Vari from an English edition of Buffon's Histoire naturelle, 1812.
This print is of a black and white ruffed lemur, also called maki vari in French and vaikandra in Malagasy. Ruffed lemurs are from the genus Varencia in the strepsirrhine suborder of primates. They are the largest extant lemurs, measuring an average of forty-seven inches from head to tail, and weighing approximately seven to nine pounds. Their tails, which are longer than their bodies, are used for balance when they walk or leap from branch to branch. Like other strepsirrhines, lemurs have a toothcomb (long, outward angled teeth) and a toilet-claw (long nail on the second toe) that they use to groom themselves or other group members. Ruffed lemurs breed seasonally are the only primates that build nests for their newborns. Found only on the island of Madagascar, they are sensitive to habitat disturbances and therefore face possible extinction. Fortunately they have been successfully bred in captivity and efforts have been made since 1997 to reintroduce them to the wild.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, (1707-1788) was a French naturalist and mathematician who had a profound effect on science. His work influenced the next two generations of naturalists and he was one of the most widely read authors of the day. He was the director of the Jardin du Roi, which is now the Jardin des Plantes, and was instrumental in transforming it into a research facility and museum. Buffon's great masterpiece is Histoire naturelle, which consisted of thirty-six volumes published from 1749 until 1788. Another volume was published posthumously based on his notes. Originally meant to cover all three taxonomic kingdoms, it only contains information on the animal and mineral kingdoms. Some of his theories put him at odds with other leading thinkers. For example, Buffon's theory that the new world was inferior to the old because it lacked large and powerful creatures, so angered Thomas Jefferson that he sent twenty soldiers to catch a bull moose to prove he was mistaken.