The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Ferret
Story Of The Chipmunk
Story Of The Cavy
Story Of The Marten
Story Of The Lemur
Story Of The Echidna
Story Of The Mink
Story Of The Wapi
Story Of The Wolverine
Story Of The Skunk
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Story Of The Lemur
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
So many people mistake lemurs for monkeys, that I have decided to speak at - some length of the former animals. The resemblance between lemurs and monkeys is so strong that it is difficult to explain in a popular -work the exact difference without treating of the anatomy, the physical construction of both. This I do not propose to do, but will try to make it clear in other ways.
The first point of difference is to be noticed in the foxy, but expression-less faces of the lemurs, indicating that they are of a much lower order of intelligence than apes and monkeys.
Many lemurs are purely night animals, and it was probably from this circumstance, coupled with. their silent habits and stealthy movements, that Linnaeus was induced to give them the name which they are now universally known. The name lemur is taken from the Latin term lemures, which, together with that of larvae, was applied by the ancient Romans to such spirits of the dead as were supposed to be of malignant natures.
Altogether, there are about fifty species of lemur-like animals. They are all restricted not only to the Old World, but also to the southern regions of the great land masses of that hemisphere, none of them being found to the northward of the tropic of Cancer, while the tropic of Capricorn very nearly limits their southward range. Within this area a few species are found respectively throughout the warmer regions of Africa, and in Southern India and Ceylon, while their eastern limits are marked by the island of Celebes and the Philippines. In all these regions the number of species is comparatively few, and they form but an unimportant element in the general animal family of the country. The case is, however, very different in the great island of Madagascar, which is the headquarters of the whole group. Here we find them constituting no less than one-half the animals of the island, most of the others being small forms, unknown either on the continent of Africa or in Asia. The true lemurs occur only in Madagascar, and it is very remarkable that all the species of the group found in that island scarcely show any closer relationship to those of the African mainland than they exhibit to those of Asia. So abundant, indeed, are lemurs in Madagascar that at least one individual is almost sure to be found in every little copse throughout the island.
It will be evident that such a numerous population of helpless animals like lemurs could not exist in a land overrun with large flesh-eating animals; and in the whole of Madagascar we find only a few civets and an allied creature known as the fossa. Now to account for these peculiar features the absence of all large flesh-eaters, except civets, and the abundance of lemurs we have to call in the aid of the geologist. He will tell us that lemur-like animals, accompanied by civet-like animals, existed in England, France, and other parts of Europe during the early part of the Tertiary period. And we are accordingly led to conclude that the lemurs and civets of Madagascar obtained an entrance into that island, doubtless by way of Africa, at a time when that continent was still free from the presence of the large flesh-eating animals and the host of hoofed creatures, which now form such a dominant feature in its animal population. After the lemurs and civets had obtained an entrance into Madagascar that country became separated from the adjacent mainland, and it has remained as an island ever since. There, secure from molestation, the lemurs have attained a development unequalled at any time in any part of the globe, and afford us an admirable instance of the importance a group of animals may attain when living under favorable conditions.
We have already said that many lemurs are essentially nocturnal creatures. To this we may add that they are all of essentially tree frequenting in their habits. Indeed, except when compelled to descend to the ground to obtain water, or for the purpose of crossing from one plantation or coppice to another, they but rarely leave the trees. Their diet is extremely mixed, scarcely anything coming amiss to them, as will be inferred when we mention that leaves, fruits, insects, reptiles, birds' eggs, and birds themselves are eagerly consumed by most of these animals.
By the natives of Madagascar the lemurs are looked upon with suspicious awe, and are consequently but seldom molested. This is doubtless due to their nocturnal habits and ghost-like movements; while the large eyes essential to these and all other nocturnal creatures have perhaps contributed to this feeling. In Ceylon and India the large glaring eyes of one of the prettiest of the lemurs used to lead to the unfortunate creatures being put to a cruel death. None of the lemurs attain any very large size, and all of them, when unmolested, are perfectly harmless and inoffensive animals, except to the birds, reptiles, and insects upon which they prey.
The largest of the true lemurs is known as the ruffed lemur. It inhabits the Northeast Coast of Madagascar, and as its name indicates, is remark-able for the variety of color of its fur. Frequently this is a mixture of black and white, disposed in patches on different parts of the body, but occasionally white individuals are net with; others are a reddish brown.
