lemur (lēˈmər) [key], name for prosimians, or lower primates, of two related families, found only on Madagascar and adjacent islands. Lemurs have monkeylike bodies and limbs, and most have bushy tails about as long as the body. They have pointed muzzles and large eyes. The fingers and toes have flat nails, except the second toe, which has a stout claw. Most lemurs lead an arboreal existence. Most lemur species are endangered or threatened, due mainly to habitat destruction.
The woolly lemurs (family Lemuridae) are agile animals with woolly coats. They vary in size from the lesser mouse lemur ( Microcebus murinus ), about 8 in. (20 cm) long including the tail, to some species of common woolly lemur ( Lemur ) that reach about 4 ft (120 cm) in length. They forage in trees and on the ground in large family groups and engage in social grooming. Most types are active both by day and by night. Their diet, which varies with the species, may include leaves, fruits, eggs, and insects and other small animals. Some build nests of leaves and branches in trees. The best-known species, the ring-tailed lemur ( Lemur catta ), is atypical, spending most of the time on the ground. Its fur is gray and its tail ringed with black and white stripes.
Members of the other lemur family (Indriidae) are sometimes called silky lemurs. They are larger, slower-moving, strictly vegetarian animals; most have silky coats. One member of this family, the indri ( Indri indri ), has no tail.
The aye-aye is closely related to the lemurs. The so-called flying lemur is not a primate, but a member of a different mammalian order. Lemurs are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Primates, families Lemuridae and Indriidae.
See A. Jolly, Lemur Behavior (1966).