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Madagascar's Top 10 Animal Oddities

A selection of Madagascar's Top 10 Weird & Wonderful animals

Derek

Derek

Guide book author with an extreme passion for Madagascar and Ethiopia!
Published on

05 Feb 2018

Read time

10 minutes

Fosa  Kanto  Licking  Chops

More than 80% of tourists going to Madagascar are attracted by the island's wildlife. Almost everything you see and touch there is endemic, that is to say found nowhere else. A lengthy isolation from Africa and later India, allowed for its wildlife to evolve gently in an 'asylum' environment, free from great predators. While many people visit to see the lemurs, you'll encounter all sorts of extraordinary life forms. Here are ten of them:

1. The nocturnal geckos of the genus 'Uroplatus' are accomplished masters of camouflage, with some species resembling bark while others look like dead leaves. Uroplatus ebenaui or the Spearpoint leaf-tailed gecko is one of the latter groups. Craig saw this one near Montagne d'Ambre National Park.

Ebene Leaf Tailed Gecko - Toky Andriamora
Spearpoint leaftailed gecko, Montagne d'Ambre (Toky Andriamora)

2. Without doubt, strangest of all the Lemurs - if not of all primates - is the nocturnal, cat-sized Aye aye. It is fairly widely distributed but scarce and elusive. It looks like a random selection of animal parts crudely glued together, with large, bat-like ears, a bushy, foxy tail and ever-growing, rodent-like incisors. But its those hands which are like nothing else: the middle finger is thin and elongated, enabling the lemur to extract grubs from holes which it gnaws into branches or tree-trunks. The best places in which to seek it are at Ranomafana National Park near where there is a challenging hike at Kianjavato, or on a small wooded islet in Lac Ampitabe off the relaxed Le Palmarium Hotel. (This is at the Pangalanes Canal in Eastern Madagascar).

Aye Aye
Aye aye

3. Madagascar is filled with delightful 'small-scale marvels' as guidebook publisher and Madagascar expert Hilary Bradt wrote in her Bradt Madagascar Guide.. One of the better known examples is the Giraffe-necked weevil, a red and black beetle in which the males have particularly elongated necks. They are easily located at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park where guides know which shrubs and bushes they feed on.

Giraffe Necked Weevil By Alex Strauss
Giraffe-necked weevil (male) - Alex Strauss

4. Madagascar is home to more than half the world's chameleons including the largest, the two-foot long Parson's chameleon and the tiniest, the Pygmy stumptailed chameleon (Brookesia micra). One of the most intriguing though, is Labord's chameleon (Furcifer labordi) which inhabits the dry forest in and around Kirindy Forest. What makes this animal remarkable is its 'live fast die young' life cycle of about 4-5 months, shorter than that of any other tetrapod. Tied to the long, dry season in the western plains, it works as follows: the eggs hatch during the November rains. In about two months the young become adults ready to breed. Both sexes sport striking colour patterns. After a brief breeding season in the Malagasy summer (January-February) the whole adult population dies off. Which means that for the duration of the long dry season (May - October) the entire population of the species exists only as eggs buried underground.

Labords Chameleon Female Kirindy
Labord's chameleon female, Kirindy (Dr Franco Andreone)

5. The four members of the Asity family are as odd as many other 'Things Madagascar': two, the Velvet and Schlegel's asitys, are plump and resemble broadbills. The other two members of this odd little endemic family, couldn't be more different: the tiny Common and Yellow-bellied Sunbird-asitys were for decades called 'False sunbirds', because of their long, curved bills adapted to feeding on nectar. Then, taxonomic investigations revealed their affinities with the larger Asitys 'proper'. Males of all four species - such as this Velvet asity photographed at Ranomafana National Park. sport near-fluorescent cobalt and green facial wattles and caruncles.as part of their breeding regalia. When displaying, males can raise certain facial wattles and perform acrobatic manoeuvres reminiscent of pole-dancing. Also unusual is that they engage in 'lek' breeding behaviour.

Velvet Asity Frank Vassen Ranomafana Np
Velvet asity (male), Ranomafana NP (by Frank Vassen)

6. Biggest of Madagascar's carnivores is the lithe Fosa (also spelled Fossa). Which while it looks like a dwarf , elongated and low-slung Puma of sorts, isn't related to cats. Rather, it is one of the island's endemic Viverrids, more aligned to the mongoose family. Fosa is a formidable predator - its favoured prey items are lemurs such as the acrobatic Sifakas, which can leap 20 feet between trees if pressed. In high-speed arboreal chases, Fosa can comfortably clear the same distances. Pound for pound, they are among the most powerful carnivores. They are widely but thinly distributed. Fosa are readily seen in one place: Kirindy Forest where a few individuals have become quite habituated to people around the researchers' campsite. Females are site- faithful and return to the same tree annually (usually in late October - early November) to mate with several males.

Fosa Kanto Licking Chops
Fosa

7. Snakes of the bizarre genus 'Langaha' are among the island's many impressive endemic creepy-crawlies. In the very distinctive Madagascar spear-nosed snake (L, madagascariensis), males are yellow and tan, with a spear-shaped nasal appendage. .

Langaha Madagascariensis
Male Madagascar spear-nosed snake

Females look like a different species altogether, greyish in colour with a serrated, leaf-shaped nasal extension giving rise to the name 'Madagascar leaf-nosed snake'. The species is quite widely distributed and can be seen in locations such as Lokobe in the Nosy Be Archipelago, Anjajavy Reserve and Zombitse Forest in the interior south-west

Female Langaha Madagascariensis
Female Madagascar spear-nosed snake (Alex Telford)

8. Biggest of Madagascar's endemic rodents, the Giant jumping rat is an endangered inhabitant of the dry deciduous forests of the Menabe region. Threats to its existence including a slow reproductive rate, habitat destruction and a narrow range of only some 200km2. Visitors to Kirindy Forest stand a fair chance of seeing this charming, rabbit-sized rodent which has strong back legs enabling it to hop around like a little kangaroo when pursued by predators such as Fosa. It is one of the subjects of respected NGO Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust's SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) programmes and has bred well at their Jersey Zoo.



Giant Jumping Rat Tom Junek
Giant Jumping rat (Tom Junek)

9. Parson's chameleon is the grand-daddy of all chameleons, measuring up to 2 feet. (68cm). These mostly emerald green giants inhabit the rainforests of Eastern Madagascar where they are best sought in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and also in Ranomafana National Park. Males have a hard ridge above the eyes culminating in two short horns. Like other chameleons, they initially reflect white in torch beams so are often easier to spot at night. Astonishingly, their eggs, which are buried underground, take two years to hatch.

Parsons Chameleon Jialiang Gao
Male Parson's chameleon (J Gao)

10. What would a round-up of Malagasy wildlife be without the smallest of all Primates? Madame Berthe's mouse lemur is yet another inhabitant of the seriously threatened tropical dry deciduous forests in the Menabe region near Morondava. It can be seen relatively easily during guided night walks at Kirindy Forest and nearby Marofandilia Forest in Western Madagascar. The species has an average body length of 9.2 cm and weight of about 30 grams so fits comfortably into an egg cup.

Berthes Mouse Lemur - Gerald Cubitt
Madame Berthe's mouse lemur (Gerald Cubitt)

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