This study describes the molar enamel microstructure of seven lemurid primates: Hapalemur griseus, Varecia variegata, Lemur catta, Lemur macaco, Lemur fulvus rufus, Lemur fulvus fulvus, and Lemur fulvus albifrons. Contrary to earlier accounts, which reported little or no prism decussation in lemurid enamel, both Lemur and Varecia molars contain a prominent inner layer of decussating prisms (Hunter-Schreger bands), in addition to an outer radial prism layer, and a thin, nonprismatic enamel surface layer. In contrast, Hapalemur enamel consists entirely of radial and, near the surface, nonprismatic enamel. In addition, for all species, prism packing patterns differ according to depth from the tooth surface, and for all species but Varecia (which also has the thinnest enamel of any lemurid), average prism area increases from the enamel-dentine junction to the surface; this may be a developmental solution to the problem of accommodating a larger outer surface area with enamel deposited from a fixed number of cells. Finally, contradicting some previous reports, Pattern 1 prisms predominate only in the most superficial prismatic enamel. In the deeper enamel, prism cross-sections include both closed (Pattern 1) and arc-shaped (Pattern 2 or, most commonly, Pattern 3). This sequence of depth-related pattern change is repeated in all taxa. It should also be emphasized that all taxa can exhibit all three prism patterns in their mature enamel. The high degree of quantitative and qualitative variation in prism size, shape, and packing suggests that these features should be used cautiously in phylogenetic studies.
Hapalemur is distinguished from the other lemurids by unique, medially constricted or rectangular prism cross-sections at an intermediate depth and the absence of prism decussation, but, without further assessment of character polarity, these differences do not clarify lemurid phylogenetic relations. Some characters of enamel microstructure may represent synapomorphies of Lemuridae, or of clades within Lemuridae, but homoplasy is likely to be common. Homoplasy of enamel characters may reflect functional constraints. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.