Like Humans, Ring Tailed Lemurs Prefer To Sleep In The Same Place Each Night (A Cave)

By Ben Wolford on December 5, 2013 4:50 PM EST

Lemur
Lemurs in Madagascar like to sleep in the same cave each night. (Photo: Photo: Shutterstock)

One of Homo sapiens' distant relatives shares one of the peculiar habits of humans: Lemurs like to sleep in the same place each night. Researchers from Colorado University say they've probably been doing it for thousands of years, but until now, we didn't know. In fact, scientists didn't even know they prefered caves, according to a new study announced this week.

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"The remarkable thing about our study was that over a six-year period, the same troops of ring-tailed lemurs used the same sleeping caves on a regular, daily basis," said anthropology professor Michelle Sauther, who led the study, in a statement. "What we are seeing is a consistent, habitual use of caves as sleeping sites by these primates, a wonderful behavioral adaptation we had not known about before." Her paper appeared in the November issue of the journal Madagascar Conservation and Development.

According to the research, ring-tailed lemurs, which live only in Madagascar, haven't been thoroughly studied until recently when scientists began looking in other areas of the island. There, they learned whole new facets of lemur behavior. Although lemurs look and act a little like anthropoid primates — humans, apes, and monkeys — their actual evolutionary relationship is only linked to a distant common ancestor. Humans are more related to this guy (a macaque) than to lemurs.

But one thing we do have in common is our tendency to retire to the same dwelling at the end of each day. For about seven years, the research team monitored 11 different troops of lemurs using motion-detector cameras and by directly observing them in a 104,000-acre national park. They expected to see them descend from the trees when they woke up each morning. But that's not what happened. "They seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was not from the trees," Sauther said. "We were baffled. But when we began arriving at the study sites earlier and earlier in the mornings, we observed them climbing out of the limestone caves."

She says there's evidence that ancient humans, too, had slept in limestone caves. For each species, they offer protection from predators and potential sources of water. For the lemurs in Madagascar, however, the caves likely protect them from a new danger: deforestation. "Part of our job is to work with local communities," said graduate student James Millette, "because without the support of these people there would be no lemur conservation."

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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