Not too long ago, we heard a man say that he and his wife went to Madagascar for their honeymoon because she wanted to see the lemurs. Weird, I thought, but hey, to each her own, right? But if that’s your thing, you have to go to Madagascar because they can be found no other place on the planet.** (See footnote) Madagascar is home to 113 (give or take a few) species of the little primates. They actually just keep discovering new species; thirty nine new species were added to the list between 2000 and 2008. Unfortunately, at the same time new species are being discovered, some are being lost to extinction. The smallest lemur is the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. It weighs in at around 1.1 ounces and is the smallest primate on earth. That strikes me as quite an interesting concept: humans are part of the same order (primates) as a one ounce lemur! Until recently, there was a giant lemur that tipped the scales at around 440 pounds, but it is now extinct. The species vary widely in size, appearance, and lifestyle. You could say that there is a species that would suit everyone’s taste, so feel free to choose the one that’s right for you. Lemurs are cute and funny and it’s hard not to laugh at the little rascals. A colony of lemurs is called a conspiracy and these conspiracies are quite lovable.
Madagascar has been called the eighth continent. It’s the fourth largest island on the planet. (I guess now you want to know what island is the largest. That would be Greenland, followed by New Guinea, then Borneo.) Originally part of Gondwanaland along with Africa, South America, India, and Antarctica, Madagascar separated as Gondwanaland broke apart, and about 100 million years ago, the land masses moved to pretty much where they are today. It seems like Madagascar intended to go with India, but hit a snag and stayed closer to Africa. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place: hanging with Africa vs. going with India? Not really a stellar choice here. Just saying. . .
About 90% of the plants and animals on Madagascar are endemic. Today’s lemurs of Madagascar evolved from ancestors thought to have floated across the Mozambique Channel from the eastern side of Africa on rafts of matted vegetation, so I guess you can say that they have an adventurous spirit. Most people probably think lemurs are just another branch on the monkey family tree, but that’s not true. Actually, it is thought that monkeys drove lemurs to extinction in other locations in the world, and the reason they still call Madagascar home is that there are no monkeys on the island. Lemurs are the oldest primate; they have been on Madagascar for 50 million years and have adapted to the many different ecosystems in Madagascar. They are endangered, but that’s primarily because of encroachment by man into their habitats as people clear cut the forests in the name of “progress.”
One of our speakers has a PhD in some field of biology that qualifies him to give presentations on the flora and fauna of Madagascar. He said that some lemurs are diurnal, some are nocturnal, and that lemurs are largely arboreal and vegetarian, although some species eat insects and small animals such as lizards. One of the species, the sifakas, spend so much time in the trees that, when they get down to the ground, they dance along sideways instead of walking straight. I know that it is probably “Settled Science” and therefore cannot be questioned, but I am not sure that arboreal living is what causes their sideways gait. Let’s think about this: squirrels spend most of their time in trees, but I’ve never seen a squirrel walking or dancing along sideways. On the other hand, who hasn’t seen a crab skiddering across a dock or along the beach sideways. Yet, has anyone ever seen a crab in a tree? OK, maybe briefly after a hurricane.
I must caution you about encountering the little species called Aye-Aye. They remind me of Grogu (Baby Yoda) in Disney’s Mandalorian, only they are not green. The locals are very afraid of the Aye-Aye lemurs and insist that if you see one, you are going to die. I don’t know about that, but if you should see one, play it safe and just think “Nay-Nay” and don’t make eye contact. Take a look at the photos below and see if you agree with me that they are the same species.
** Turns out that there are actually a small colony of ring-tailed lemurs on St. Catherine’s Island, one of Georgia’s sea islands. Six of the lemurs were dropped off on the beautiful pristine barrier island in 1985 and the little conspiracy has adapted quite nicely and actually thrives there. Rick was outraged. “Slap a couple of baobab trees on St. Catherine’s and we’d have our very own little Madagascar day trip practically in our backyard! Just imagine the time and money we’d save!” he exclaimed. Fact check: Wrong! The island is privately owned by a foundation and visiting it is not allowed except for the beach below the high tide line. The conspiracy is probably not out beachcoming too often.