Personality Test For Lemurs
June 19, 2013

Grey Mouse Lemurs Show Distinct Personality Traits

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Pet owners have known for a long time that each pet has its own, unique personality. It´s only in the last 10 years, however, that the study of animal personality has started to gain ground with behavioral ecologists.

Jennifer Verdolin of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and a colleague have now found distinct personalities in the grey mouse lemur - Microcebus murinus. The grey mouse lemur is a tiny, saucer-eyed primate native to the African island of Madagascar.

Verdolin gave fourteen gray mouse lemurs a personality test at the Duke Lemur Center. The lemurs´ reactions to a variety of familiar and unknown objects, such as a tissue box, an egg carton, an orange ball, and a stuffed toy frog, were videotaped by Verdolin as she placed the objects in the animals´ enclosure one at a time. Verdolin then measured the amount of time it took each animal to approach and investigate each object, labeling them “bold” if they were quick to approach, or “shy” if they behaved more cautiously.

The scientists also noted the level of agitation the lemurs exhibited when handled by their human caretakers during routine weigh-ins and cleanings, finding that those lemurs who hung back during the object tests were also harder for the handlers to care for. This suggests the lemurs´ distinct personality traits held up across a range of situations.

The staff at the Duke Lemur Center wasn´t shocked by the report that the mouse lemurs have distinct personalities. "[The mouse lemur named] Pesto is very chatty. Asparagus gets beat up by the girls. Wasabi is mean as sin, and her favorite flavor is human fingers," said Duke Lemur Center researcher Sarah Zehr. Previous studies have found evidence of distinct personality differences among grey mouse lemurs living in the wild.

Verdolin hopes that personality studies like this one will help researchers determine which individual animals in captivity are the best candidates for breeding programs or for reintroduction into the wild, as has been done with the giant panda, the North American swift fox and the golden lion tamarin.

Verdolin says the next step in her research is to determine the extent to which lemur personalities are influenced by the presence of other individuals. She also wonders if behavioral training for some personality types could improve their chances of surviving in the wild.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Primates.