Madagascar

Land of Lemurs

by Charlotte McGlone

Chapel Hill, NC, United States

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Within its 226.66 square miles, or 587.04 square kilometers, reside a variety of interesting geographical regions. Its coastal plains meet the ocean, while in the center of the country rise high mountains and plateaus. The temperature varies little throughout the year, and the country has a low of 50°F in July to a high of 82°F in January.

Biodiversity

The many ecosystems of the island make it one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Here can be found approximately 5% of all plant and animal species known to humanity, with 80% of them native to Madagascar. Of particular fascination to scientists are the endemic lemurs. The nearly 100 species of lemur live in the wild only in Madagascar, and if it were not for this remote island, they probably would not exist.

All About Lemurs

Thank goodness they do exist! Lemurs are fun and interesting creatures. They belong to a subtype of the order of mammals called primates, which includes apes, monkeys, and even humans! Lemurs have many important features. They have hands and feet (which means they have thumbs and fingers like us) and nails instead of claws. They exist in many shapes and sizes ranging from 1.1 ounces to 20 pounds.

Lemur Lifestyle

Lemurs are extremely social, and, like many other primates, live in groups that communicate through sound, touch, and visual cues. Because most species are nocturnal, sleeping all day and staying awake at night, it means that they have large eyes that help them see in the dark. They also have highly developed senses of smell and hearing.

Evolution

Lemurs have lived in Madagascar for a long time. Before the island separated from the rest of Africa, primates like lemurs wandered there, and they continued to evolve as Madagascar slowly drifted away from the continent. The first fossils of lemur ancestors are about 60 million years old. Monkeys, apes, and modern humans go back only 17 to 23 million years, by which time Madagascar was already comfortably residing in the Indian Ocean. Because small colonies in Madagascar remained sheltered from the rest of the world, lemurs were able to evolve into the robust community we know today.

Conservation Message

Now that you know how exciting lemurs are, it is vital to reflect on how we can ensure their security. When we humans expand into wilderness areas around us, we cause problems for native creatures that inhabit these places and also seek to co-exist. A 2012 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature named lemurs the most threatened mammals in the world at risk of extinction.

We can achieve a balance between the needs of humans and animals as long as we recognize the importance of every element in the ecosystem. It would be a shame to let these amazing creatures disappear from the face of the earth, so we should do everything in our power to live in harmony with our lemur brothers and sisters on the majestic island of Madagascar.

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Math Questions

  1. How much older is the oldest lemur fossil compared to the oldest human fossil?
  2. Research the rate at which forest habitat in Madagascar is disappearing. Design a graph that predicts when the forest will vanish completely.
  3. If you were to start a lemur breeding program and started with two lemur pairs, how long would it take for you to compensate for the reduction of lemur numbers in Madagascar?

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Extension Questions

  1. How do you respond to the argument that humans need to claim lemur land for their own livelihood?

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Resources

  1. Duke University Lemur Center website
  2. Wikipedia page on lemurs
  3. News article on 2012 report
  4. Website of the Primate Special Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature

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