Monday, December 10, 2012

Maki Group

Remember my post about the ring-tailed lemurs at Nahampoana?

A few years ago, one ring-tailed lemur escaped the park, and somehow made his way to Mandena, where there are no other ring-tailed lemurs (locally known as Maki). The maki has joined a group of hapalemur (known as Halo), and appears to be well integrated: he travels with them, responds to their vocalizations, and vice versa. Today I was very surprised to see that he also grooms with them! I was also surprised to see that a female hapalemur has a baby-- I was under the impression that it was not the season, or perhaps not a good year, since I have not seen any hapalemur infants small enough that they still ride on their mother.

Today while working on habituating the Maki Group, I observed an interesting sequence of events: the maki joined the halo mother and infant, greeted mama with a kiss, and then the infant started to play on a nearby branch. Meanwhile, the mother moved away from the infant, who attempted to ride on the maki's neck (as young infant hapalemurs do with their mothers, not with males, nor individuals of a different species!). The mother quickly returned to pick up her infant, but I was shocked nonetheless. Here are some photos from the day:

Mother & infant

Maki greets mama with a kiss

baby starts to climb the branch

mama exits to the left

baby tries to get on maki's neck


  1. I assume these two are speciated enough not to interbreed? Is there anything else you learned about this? I have heard of different species of primates playing, social and sexualizing; documented case of chimps using small baboons as toys. Of course apes are closer to homo sapiens which are known to have sex with anything:)

  2. Hi Evilyn,
    Great question! The Lemur catta are more closely related to Hapalemur than to Eulemur (another species present in this forest), but they are all biologically different species, meaning that they do not interbreed. To my knowledge, no sexual behavior between the species has been recorded, but that doesn't mean it's impossible, I suppose. Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack! We will be keeping track of this group for the next year, so I'll be sure to update if anything interesting happens.

  3. I was just wondering if the infant might have been related. It's not unknown for species to intermingle socially, to the point of playing and even grooming, I think? Which brings up what I really wanted to know:
    how many times--and documented how--does a behavior have to be observed before it moves from anecdotal to accepted? Thanks responding so quickly, I don't expect an answer to each post.

  4. I have no genetic data on the individuals but I think it's safe to say here that the maki (ring-tailed) is not the father. I think in regards to your second point, that this is a very unique situation. There is only one ring-tailed living in a group of hapalemurs, probably in the world. Therefore the situation as a whole is an anecdote (but can still be published as something interesting that happened), and the behavior in particular would probably need to be observed several more times, if not experimentally tested somehow. If you know anyone, a master's student perhaps, interested in doing a playback study (i.e. play a hapalemur call, record how the ring-tailed responds, and vice versa), this would be the perfect opportunity!