Ring-tailed Lemur Nutrition Guide

Written by Zutrition . Posted in Diet, Mammals

Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemur Background

Conservation status [2]:
Near threatened

Life span: 16 to 19 years (wild)
Total population: Unknown (wild), 2000 (captivity)
Regions: Madagascar
Gestation: 4.6 months (139 days)
Height: 425 mm (M & F)
Weight: 2.2 kg (M & F)

The following knowledge is from the AZA Nutrition Advisory Group TAG/SSP Husbandry Notebook Nutrition Section Lemur catta (Ring-tailed lemur) , the Primate Info Net from the Library and Information Service, National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison , and the American Association of Zoo Keepers

Lemurs in the wild

Ring-tailed lemurs are best characterized as opportunistic omnivores (‘eat anything’) and commonly consume:

  • ripe fruits
  • leaves
  • leaf stems
  • flowers
  • flower stems
  • exudates
  • spiders
  • spider webs
  • caterpillars
  • cicadas
  • insect cocoons
  • birds
  • chameleons
  • cicadas
  • grasshoppers
  • dirt from termite mounds (Oda 1996; Sauther et al. 1999; Jolly 2003).

One of the most important food sources for ring-tailed lemurs is the tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) which not only is abundant in gallery and more open forests away from rivers, but which produces fruits and leaves at alternating times of the year, providing a reliable, year-round food source for the lemurs (Jolly et al. 2002; Mertl-Millhollen et al. 2003) [2].


In the driest parts of their range, water availability is a potentially serious issue. Ring-tailed lemurs are able to obtain water from succulent plants including aloe and prickly pear cactus as well as from dew and water that accumulates in crevices such as tree holes (Sauther et al. 1999; Jolly 2003). Vegetation availability is strictly linked to rainfall. During the rainy season, from roughly October through April, fruit and young leaves become available to ring-tailed lemurs [2].

Rest and Activity

In the wild, ring-tailed lemurs start their day waking before dawn and moving about in the branches of the group’s sleeping tree. One group splits into two sleeping parties each night, huddling together while sleeping (Jolly 1966; Sussman 2000). Between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., ring-tailed lemurs move into the sun, away from the sleeping tree and onto exposed ground, and begin feeding and “sunning.” The “sunning” posture is distinctive and stereotyped; ring-tailed lemurs sit upright on their haunches, spread-eagle, and rest their forearms on their knees, exposing their undersides to direct sunlight. This behavior is probably linked to thermoregulation as it is often seen following cold nights or during cold mornings (Jolly 1966) [2].

The group moves again around noon and they settle in the shade for a brief rest period. They become active again in the early afternoon, foraging, feeding and traveling until the late afternoon. Depending on the time of year, they may take another rest in the mid-afternoon on particularly hot days. After intensely feeding in the late afternoon, the entire group travels back to the sleeping tree where as a group they remain for the rest of the night, but during which individuals may move about the tree, groom, and interact (Jolly 1966; Sussman 2000). About 70% of group travel is terrestrial. About 33% of an individual ring-tailed lemur’s average day is spent on the ground, the rest of its time is spent in mid- or upper-level canopy trees (23% and 25%, respectively), in small bushes (13%), or in the emergent layer of the canopy (6%) (Sussman 2000) [2].

While ring-tailed lemurs spend more time on the ground than any other lemur species, they are also active throughout all forest strata (Sussman, 1977). Ring- tailed lemurs live in female-bonded groups with an average size of 14 individuals. Females are dominant over males and juveniles (Jolly, 1966; Nakamichi and Koyama, 1997) [1].

Data on the ring-tailed lemur’s natural diet comes primarily from three sites:

  • the Berenty Reserve in southern Madagascar (Sussman, 1977; Rasamimanana and Rafidinarivo, 1993)
  • Antserananomby and Tongobato in southwestern Madagascar (Sussman, 1977)

The natural diet is generally a mixture of frugivory and folivory, depending upon availability and habitat. Whenever possible, feeding on one food item (e.g., fruit) is usually followed by a feeding bout on the other item (e.g., leaves) (Rasamimanana and Rafidinarivo, 1993). Some flowers, bark, dead wood and sap are also eaten, and soil consumption is reported to comprise about 1% of total feeding time (Sussman, 1977; Rasamimanana and Rafidinarivo, 1993).


