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These baby triplets just made their debut at Duke. They could aid astronaut research.

Fat-tailed dwarf lemur triplets born at Duke Lemur Center

Fat-tailed dwarf lemur triplets were born at Duke Lemur Center in June, and revealed to the world August 1, 2019.
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Fat-tailed dwarf lemur triplets were born at Duke Lemur Center in June, and revealed to the world August 1, 2019.

Babies Albatross, Bustard and Elephant Bird were just unveiled to the world Thursday. But these aren’t bird babies — they’re fat-tailed dwarf lemurs who are the newest additions to the Duke Lemur Center.

Sara Clark, director of communications at the lemur center, said the triplets were born at the center on June 25 to their tiny parents, Emu and Kookaburra.

They each weighed about 14 to 15 grams during their first weigh-in, and they’re expected to get to around half a pound in their adulthood. For comparison, they start off around the weight of three sheets of paper, and by adulthood they’re as heavy as three tennis balls.

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A two day old fat-tailed dwarf lemur squints out at the world during its first weigh-in. The triplets weighed around 15 grams at the time. That’s about the same as three sheets of paper, or six pennies. Sara Clark Sara Clark

Fat-tailed dwarf lemurs are one of the smallest species of lemurs in Madagascar. Clark said that this kind of lemur is important for non-invasive research because of some peculiar traits. Aside from being nocturnal, they’re the only primate that goes into torpor, or a period of extreme inactivity. During the dry season in Madagascar, the fat-tailed lemurs crawl into trees and ground burrows and take life extremely slow for around seven months at a time.

“Their temperature drops to a couple of degrees above ambient temperature, their heart beat drops to around four beats per minute, and they take one breath about every 10 to 15 minutes,” said Clark. To prepare for their long hibernation, fat-tailed dwarf lemurs gorge on fruits to store up fat.

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Triplet fat-tailed dwarf lemurs seventeen days after their births at the Duke Lemur Center. The fat-tailed lemurs are the only primate species that hibernates for extended periods, crawling into trees and ground burrows during the Madagascar dry season for seven months at a time. David Haring David Haring

And where do they store all that fat? You guessed it: in their tails. They begin torpor with around 40% of their body weight packed into their tails.

“By the time they emerge from hibernation, they have a skinny tail,” Clark said.

This lemur torpor state could be helpful for astronauts in the future, according to Clark. If humans could hibernate, they could travel much further through space than is currently possible. National Geographic also reported that human torpor states would help people awaiting organ transplants, or wounded soldiers awaiting medical aid.

The baby triplets at the Lemur Center spent most of their earliest days in the company of their mother Emu, said Clark. They have, in a short period of time, gone from spending all their time nursing and being groomed in the nest to eating solid foods and exploring their new, expanded enclosure.

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The triplet’s mother Mother Emu and her brother at 16 days old, around the same age the triplets’ portrait was taken. Sara Clark Sara Clark

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