Fruit-loving lemurs have an incredible memory

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

I’m pretty sure I saw a fruit here about a year and a half ago, where is it?!

Researchers at Duke University have been busy at work testing the memories of five types of lemurs, and it seems those with the best spatial memory – the ability to remember locations in an environment – are the pickiest eaters! Ruffed lemurs have a diet made up of mostly fruit, and finding the sweet treats can be a pain, especially when they’re not in season. According to the researchers, having a superb spatial memory gives the mammals an edge if they can remember where to find the goodies.

To make this discovery, researchers ran a series of tests with five different types of lemurs – red ruffed, black-and-white ruffed, Coquerel’s sifakas, ring-tailed, and mongoose. While most of these animals eat foods like seeds, leaves, nectar, and insects, the ruffed lemurs prefer to eat fruit. However, seasonal fruits only flourish for a limited time, so the ruffed lemurs have evolved a powerful spatial ability to recall where the plants grew in the past.

In a series of tests, researchers placed the furry creatures in a maze with some food in the middle, and also tried randomly placing treats in a room filled with boxes. Time and time again, the ruffed lemurs were able to remember the locations of the goodies faster and with more time to spare in between the trials. They could even get to the center of the maze quicker, no matter if they started from a new location or took an unknown route.

Since all the animals were born in captivity, they never really had to hunt for food to survive. Therefore, this study demonstrates the fruit-loving mammals must be born with a superior memory!

Featured image courtesy of seth m on Flickr. Image of lemur in grass courtesy of on Flickr.