slender loris

Lorises are squirrel-size primates with large close-set eyes and movements that resemble those of a chameleon. Relatives of bush babies and lemurs, they live India and Asia and are nocturnal. There are three species of loris, the most common of which is the slender loris, which is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. The name loris comes from the Dutch word for clown. [Source: K.A.I. Nekaris, Natural History, February 2002]

Whereas apes and monkeys are grouped as haplorhine or "dry nose" primates, lorises are strepsirrhine or "wet nose" primates. Lorises have big eyes, tiny ears, live in trees and are active at night. Lorises are a very old monkey species. They belong to the Lorisidae family, which includes nine genera, 18 species and 44 taxa and is divided into two subfamilies — Lorisinae (lorises) and Galaginare (galagos). They live in sub-Sahara Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. All are small and nocturnal.

Lorises are sometimes used by fortunetellers to pick cards with their long arms. They are also used in Ayuverdic medicine. The animal’s eyes are believed to be a potent love charm. Their bones are used to ward off the evil eye. In Sri Lanka some people fear the call of the loris and kill any of the animals they see. Sometimes they are killed while walking on power lines or are run over by vehicles. It is not known how many lorises there are.

The tupia is a creature common in the forests of Borneo. It is a furry and has a long tail and a pointed nose and acts somewhat like a squirrel. But its anatomy and teeth are quite different than rodents. For a long time scientist were not sure how to classify it. Finally based party on it large brain size it was classified as a primate and is believed to be the ancestor of all monkeys and apes. Other disagrees with this assessments and say it belongs in the shrew family and is closely related t the first mammals to walk the earth.

Lorises and Lemurs

Lemurs and lorises are prosimians. By one definition a prosimian is a primate with a brain too small to qualify as a monkey. The prosimian classification is regarded as out of date. Scientists now use the classification Strepsirhini instead.

Ancient prosimians are believed to have originated in the Northern Hemisphere (North America or Europe) 65 million years ago. Many of the traits they developed — sterosciopic vision, grasping hands, large brains and superior muscular coordination and dexterity — grew out of the fact they lived in trees. The first primates appeared in the early Eocene period, which began 54 million years ago. It is widely believed that at around this time primates divided onto two major lineages: one that led to anthropoids and the other that led to modern prosimians.

Strepsirhini characteristics include procumbent lower incisors, a “grooming claw” on the second digit of the feet, a moist nose, and reflective layer behind the retina that aids night vision. See Madagascar.

Nearly three quarters of Strepsirhini are nocturnal. They rest during the day in nests or tree hollows. Adaption for nocturnal life include relatively large eyes; sensitive nocturnal division; large, independently movable ears; elaborate tactile hairs; a well developed sense of smell; and large olfactory bulbs. The social relations and communication methods used by nocturnal creature is very different than the diurnal ones. Most communicate with scent markings and vocalizations such as trills, “kiks” and whistles. Most are social only when the gather at sleeping sites. There they engage in behavior such as grooming. a characteristic of many primates.

Loris Characteristics and Behavior

Lorises generally live until their mid teens. Their close-set eyes give them good stereoscopic vision. Their long, odd-looking arms allow them to move very quietly. According to Indian and Sri Lankan legend they move so quietly they are the only animals that can approach the peafowl, a bird that sleeps on the tops of trees, rear to rear, for protection from predators. In the legend the loris catches a peafowl it wrings its neck and eats it brains

Lorises appear lazy and slow. But don’t let appearances fool you. They are skilled hunters with extraordinary senses of sight, smell and hearing. Lorises feed almost exclusively on insects. They sneak up quietly on their prey and quickly grab it with their long, slender arm the same way a chameleon does with its tongue. They eat lots of locusts, occasionally eat slugs and are particularly fond of certain kinds of stinging ant and they cover themselves with their own urine as protection from the sting. Lorises and tarsiers are the only primates that eat mostly animal prey.

