Lemurs are wet-nosed mammals with pointed snouts and typically long tails found only in Madagascar. They are small, have large eyes, and live in trees (arboreal animals).
When encountering lemurs for the first time, many people are unsure of the animal group they belong to. Are they marsupials? Primates perhaps?
Due to their similar looks, there’s some confusion out there about whether lemurs are marsupials and which animal family the lemur falls into.
In this post, we’ll address some widespread misconceptions and break down the differences between the two.
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Are Lemurs Marsupials?
No, lemurs are not marsupials. They belong to the group of placental mammals of the order Primates, together with lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans.
Lemurs are not considered marsupials since they do not carry their newborns in a pouch as most marsupials do. Also, unlike most marsupials, lemurs give birth to a fully developed baby.
Lemurs are one of over 300 species that belong to the order Primates, the third most diverse order of mammals, after rodents and bats.
Despite sharing resemblance with other primates, lemurs evolved independently from monkeys and apes.
On, the other hand, marsupials belong to the infraclass called Marsupialia. Lemurs are not part of this group of animals.
What Are Marsupials?
Marsupials are mammals that give birth to an altricial young to be nursed inside a pouch. This means that their young are born prematurely in an undeveloped state, and continue their development while attached to the nipples on the mother’s lower belly.
Lemurs are definitely not one of such animals!
The pouch – or marsupium, from which the group takes its name – is a flap of skin covering the nipples.
Wombats and marsupial moles, species of burrowing marsupials, have backward-facing pouches so the dirt doesn’t get in as the animal digs. The pouch of a koala opens to the side, while in water opossums both females and males have pouches.
Almost 70% of marsupials can be found in Australia and New Guinea; the rest are dispersed throughout North, Central, and South America.
Besides large species like the kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and wallabies, marsupials also include smaller animals like the opossums, Tasmanian devils, and bandicoots.
Why Are Lemurs Not Marsupials?
Lemurs are not marsupials because they belong to a different infraclass.
There are three types of mammals based on the way they reproduce: monotremes (mammals that lay eggs), marsupials (mammals that give birth to an early stage fetus), and placentals (mammals that give birth to fully developed fetus).
Marsupials belong to an infraclass called Marsupialia, where the newborns are incompletely developed and are typically carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother’s belly.
For example, the red kangaroo is born after only about one month of pregnancy. At this stage in development, the newborn is hairless, has closed eyes, and undeveloped back legs.
After that, this bean-sized animal has to climb all the way into the pouch and latch on one of four nipples. It will remain there for about 8 months before it leaves the pouch and starts feeding on its own.
Unlike marsupials, lemurs have a placenta and do not carry their baby in a pouch.
Lemurs belong to the infraclass Placentalia, in which a placenta develops during pregnancy. The placenta nourishes (via umbilical cord) and protects the fetus while it grows inside the uterus. When the more advanced stages are reached, a female will give birth.
For 2 weeks after the birth, moms will carry baby lemurs, until they become strong enough to cling onto her back.
Humans, dogs, elephants, lions, tigers, bears, lemurs, and many other animals are placental mammals. Nearly 95% of all modern mammals species belong to this group.
It should be mentioned that not all marsupials have a pouch. Some have exposed teats, while others will develop a pouch only during pregnancy.
What Are Lemurs?
Lemurs are nocturnal, diurnal, and cathemeral animals living in the trees of Madagascar. There are over 100 species of lemurs today, weighing from 1.1 oz (mouse lemur) to 20 pounds (indri). There were once species of lemurs the size of a gorilla, but they became extinct, due to hunting.
Famous for the animation series “The Penguins Of Madagascar”, one species of lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur, is the national animal symbol of Madagascar.
What is interesting about these mammals is that lemurs live in a female-dominant society. A female leader will direct a social group while the female lemurs will snatch food away from the males, kick them out of sleeping spots, and even get into fights with them. Just like my ex.
Jokes aside, the female dominance goes so far that the males will take their share of a meal after the females have had their part.
They are omnivores that feed on birds, insects, and fruit.
Lemurs have a low basal metabolic rate and might enter dormant states like hibernation or torpor. They are the only primates, besides humans, to have blue eyes.
And the smarter the lemur is, the more popular it becomes in the lemur society. A study from 2018 discovered that the lemur who was frequently observed by others while solving one task (opening a drawer to retrieve the food) received more grooming, touching, and sitting close.
The word “lemur” means “evil spirit of the dead” in Latin; named that way because of their ghost-like appearance, reflective eyes, and scary cries.
Due to illegal human activity, these beautiful animals are facing extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that almost 90% of lemur species might go extinct by 2035.
Final Thoughts – Are Lemurs Marsupials
In conclusion, lemurs are neither rodents nor marsupials.
Lemurs are mammals that belong to the order of mammals called Primates, just like humans, monkeys, and apes, among others.
Today, the Primate order is divided into two main groups: the strepsirrhines and the haplorrhines. Lemurs, together with lorises, pottos, and bush babies, belong to the strepsirrhine primates.
Haplorrhine primates include New World monkeys (native to the Americas), Old World monkeys (native to Africa and Asia), and the ape family, which includes humans.
The main difference between lemurs and marsupials is that the lemurs are placental mammals that do not give birth to an undeveloped baby and keep it in their pouches, as marsupials do.
Marsupials are notably less intelligent than other placental mammals including lemurs, partly because of their simpler brains.
If you were pondering on the question “are lemurs marsupials”, we hope this article removed all doubts.
And if you enjoyed it, here’s a recommendation on another popular read: Are Otters Rodents Or Marsupials?