le·​mur ˈlē-mər How to pronounce lemur (audio)
: any of various arboreal diurnal or nocturnal, chiefly arboreal primates (superfamily Lemuroidea) of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands that usually have a longish muzzle, large eyes, very soft woolly fur, and a long furry tail and that feed on fruit and plant parts (such as leaves, flowers, and seeds) and sometimes insects and small animals

Note: Unlike most other primates, lemurs have a well-developed sense of smell. Physical and genetic characteristics indicate that all lemurs descended from a common prosimian ancestor that arrived in Madagascar approximately 55 to 60 million years ago.

Though matriarchy is rare in primates, female dominance is the norm for most lemur species.Patricia Edmonds
As a consequence of these activities and others, such as illicit hunting, most of the larger extant lemurs of Madagascar have very restricted ranges,David A. Burney and Ross D. E. MacPhee
… chimpanzees and sifakas, a species of lemur from Madagascar, are more active and show less stereotypical behavior when shifted from indoor to outdoor enclosures.Jeffrey P. Cohn

Illustration of lemur

Illustration of lemur

Examples of lemur in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In Tucson, black-and-white ruffed lemurs raise a ruckus Netzin and Dieter Steklis observed the animals' reaction to the eclipse at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson. Trilce Estrada Olvera, The Arizona Republic, 10 Apr. 2024 Apes–including humans and chimpanzees–are all primates who do not have long tails like lemurs and our other monkey relatives. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 29 Feb. 2024 In their spring mating season, male lemurs attract female lemurs with a fruity, floral scent. Sean Mowbray, Discover Magazine, 20 Oct. 2023 Ubiquitous African wildlife, such as monkeys, elephants, and big cats, never lived here—instead, this jungle-dripping island is home to lemurs, chameleons, and thousands of rare birds, many of which exist nowhere else on Earth. Chris Schalkx, Vogue, 15 Mar. 2024 Prior to entering this state, the lemur stores fat in its tail, with the enlarged appendage accounting for as much as 40 percent of the critters’ body weight. Sean Mowbray, Discover Magazine, 26 Dec. 2023 While Madagascar is famously home to lemurs, the large island also harbors another bushy-tailed creature, one that’s long gone undetected — until now. Brendan Rascius, Miami Herald, 1 Feb. 2024 The species resembled lemurs found in Madagascar today. Sara Novak, Discover Magazine, 21 Nov. 2023 This year, the model locomotives and boxcars chug over trestles and past models of pollinators such as giant bees, butterflies and flowers, and scenes that include a lemur pollinating a flower. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 22 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'lemur.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from New Latin Lemur, genus name (now applied only to the ring-tailed lemur, Lemur catta), going back to Latin lemurēs, plural, "malevolent spirits of the dead" — more at lemures

Note: The genus name Lemur was used by linnaeus in Systema naturae, tenth edition, vol. 1 (Stockholm, 1758), pp. 29-30. He applied the name to three animals, the slender loris of Sri Lanka (now Loris tardigradus), the ring-tailed lemur (still Lemur catta), and the colugo or flying lemur (now Cynocephalus volans). In an earlier work, a description of specimens in the museum of the Swedish king Adolf Frederick (Museum …Adolphi Friderici regis, Stockholm, 1754), Linnaeus introduced Lemur exclusively as a name for the slender loris, the basic anatomy of which he describes (pp. 3-4). He explains the name as follows: "I have called these lemures because they walk around primarily at night, resembling to a degree humans, and wander with a slow step" ("Lemures dixi hos, quod noctu imprimis obambulant, hominibus quodammodo similes, & lento passu vagant"). The work is written in both Latin and Swedish in parallel columns, and in the corresponding Swedish text the animal is named pysling (now pyssling) "little person, dwarf, troll"—not an accurate equivalent of Latin lemur, and perhaps suggesting that Linnaeus did not completely understand the meaning of the word.

First Known Use

1795, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of lemur was in 1795

Dictionary Entries Near lemur

Cite this Entry

“Lemur.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lemur. Accessed 21 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


le·​mur ˈlē-mər How to pronounce lemur (audio)
: any of various tree-dwelling primates that are active at night, usually have large eyes, very soft woolly fur, and a long furry tail and were formerly widespread but are now found mainly in Madagascar

from Latin lemures (plural) "ghosts"

Word Origin
The large island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa is home to many unusual animals. Some of these animals live in trees and are active at night. Their big eyes give them an eerie look, especially when the animals are moving through the trees at night. When 18th century scientists saw these mammals for the first time, they thought the creatures looked like ghosts. They named the animals lemurs. This name comes from the Latin word lemures, meaning "ghosts." In Roman legend lemures were the spirits of people left unburied, who returned by night from the dead to haunt the living.

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