From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published December 9, 2013 12:15 PM

Scientists record primates regularly using caves for the first time

After playing, feeding, and socializing in trees all day, some ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) take their nightly respite in caves, according to a new study in Madagascar Conservation and Development. The findings are important because this is the first time scientists have ever recorded primates regularly using caves.


"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 the lead author, Michelle Sauther, with the University of Colorado Boulder. "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."

Lemurs are ancient primates that today are only found on the island of Madagascar. Despite being regulated to a single island, there are over a hundred species with new ones continuing to be discovered.

Although there have been reports of lemurs using caves for years, this is the first research that has documented cave-sleeping as a consistent behavior over a long period of time. Other primates have also been reported to use caves including Fusui langurs and South African baboons; but the first is believed to have only moved to caves when their forests were cut down, while the latter has not yet been verified.

Still, regular cave-sleeping has very likely occurred in other primates: human beings. Experts believe some early humans took to caves for shelter and probably sleeping. The scientists think the ring-tailed lemurs in question seek out caves for similar reasons as ancient humans likely did: avoiding predators, seeking stable temperatures, and gathering water.

"We think cave-sleeping is something ring-tailed lemurs have been doing for a long time," she said. "The behavior may be characteristic of a deep primate heritage that goes back millions of years."

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Lemur image via Shutterstock.

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