The red-fronted lemur is met with in all parts of the island; the white-fronted is found on the Northeast Coast and the black-fronted on the Northwest Coast. Besides these there are the Mungoose lemur of the West-ern Coast, the black lemur of the Northwest Coast, the gentle lemur of the jungles, the weasel lemur of Northwest Madagascar and the mouse lemur of which there are many varieties.
One of the most interesting of all is the little creature known as the dwarf mouse lemur, but often referred to as the Madagascar rat. The head and body of this diminutive creature do not exceed 4 inches in length, while the tail measures 6 inches. The prevailing color is a pale grey; the chin and under-parts being pale yellow, and the outer surface of the ears light brown, while a white streak runs up the nose and between the eyes. The eyes themselves are surrounded by black rims, giving to the face the appearance of wearing a pair of spectacles.
The dwarf mouse lemur builds beautifully constructed nests of twigs, lined with hair, in the tops of .the lofty trees where it delights to dwell. These nests somewhat resemble those of a rook both in form and size, and are used not only as daily resting-places but as cradles for the young. The species is remarkable for the extreme beauty of its brilliant eyes.
The dwarf lemurs inhabit a belt of forest-land stretching from the eastern forest into the heart of Betsileo, a few miles north of Fianarantsoa, where they are tolerably abundant. They live on the tops of the highest trees, choosing invariably the smallest branches, where they collect a quantity of dried leaves, and make what looks from below like a bird's nest. So close is the resemblance, that it requires good eyes to distinguish the one from the other. Their food consists of fruit and insects, and most probably honey. I have frequently seen them catching the flies that have entered their cage for the honey; and I have supplied them with moths and butterflies, which they have devoured with avidity. They are extremely shy and wild. Although I have had between thirty and forty caged at different times, I have never succeeded in taming one. They are also very quarrel-some, and fight very fiercely, uttering a most piercing, penetrating sound, somewhat resembling a very shrill whistle.
The best known African lemurs are called galagos. With the exception of a kind from the West Coast, the great, or thick-tailed galago, of Mozambique and the Lower Zambesi Valley, is the largest of all the species. This animal is about the size of a cat of average dimensions; and, indeed, the peculiar manner in which it carries its thick bushy tail high above its back is highly suggestive of a pampered Persian cat. This bushy tail is about one-fourth longer than the head and body. The ears are unusually long.
It is confined to the maritime region, so far as I know never penetrating beyond the band of wood generally known as the mangrove forest. By the Portuguese it is named "rat of the cocoanut palm," that being its favorite haunt by day, nestling among the fronds; but if it be disturbed, performing feats of agility, and darting from one palm to another. It will spring with great rapidity, adhering to any object as if it were a lump of wet clay. It has one failing, otherwise its capture would be no easy task. Should a pot of palm-wine be left on the tree, the creature drinks to excess, comes down, and rushes about intoxicated. In captivity they are mild; during the day remaining either rolled up in a ball, or perched half asleep, with ears stowed away like a beetle's wing under its hard and ornamented case. I had half a dozen squirrels with one in the same cage; these were good friends, the latter creeping under the galago's soft fur and falling asleep. On introducing a few specimens of (elephant) shrew, the galago seized one and bit off its tail, which however, it did not eat. The food it took was biscuit, rice, orange, banana, guava, and a little cooked meat. Stupid during the day, it became active at night, or just after darkness set in. The rapidity and length of its leaps, which were absolutely noiseless, must give great facilities to its capturing live prey. I never knew it give a loud call, but it would often make a low, chattering noise. It had been observed at the Luabo mouth of the Zambesi, at Quillimane, and at Mozambique. When I had my live specimen at Zanzibar, the natives did not seem to recognize it; nevertheless, it may be abundant on the mainland.