David Attenborough wrote: “The loris's hands are remarkable. Its thumbs are greatly enlarged but the second finger, the index, is reduced to a small stub. This means that the span of its grasp is very wide, enabling it to get a firm grip on quite stout branches. Its feet are modified in a similar way though the second toe on each foot, while very small, carries a claw that the animal uses for cleaning its fur.” They “move through the branches slowly. Their method of hunting relies on this. Having spotted an insect it moves slowly towards it, while holding on firmly with its hind legs it lifts it hands and only at the last minute, makes a sudden lunge. They actively mark their territories by dragging their rumps on branches and also by depositing a few drops of urine.”

pygmy slow loris

“The slender loris moves slowly and with great deliberation, seldom letting go with one limb unless its other three are firmly attached to something. And its grip is spectacular. If we grip something for more than a minute or so, our muscles tire and begin to ache. The loris, however, has a special mesh of blood vessels in its wrists and ankles that ensure that the muscles in its hands and feet are kept lavishly supplied with oxygen. As a result, the energy within the muscles is continually renewed and a loris can maintain a firm grip on a branch for 24 hours continuously. If you are by yourself, you will find it almost impossible to detach one from its branch if it is disinclined to leave. As fast as you remove one limb it will reattach itself with another.”

Most nocturnal primates live a solitary life, generally avoiding one other except for raising offspring. But this is not true with the slender loris. They generally hang out in pairs or small groups. They tend to gather outside the sleeping sites and groom each other, play and feed. Loris often sleep together on thorn trees for protection from predators such as fish owls, civets, jungle cats and house cats.

Females generally dominate males and dominant females are the most pronounced members of a loris community. They have access to the largest and most appetizing insects, chose when it is appropriate to groom and are strong enough to fend off unwanted advances by males. A typical group is made up of one or two adult males, one or two adult females, and two or three juveniles. Mature males often visit young unrelated female in the night.

Loris Mating

Female lorises reach sexual maturity at about age two and are capable of mating only a couple of days once or twice a year. The gestation period is about six months. About half the time twins are born. At other times a single infant in born. The demands of raising offspring usually limits the female from mating any more than about once a year.

Because the females don’t give birth all that often, the competition is fierce among males to mate with receptive females. Once their offspring are born the males share in the child rearing duties. Often the males most sought after by females hang around several females.

Loris copulate while hanging upside down from a branch. It is not known why they do this but in captivity if no branch is available they don’t mate. Lorises can copulate several times in a few hours and have sex for up to 15 minutes. While a couple is having sex there is often group of males hanging around, watching. Often there is a lot of hissing and growling between the male who is getting some and those that don’t. If a fight breaks out they are usually occur between two individuals and often can be quite nasty.

Young loris cling to their mothers the first few weeks of their life. After that mother the places them on a branch a while she forages.

Story About a Loris Sold in a Chinese Market

slow loris

Hu Fayun wrote: Old Fool is a tiny monkey. He’s not a kind of monkey we commonly see, but one that’s on the verge of extinction....Early last winter, my wife returned from the wet market and reported seeing a peddler selling two tiny monkeys; they were caged in a wire rattrap, curled up pitifully into little balls and huddled together to escape the cold. Each time my wife returned from the wet market she brought back a few of these heartrending stories: about a wounded muntjac deer with melancholy eyes; about a few small hedgehogs fighting fruitlessly to break free from a nylon net bag; about a row of brilliantly plumaged golden pheasant corpses; about a small squirrel struggling in the scorching sun for its final dying breath; about a clowder of cats crushed together and yowling piteously in chorus. There were also small squawking quail bouncing frenziedly in a basket, bare and bloody from being plucked featherless while alive. There were frogs, tortoises, soft-shelled turtles, and snakes—all of which, as recipes prescribe, had been skinned alive. There were also those docile and adorable pigeons, rabbits, and lambs. For these small creatures, every wet market is their Auschwitz concentration camp.[Source: "Old Fool: Elegy for a Monkey" by Hu Fayun, MCLC Resource Center, translated by Paul E. Festa, August 2017]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2014

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