Captive Diets

Ring-tailed lemurs are relatively common in captivity and are generally fed a combination of commercial primate biscuit, fresh produce and locally available browse. Some institutions offer recently available high fiber biscuits (e.g., HMS hi- fiber primate biscuits, Marion high fiber monkey biscuits, Mazuri Leafeater Biscuit), while others utilize biscuits intended for omnivorous primates (Mazuri Old-World Primate, Mazuri High Protein Primate). All are designed to be nutritionally complete for non-human primates when fed as the total
diet, however some are more concentrated for use in combination with produce, which when fed in large quantities tends to have a dilution effect on the nutrient density of the biscuit [1].

Produce offered to L. catta generally falls into the following categories:

  • fruit
  • starchy vegetables
  • leafy greens
  • vegetables

These are offered daily, along with a nutritionally complete biscuit, in some combination.

Year-round available fruits are most often offered (e.g., oranges, bananas, grapes and apples), while a variety of other fruits are provided when in season [1].

Starchy vegetables include

  • sweet potatoes
  • turnips
  • potatoes
  • corn

Greens include

  • kale
  • collard greens
  • alfalfa
  • cabbage
  • lettuce

Other vegetables include

  • broccoli
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • green beans

Browse [3]:

  • Maple — Acer platanoides (Norway), Acer saccharinum (sugar),Acer japonica (Japanese red)],
  • Bamboo — Phyllostachys aureosulcata (yellow groove,) Phyllostachys aurea (golden) or Phyllostachys bisettiiPseudosasa japonica (arrow),
  • Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryiana)
  • Mulberry — Morus alba(white) and/or Morus rubra (red)

Toxic/Unacceptable Browse [4]:

  • Arum lilies
  • Avocado
  • Azalea
  • Brachyglottis
  • Buxus
  • Castor oil plant
  • Cestrum
  • Cypresses
  • Daphne Datura
  • Euonymus europaeus Euphorbia sp.
  • Ginko
  • Hamlock
  • Holly
  • Horse chestnut
  • Hypericum
  • Inkweed
  • Ivy
  • Kalmia latifolia
  • Karaka – when in fruit
  • Kowhai
  • Laburnum
  • Lantana
  • Lycium – African boxthorn
  • Melia
  • Mothplant
  • Nyaio
  • Oleander
  • Pieris Pinus
  • Privet berries
  • Prunus
  • Ranunculus
  • Rhododendron
  • Rhus
  • Robinia psuedoaccacia
  • Sambucus – Elder
  • Senecio Solanum
  • Taxus – Yew
  • Tutu – Cori aria sp.
  • Yew

Acceptable Browse [4]:

  • Abutilon
  • Acacia – Wattle
  • Acer negundo – Ash-leaved maple
  • Agonis
  • Alnus (Alder)
  • Arbutus – Strawberry tree
  • Arundo domax
  • Ash
  • Bamboo
  • Banana Palm
  • Banksia
  • Begonia
  • Betula (birch)
  • Cabbage Tree
  • Callistemon – Bottle brush
  • Camphor laurel
  • Coprosma
  • Crab-apple
  • Eleagnus
  • Elm
  • Entelea – Whau
  • Feijoa
  • Fig Tree
  • Flax
  • Forsythia
  • Grapevine
  • Green Phoenix Palm Fronds
  • Guava
  • Hazelnut
  • Hebes
  • Hibiscus
  • Jacaranda
  • Kawakawa – Peppertree, Macropiper
  • Liquidamber – Sweet gum
  • Lophostemon confertus –Brush box
  • Marigolds
  • Meialeuca
  • Monkey Apple (Lilly pilly)
  • Mulberry – Morus
  • Nasturtium
  • Olearia
  • Olive
  • Ox Tongue
  • Papyrus
  • Pittosporum
  • Plane tree
  • Pohutukawa
  • Poplar
  • Pseudopanax
  • Puka – Griselinea lucida or Meryta
  • Sheoak or Casuarina
  • Silver Fern
  • Sugar Cane
  • Thistle
  • Tilia – European lime
  • Tree lucerne
  • Wandering Jew
  • Waterhousia – Lilly pilly (monkey apple)
  • Willow

Enrichment [3]

1.) Fresh Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Sprigs: Each day, 7-9 sprigs were placed in different locations (photo 5). Prior to being put on the island, the sprigs were rubbed to release more of their herbaceous scent. Ring-tailed lemurs have been observed in the wild ingesting herbs (Soma, 2006).

