The Lemur Underground

By Ogden, Lesley Evans | Natural History, May 2013 | Go to article overview

The Lemur Underground


Ogden, Lesley Evans, Natural History


During hibernation, animals drop their body temperature- generally to near ambient levels-slow their breathing and heart rates, and suspend important physiological functions. Until recently, the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius, of western Madagascar was the only primate known to hibernate. Every year, when food and water are scarce and nighttime temperatures plummet, these squirrel-size lemurs retire for seven months to tree holes and live off the fat of their tails. However, two closely related species living in the highlands of eastern Madagascar, the dwarf lemurs C. sibreei and C. crossleyi, also have to cope with winter fruit shortages and low temperature. Do they follow the same strategy?

Marina B. Blanco of Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina, with colleagues from the United States, Germany, and Madagascar, studied dwarf lemurs from 2009 to 2012 in Tsinjoarivo, a high-altitude rain forest in central-eastern Madagascar. Winter temperatures there, which never exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, regularly drop at night to 41 degrees-and occasionally below freezing. Using pieces of banana as irresistible bait, the researchers captured twelve eastern dwarf lemurs and fitted them with radio transmitters to track their movements and their temperatures after they disappeared for the winter.

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