, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 41–54 | Cite as

The breeding system of wild red ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra): a preliminary report

  • Natalie VaseyEmail author
Original Article


Captive studies have shown that ruffed lemurs (Varecia) have an unusual suite of reproductive traits combined with extremely high maternal reproductive costs. These traits include the bearing of litters, nesting of altricial young, and absentee parenting. To characterize the breeding system of this enigmatic lemur, reproductive traits must be contextualized in the wild. Here, I provide a preliminary report of mating and infant care in one community of wild red ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra). Observations span a 15-month period covering two birth seasons and one mating season on the Masoala Peninsula, Madagascar. Factors that are not possible to replicate in captivity are reported, such as mating pattern, natality and mortality rates, the location of nests within the home range, and the structuring of infant care within a natural community. V. rubra at Andranobe have a fission-fusion, multifemale-multimale grouping pattern and a polygamous mating system. They do not mate monogamously or live strictly in family-based groups as suggested by previous workers. During the first 2 months of life, nests and infant stashing localities are situated within each mother’s respective core area, and inhabitants of each core area within the communal home range provide care for young. As part of their absentee parenting system, infants are left in concealed, protected, and supportive spots high in the canopy, while mothers travel distantly. This practice is termed ‘infant stashing’. Alloparenting appears to be an integral part of V. rubra’s overall reproductive strategy in the wild, as it was performed by all age-sex classes. Among the alloparental behaviors observed were infant guarding, co-stashing, infant transport, and allonursing. Alloparenting and absentee parenting may mitigate high maternal reproductive costs. Furthermore, V. rubra may have a breeding system in which genetic partners (i.e., mating partners) do not always correspond to infant care-providers. Combined with recently available information on the behavioral ecology of wild ruffed lemurs, this preliminary report suggests directions for in-depth studies on Varecia’s breeding system.


Absentee parenting Alloparenting Cooperative breeding Infant development Mating system 



I thank Bob Sussman, Steve Goodman, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this article. I thank the Tripartite Committee of the Malagasy government for permission to complete this research under an accord between the Department of Paleontology and Biological Anthropology, University of Antananarivo and the Department of Anthropology, Washington University. Grant sponsors include: The Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., the Boise Fund; Sigma Xi provided funding for fieldwork.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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