2.) Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Essential Oil in Cholla Wood: Essential oils are extractions from plant parts (petals, roots, leaves, bark). Cholla wood is the skeletal part of a cholla cactus (Opuntia sp.). Each day, 7-10 drops of essential oil were placed along each piece of cholla wood (photo 6). Eight pieces of wood were used for this phase. The highly-scented wood was placed in different locations on the island. At the end of each day, the wood was collected and placed in a plastic bag and the next day, additional drops were added so that each consecutive day of the study, the scent on the wood became more concentrated.

3.) Clay-rich Soil: The island soil is dry and very compact and not readily available or attractive to the lemurs as evidenced by preliminary observations. Each day, 31bs of soil was divided into piles and placed in different locations (photo 7). The enrichment soil was collected and processed to remove any unwanted matter. The soil was stored in a refrigerator prior to use. Primates have been heavily documented as engaging in geophagy (Krishnamani and Mahaney, 2000) (Ganzhorn, 1987) (Pinkus, Susan, Smith, James N.M. and Jolly, Alison, 2006).

Recommendations [1]
Most institutions that house L. catta provide them with a nutritionally complete biscuit and locally available produce on daily basis.  Use of daily targeted nutrient values, based on NRC requirements for non-human primates (NRC, 1978), RDA’s (NRC, 1989), and recent research provides a guideline by which to judge a potential diet for use in a captive colony (see Table below). Chronic overfeeding can result in diet selectivity by the animals and obesity; therefore diets should be fed such that no more than 10-15% of the offered diet will be left uneaten. Large groups should be fed in multiple sites to prevent competition for choice items.

Daily Target Nutrient Levels for Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) diets a [1]

Nutrient Concentration in Diet
Energy (kcal/kg body weight) Not less than 100
Crude Protein % Not less than 16.7
Fat %
Fiber % NDF 10-20b
Linoleic Acid % 1
Vitamin A IU/g 14
Vitamin D IU/g 2.2c
Vitamin E mg/kg 56
Riboflavin mg/kg 5.6
Niacin mg/kg 55.6
Pyridoxine mg/kg 2.8
Folacin mg/kg 0.2
Vitamin B-12 mg/kg 0.6
Pantothenic Acid mg/kg 16.7
Thiamin mg/kg 5.6
Choline mg/kg
Biotin mg/kg 0.1
Vitamin C mg/kg 111
Calcium % 0.6
Phosphorous % 0.4
Magnesium % 0.2
Potassium % 0.9
Sodium % 0.3
Iron mg/kg 80-200
Zinc mg/kg 11.1
Copper mg/kg 1.5
Manganese mg/kg 44.4
Selenium mg/kg
Iodine mg/kg 2d
  • a Based on NRC requirements for Old World primates (1978) and human RDA values (1989).
  • b Based on suggested guidelines from Oftedal and Allen (1996).
  • c If animals are not housed where they have access to appropriate amounts of the correct spectrum of UV light, it is essential to provide adequate Vitamin D in the diet.
  • d NRC may have overestimated the quantity needed. For most other animals, the requirement is approximately 0.1 ppm.
  • – Information on this nutrient is not present in NRC (1978).



San Diego Zoo:


  • 3/4 c Leafeater, dry/lemur (Marion Zool.) daily
  • Vegetables, mixed assorted, feed 1-2 times daily


  • 1/2 c Leafeater, dry/lemur (Marion Zool.) daily
  • 6 leaves kale twice weekly
  • 3 1/2 leaves greens, collard twice weekly
  • 4 1/2 bunches spinach once weekly
  • 3 1/2 leaves greens, dandelion once weekly
  • 1/6 head cabbage once weekly
  • 1/2 whole turnip, raw twice weekly

Feed strictly as indicated. Do not alter diet. If change is required, provide details in diet request form.

Instructions: Note any item refusals. Browse should not exceed 1-3 foot sections / animal, no Acacia spp.

Duke University Primate Center (per animal/~30-35 animals):

  • 60g Mazuri Old World Primate Diet (#5667)
  • 120g Fruit/vegetable mix (specific items vary daily and include bananas, apples, oranges, melon, grapes, sweet potatoes, carrots) with browse for enrichment (avg. is probably not even once a week & less in off season obviously).


1.  AZA Nutrition Advisory Group TAG/SSP Husbandry Notebook Nutrition Section Lemur catta (Ring-tailed lemur)

2. Primate Info Net- Ring-tailed Lemur  Library and Information Service, National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison

3. American Association of Zoo Keepers- Lemur Island Enrichment II

4. Ring-tailed Lemur Husbandry Manual

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