Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bed time for cave lemurs

Ring-tailed rock climbers. 
One of the groups of ring-tailed lemurs that I study at Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, Madagascar, sleeps in a series of small caves. Although the group returns to the very same caves every day, the whole ordeal takes a lot of political prowess, a decent grip, and about 40 minutes. This is because some spots in the cave are preferred (I don't know why), and higher ranked animals get first pick of everything from food and water to grooming rights and sleeping space. But that doesn't mean that lower ranked animals don't get ideas about those extra cozy spots where all the cool kids hang out.

Here's a little clip of females getting grumpy at each other over access to a water hole. They are of about the same rank, but still get irritated.

High ranked females get first choice and go into the caves one after the other without much problem. Mid-and low-ranked females follow but have to balance a) getting into the cave quickly and claiming a decent spot with b) getting chased/bitten or otherwise told off and ending up in a crappy cave. High- and mid-ranked males face the same dilemmas, but have to defer to all females before getting a spot. The super loser low-ranked males can forget about getting into a cave. They sleep all alone in sad little trees and probably get eaten by fossa without anyone noticing. Poor things. Babies/juveniles are cut a little slack and tend to sleep near or with their moms.

There is a little biting at the beginning of this clip, but mostly they all follow the cue and enter unscathed.

And last, for this video clip, keep your eye on the lemur in the middle who is negotiating getting into the cave while hanging on and still looking cool. Its probably not even funny, but totally cracks me up.

Oh how I miss my little rock climbing lemurs...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Check out LJ. He's pretty great. Or at least he used to be.

One of the joys of studying the same wild animals repeatedly is that you get to know individuals and can follow their life events. "LJ" is one of my favorite ring-tailed lemurs from Tsimanampetsotsa and he has undergone some dramatic changes over the last few years. So, why don't I tell you about him? 

Here's LJ. All young and cute.

First, he's got a weird looking cap (the grey part of fur on his forehead) that reminds me of pulled back drapes.

LJ and his curtain cap.
This is in the wet season, when he was fat. 

But, I'd be lying if I told you that this was how I distinguish him from the other 10-15 males in his group. Because its not. "LJ" stands for 'Long John'. And that is what LJ has. A long john. Not so classy, I know, but seriously, I could point out LJ from halfway across the forest. With one eye. 

I know that you are curious.
Look, even the creepy lemur in the background is looking at LJ's lj. 

LJ used to be high ranking (for a male) and was quite popular with the ladies. But he also used to have a symmetrical face and an entire tail. 

LJ, pondering the meaning of the universe. Or something. 

But some where along the way LJ lost his hot-shot status, and maybe scrapped it out with other males one too many times. Now, he is the lowest ranked boy, has a totally jacked up grill, one ear that is barely hanging on, and is missing half his tail. I don't have a clue what happened to his face, but suspect that he had a dental abscess, lost a tooth or two, and now his canines are drifting in different directions. Which makes one canine look ridiculously big and the other one all but disappear. And he only has half of his tail. Lord only knows what happened there. 

LJ's huge tooth!

LJ. Big tooth vs. little tooth. 

You can see a little more of that huge tooth here:

And that's LJ. In all his glory. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Meet Munchkin. Behold the Munchkin wave.

Ring-tailed lemurs use behavioral mechanisms to regulate their body temperatures. When its really hot in the afternoon, they hang out in the shade, hug onto cool rocks, and sometimes lick their hands. When its cold at night they huddle together in balls, and in the morning they warm up by "sunning". When sunning, they sit upright, stretch out, and get as much warmth as possible on their bellies, and arms and legs.

Lemur sunning. Its pretty great.

"Munchkin" is an eight month old ring-tailed lemur from one of the groups I study at Tsimanampetsotsa. Munchkin's sunning tactics totally crack me up, as he always seems to have his left hand sticking way out. I've dubbed his sunning style the 'Munchkin wave'. Check it out.

Holotype. The Munchkin wave. 
Paratype. The Munchkin wave. 

Thinking about the Munchkin wave.

Just a quick Munchkin wave before taking off.
Falling asleep Munchkin wave. 

A rare double-handed Munchkin wave. 

And finally, an E.T. style Munchkin wave. 
You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Madagascar = 0, Marni = 1.

Madagascar barely tried to kill me. Like almost not at all. And really, I have nothing but good things to report. Imagine that. Two minor but notable incidences include my 1) nearly getting gored by a herd of rogue forest zebu (we, the zebu and I, had a misunderstanding as to my intentions and they decided to take a preemptive strike), and then my 2) getting a burning, blistering mystery insect bite that nearly drove me to chew off my own arm (and a good chunk of my torso). I tried everything short of human breast milk (a common cure for maladies around these parts, but unfortunately I didn’t have access to a lactating woman) to ease the excruciating itch and blazing hot burn, but 48 hours was all the metaphorical doctor ordered. Otherwise, all is/was good.

I am thrilled to report that the illegal human activities which were taking place within Tsimanampetsotsa National Park have dramatically decreased (see Conservation Sucks). Imagine that! I did collect quite a few “death balls” (horrible endemic fruits used to snare animals), but thankfully, no animals had been caught. And, get this, I saw 11 tortoises!! Previously, I stated that the critically endangered radiated and spider tortoises were likely locally extinct, but gosh darn it, I was wrong. Yet another pleasant surprise. There is still much work to be done in reforestation and forest protection; however some admirable strides have been made and my faith in humanity is moderately restored. Today.  

Destroying death balls. And looking odd.
OMG. Radiated tortoise on its tip-toes. 

I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped (but really, do we ever?) for a variety of reasons such as not having a car, not having any student assistants, and the fact that elementary school is out of session, but I got in lots of good quality lemur time and collected a remarkable number of lemur urine samples (36, FYI). I love these animals so very much and seeing how their lives change (or don’t) year after year is wonderful. Especially when neither of you are actively dying. 

The gang. 

Lemur fingers. Because I love them almost as much as lemur toes. 
More to come.