Tails From The Canopy
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Lemurs: Natural History Introduction
A Lemur is a mammal, and a member of the primate order. They
are prosimians, which is a suborder of primate. The family of
lemurs has many species. Exactly how to count lemur species has
been the subject of controversy but we have followed the view
of many zoologists and counted Dwarf lemurs and true lemurs as
part of the same family (Napier & Napier 1997) and therefor
are counting 22 species.
Lemurs are prosimians and are therefore considered older, and
some would say more ‘primitive’ members of the primate
order. Primitive here should not be considered a pejorative term
but one that defines prosimians as lacking certain physical attributes
that emerged in later developing primates, and often retaining
characteristics lost by later evolving primates.
The ancestors of contemporary Lemurs came from Africa, although
they may not have originally evolved there; the fossil record
is too scarce to draw clear conclusions. While African lemurs
became extinct probably due to competition from later primates,
monkeys and apes, these two groups never reached Madagascar.
Consequently, lemurs survived on this island and spread out and
diversified, ultimately evolving species adapted to all the ecosystems
found on the island.
Distinctive Lemur Physical Traits
Lemurs all have relatively long and slender limbs, a longer muzzle
than later primates do, and a slightly smaller brain. They
all have a dental ‘comb’ comprised of the lower
incisors, which they use for grooming. Lemurs use scent marking
in addition to vocalizations as a means of communication and
territorial marking… a behavioral trait rarely found
in later evolving primates.
Lemurs In The Animal Kingdom
Lemurs are a ‘Family’ of mammals in the animal
kingdom. But what does this really mean and how does it relate
Science understands the organization of nature to be hierarchical
with each step on the ladder or branch of the tree describing
a degree of physical similarity, and from more recent findings,
genetic closeness. This branch of knowledge is called taxonomy.
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