Superb Lemur Sunday

On this most hallowed of Super Bowl Sundays, I watched some lemurs instead of football.

Lemurs are very busy at all times!

The paleo crew from the museum and NCSU decided to visit the Duke Lemur Center, a research facility at Duke University about 30 minutes from Raleigh with the largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar. Although it is primarily a scientific research facility, the DLC also offers tours and educational workshops.

It’s a large facility with numerous enclosures for the different species they keep, including these ‘summer homes’ for when the weather is a bit warmer. The DLC also has multiple large multi-acre forest habitats where the lemurs can freely roam during the daytime in the summer. I’d love to go back for one of the forest tours!

At the beginning of the tour there’s an opportunity to check out some cool anatomical specimens, like the hand and skull of the insectivorous aye-aye! Check out that thin probing finger!

And you can also touch some pelts from some of the individuals that died of natural causes. I can confirm that lemurs are extremely soft. Also of interest is the wide variety of colours and patterns that lemurs have – I love the little white blaze on the top of the head of the red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra), the pelt in the centre of this photo.

And there were plenty of live lemurs for us to meet as well! One really cool thing about the DLC is that there are lemurs that are not found in most zoos because they are either relatively delicate in captivity, or destructive of their habitats and require a lot of maintenance. Coquerel’s sifakas (pronounced “shifawkas”; Propithecus coquereli) might be familiar to many from the TV show Zoboomafoo! In fact, the show was partly filmed at the DLC.

I also really liked the black and white ruffed lemurs (Variecia variegata).

New to me was the mongoose lemur (Eulemur mongoz), a relatively relaxed fellow compared to the others.

And also new to me were the blue-eyed black lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons). Although it might look like there are two species in the photo below, both lemurs are E. flavifrons! Several lemur species exhibit sexual dichromatism, where males and females are markedly different colours. In this case, the males are black and the females are golden. I’d love to learn what drives this difference in colours, especially when the males aren’t particularly elaborate or showy! It’s a weird manifestation of sexual selection.

In addition to these lemurs we also got to see some ring tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), which I’m sure mostly everyone is familiar with, a slow loris (Nycticebus coucang), an unfortunate victim of the pet trade despite being toxic, the diminutive gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), and a fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius), which was true to its name.

But the real showstopper for me was a chance to see the remarkable aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)! Luckily for us, the nocturnal species are kept on a flipped daylight schedule, so we got to see an active aye-aye under dim red light.

Aye-ayes are one of the species that is particularly hard to keep because, as insectivores that gnaw into wood in order to find food, they are rather destructive to their habitats. The DLC is the only facility in the world that has successfully bred aye-ayes, and these are not animals you’re going to see at most zoos so it was a real treat to watch them in action. Things I did not realize about aye-ayes: they are big, and they have incredibly fluffy tails! I’d say the aye-aye was about the size of a large house cat, which was much bigger than I had imagined – I think I had always considered them to be one of the smaller species, perhaps squirrel-sized.

The DLC is a pretty cool place doing a lot of interesting conservation work in addition to non-invasive research on lemurs, and if you’re in the Raleigh area it’s definitely worth a tour!

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