Lemurs are gangly, foxey-faced primates that come in a variety of species (including the flashy Ring-tail), all endemic to Madagascar, and all belonging to the clade Strepsirrhini (also in this group are the lorises, galagos [aka bush babies], and the bizarre Aye-aye). Roughly translated, Strepsirrhini means "curly-nosed" and points to the retention of the rhinarium: that naked, moist patch of skin surrounding the nostrils that can easily be described simply as a "wet nose". Rhinariums are common in mammals (anyone with a dog is surely more than familiar with being woken up by a goose in the face by this damp extension of the olfactory system) but they are absent from the simians (apes, monkeys, and humans), and the impossibly large-eyed tarsiers; those primates lacking a wet nose are instead classified in the suborder Haplorrhini ("dry/simple-nosed").
Of note, the rhinarium is associated with an excellent sense of smell, on account of it's wetness. The rhinarium itself does not contain olfactory sensors - those are found in the epithelial tissue inside the nasal passage - but cold receptors in the wet skin of the nose respond to areas where evaporation is highest, allowing an animal to apply a direction to the presence of a smell - an ability with multiple benefits, from tracking down food to knowing which way to flee from a predator. The anatomy of the rhinarium also anchors the upper lip to the gum in a way that prevents much of the facial expression we find so "human" in the ape and monkey world - apparently we slowly traded our sense of smell for the ability to make ridiculous faces at one another.
The Ring-Tailed lemurs at the FPZ have a brand new baby in their troop this spring (shown above). Not sure about it's gender, but it's growing like a weed and each week that I visit I see a marked increase in confidence, group interaction, and physical daring. Such an adorable little devil...
And now for your moment of zen: the superamazingcuteness below occurred when 3 sleepy lemurs decided to form a nap-time conga line, snuggling up like they were stacked onto a toboggan, ready to slide into a late morning siesta. It sorta made my day... Apparently huddling for warmth and social bonding is common in lemurs and this type of formation is known as a "lemur ball". How about that.
I'd like to dedicate this post to Katie: dear friend, brilliant student of animal cognition, and lemur lover. She's the reason I've been drawing at the FPZ so regularly, and why I have a newfound appreciation for gorillas; and whether she knows it or not, she started a chain reaction of impressive nature/science-related opportunities that have really snapped me out of a creative paralysis that's been lingering for far too long. So thank you, Katie. I will really miss our early morning pilgrimages to The Rainforest (and pout a bit in jealousy) while you're in the outback this summer studying dingos.