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Keywords:

  • biparental care;
  • parent-offspring behavioral coordination;
  • primate nest building;
  • communal nursing

Abstract

Over a 4 month period, systematic and ad libitum observations were conducted on two adult female black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata variegata) and their infants in a 3.5 ha forest enclosure. The females were mother and daughter, members of a family group that had been semifree-ranging for 2 years and 3 months at the time of the births. One to two weeks before parturition, the females independently constructed nests, in which they kept their infants during the first few weeks following parturition. The older mother, cage-reared herself, prepared at least one nest. Her daughter, who has lived in the forest since late juvenescence, prepared at least four. Two to three weeks after parturition, the mothers moved their infants high into trees. During periods of maternal absence, the infants were often alone, and they rarely or never moved, vocalized, or groomed themselves. The mothers often kept their infants together after nests were no longer used. Each infant nursed freely from both lactating females. The infants were carried orally only by their mothers and were never transported by clinging to the pelage of any group members. Previously, researchers suggested that ruffed lemurs build nests for care of infants high up in trees. The present observations, however, suggest that two major modes of neonate care in Varecia exist: serial use of multiple ground nests and “parking” of infants high in trees. Advance preparation of several nest sites, relative lack of large predators, alternate maternal and paternal guarding of infants, infant immobility during absence of mother, and rapid infant development make this tactic of care for neonates plausible.