Mananara-Nord National Park, Zahamena National Park and Mantadia National Park. Although sadly, this Critically Endangered species has also vanished from other areas, such as Analamazaotra Special Reserve and Andringitra National Park, and other forests urgently require protection if this species is to survive (1). The black-and-white lemur has been the subject of captive breeding efforts, with a number being reintroduced to Madagascar’s Betampona Reserve between 1997 and 2001 (1) (9). Unfortunately, this has had limited success, as animals that have not grown up in the wild typically have great difficulty adapting (9). Reintroduction is a long and costly process (9), and is rendered worthless if there is no safe, natural habitat in which they can be released into. Thus, hopefully efforts to protect Madagascar’s habitats, by numerous conservation organisations, will be successful.

To help conserve this species by working in the field with Earthwatch, click here.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To learn about efforts to conserve the black-and-white ruffed lemur see:



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An animal that in the act of visiting a plant’s flowers transfers pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
Primary forest is forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest is regenerating forest that has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
  2. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, East Sussex.
  3. CITES (October, 2003)
  4. Alden, P. (1995) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  5. Ankel-Simons, F. (2000) Primate Anatomy: An Introduction. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
  6. Wood, J.G. (1865) The Illustrated Natural History. George Routledge and Sons, London.
  7. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Buchmann, S.L. and Nabhan, G.P. (1996) The Forgotten Pollinators. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  9. Katz, A.S., Welch, C.R., Iambana, C.R. and Britt, A. (2003) Restocking of Varecia variegata variegata in the Reserve Naturelle Integrale de Betampona. In: Benstead, J.P. and Goodman, S.M. (Eds) The Natural History of Madagascar. Chicago University Press, Chicago.

Image credit

Black-and-white ruffed lemur resting, close up of head  
Black-and-white ruffed lemur resting, close up of head

© Jurgen & Christine Sohns /

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