In the warmer parts of Asia is found the slow lemur or loris. The name loris, by which all the slow lemurs are commonly known, is derived from the Dutch word Loeris, meaning a clown, and appears to have been applied to these animals by the Dutch colonists of the East Indian Islands. To the natives of India the slow loris is known either by the name Sharmindi billi, "bashful cat," or Lajjar banar, "bashful monkey." It is an animal about the size of a cat; different individuals or races varying considerably in size, so that while some specimens do not measure more than 13 inches in total length, others may reach as much as 15 inches, or even more. Its proportions are thick and clumsy; the head being broad and flat, with a slightly projecting and pointed muzzle. The large eyes are perfectly circular, and their pupils can be completely closed by the gradual contraction of the iris, which open from above and below, so that when the pupil is half concealed it takes the form of a transverse slit. The ears are short, rounded, and partly buried in the fur; and are, thus, very different from those of the galagos. The hind-limbs are only slightly longer than the others. With the exception of the muzzle and the hands and feet, the whole of the body is covered with a thick coat of very close and somewhat long woolly fur.
In the more common and larger variety, the color of the fur is ashy-grey above, tending to become silvery along the sides of the back, the under-parts being lighter, and the rump often having a tinge of red. The stripe on the back is chestnut-colored, and stops short at the hinder part of the crown of the head. The eyes are, however, surrounded by 'dark rims; between which is the white streak extending upwards from the nose. The ears, together with a small surrounding area, are brown.
The slow Loris is found over a large area in the countries lying to the east-ward of the Bay of Bengal. It occurs on the northeast frontier of India in the provinces of Sylhet and Assam, whence it extends southwards into Burma, Tenasserim, and the Malay Peninsula; while it is also found in Siam and Cochin China, and the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo.
Its food consists of leaves and young shoots of trees, as well as fruits, various kinds of insects, birds, and their eggs. It has been observed to stand nearly erect upon its feet, and from this advantageous position pounce upon an insect. It is generally, silent, although sometimes uttering a low crackling sound; but when enraged, and especially if about to bite, it gives a kind of fierce growl. This animal is tolerably common in the Tenasserim provinces and Arakan; but, being strictly nightly in its habits, is seldom seen. It inhabits the densest forests, and never by choice leaves the trees. Its movements are slow, but it climbs readily, and grasps with great tenacity. If placed on the ground, it can proceed, if frightened, in a wavering kind of trot, the limbs placed at right angles. It sleeps rolled up in a ball, its head and hands buried between its thighs, and wakes up at the dusk of evening to commence its nocturnal rambles. The female bears but one young at a time. Many accounts have been published of the habits of the slow loris in confinement. While these creatures are apt to be fierce when first captured, they soon become docile. They are very susceptible to cold, and when so affected are apt to be fractious and petulant.
I once had a tame loris which was especially fond of plantains, also partial to small birds, which, when put into his cage, he killed speedily; and, plucking the feathers off with the skill of a poulterer, soon lodged the carcass in his stomach. He ate the bones as well as the flesh; and though birds, and mice perhaps, were his favorite food, he ate other meat very readily, especially when quite fresh; if boiled, or otherwise cooked, he would not taste it. He preferred veal to all other kinds of butcher's meat; eggs, also, he was fond of, and sugar was especially grateful to his palate; he likewise ate gumarabic. As flesh was not always to be had quite fresh, he was for some time fed upon bread sopped in water, and sprinkled with sugar; this he ate readily, and seemed to relish it. When food was presented to him, if hungry, he seized it with both hands, and, letting go with his right, held it with his left all the time he was eating. Frequently, when feeding, he grasped the bars in the upper part of his cage with his hind paws, and hung inverted, appearing very much intent upon the food he held in his left hand. He was exceedingly fond of oranges; but, when they were at all hard he seemed very much puzzled how to extract the juice. I have, upon such an occasion, seen him lie all his length upon his back, in the bottom of the cage, and, firmly grasping the piece of orange in both hands, squeeze the juice into his mouth. He generally sat upon his hind part (the hair of which was much worn by long sitting), close to the bars of his cage, grasping them firmly with his hind paws; he then rolled himself up like a ball, with his head in his breast, his thighs closely placed over his belly, and his arms over his head, generally grasping the bars of the cage with his hands also. In this position, and also without moving, he remains the whole day. Upon coming into the Channel, the cold weather affected him very much; he was seized with cramp, and I at that time placed him in a small box, which was filled with very soft down. This he felt so agreeable that, when cold, he never left it during the whole day, unless disturbed, and slept in it rolled up in the shape of a ball.
His temper, in cold weather especially, was very quick; but, in general, he was rather timid, and never offered any injury unless incautiously touched, teased, or provoked; he then made a shrill, plaintive cry, evidently expressive of much annoyance, and would bite very sharply.