Suitcase and World: The Cool Wildlife of Madagascar.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Cool Wildlife of Madagascar.

Fantastic Leaf-tailed Gecko, also known as a Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko.  (Photo by Thomas Marent/Caters News Agency)

When I think of Madagascar, I, like most people think of animals.  Oddly enough, I don't know what animals there are except for lemurs.  This is my opportunity to learn more about the animals that make Madagascar such a special place.

The island is home to some of the world's most unique flora and fauna. Almost all of Madagascar's reptile and amphibian species, half of its birds, and all of its lemurs are endemic to the island; meaning they can be found nowhere else on earth.  As of 2012, Madagascar is home to over 200 extant mammal species, including over 100 species of lemurs, about 300 species of birds, more than 260 species of reptiles, and at least 266 species of amphibians. The island also has a rich invertebrate fauna including earthworms, insects, spiders and nonmarine mollusks as well as a rich diversity of flora.  Mother Nature did some of her finest work here and we are coming to see as much of it as we can!

Ironically, the animals depicted in the popular cartoon, Madagascar, 
cannot be found on island....except the cute hippo.
In the words of Dr. Laurie Godfrey, in an article written for PBS's program, Living Edens:  Madagascar, a World Apart.
Madagascar is unusual not only for its endemic species, but also for the species that are conspicuously absent. Because of Madagascar's geographic isolation, many groups of plants and animals are entirely absent from the island. Some groups are represented only by species very recently introduced by humans. Missing on the island are the many species of large mammals — antelopes, elephants, zebras, camels, giraffes, hyenas, lions and cheetahs — that roam continental Africa today. The only large African mammal that “made it” to Madagascar prior to the arrival of humans several thousand years ago was the hippopotamus. Hippos, similar to those that occupy the Nile River basin today, apparently swam to Madagascar sometime during the Tertiary era. Their descendants underwent dwarfing and evolved into species unique to the island."
Continuing on, Dr. Godfrey writes,
"This distinctive biodiversity is a result of Madagascar's geographic isolation. Geologists believe that 165 million years ago Madagascar was connected to Africa, but began to drift away from the continent sometime during the next 15 million years. Paleontologists exploring Madagascar's Mesozoic era deposits have found the bones of dinosaurs, early birds and mammals. However, most of the groups of mammals and other terrestrial fauna that are well represented on Madagascar today had not evolved when Madagascar first split from continental Africa.

It is believed that the ancestors of these animals (including at least one species of primitive primates) arrived on this great island after having crossed large expanses of ocean by rafting on floating logs or matted vegetation. The subsequent adaptive radiation of these taxonomic groups is what makes Madagascar so special."
Much of Madagascar's fauna and flora species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. To no surprise, the primary cause is the destruction of natural habitats as well as hunting by man.

I was hoping to buy a guide on the animals of Madagascar so I can identify them when I see them but unfortunately, the book won't arrive in time so I have to read what I can before I leave.  There is no way, I will be able to cover all the animals in the country so I'm only going to focus on the most common ones that we could see at the time of year that we're there and in the areas that we will be traveling in.

Aye-aye.  Scary looking thing.  (Photo by Edward Louis)

 These rare animals are endemic to Madagascar and although they may not look like primates at first glance, they are in fact related to chimpanzees, apes, and humans.  My cousin 1,000,000 times removed :-)

Aye-ayes are dark brown or black and are distinguished by a bushy tail that is larger than their body. They also feature big eyes, slender fingers, and large, sensitive ears. Aye-ayes have pointed claws on all their fingers and toes except for their opposable big toes, which enable them to dangle from branches.

The aye-aye is a nocturnal creature that  feeds on insect larvae that it finds by tapping on tree bark with its stick-like middle finger. As it taps, the aye-aye listens for movement indicative of insects and gnaws away at the wood when it hears something appetizing.  It is thought to be the only mammal that hunts for its prey using echolocation!

Today the aye-aye is highly threatened by habitat loss (rainforest destruction) and hunting and is protected by law. In some areas, local people believe the aye-aye brings bad luck and will kill the animal whenever they encounter it.

Bamboo Lemur.  Cute fella!  (Photo by Robert Siegel)
Bamboo Lemur

The Bamboo or Gentle lemurs are the lemurs in genus Hapalemur. These medium-sized primates are endemic to Madagascar.

As you might have already surmised by now, the bamboo lemur gets its name from the fact that they almost exclusively eat bamboo.

The bamboo lemur is apparently tolerant of the extremely high concentrations of cyanide that is contained in the leaf shoots and stem piths of new growth bamboo.  How the bamboo lemur can detoxify the cyanide is still unknown.

 Bamboo lemurs are characterized by a grey-brown fur, which varies by species. Their muzzles are short and their ears are round and hairy. Lengths vary from 26 to 46 centimeters (10-18 inches), with tails just as long or longer, and they weigh up to 2.5 kilos (5.5 lbs)

Bamboo lemurs, are primarily arboreal animals, preferring rainforests and cloud forests where bamboo grows. Although they can be active any time of the day, they are often active just after dawn.

Indri.  (Photo from

The indri is the largest living lemur with some individuals reaching nearly a meter (3.3 feet) in height. The average Indri however, tends to be between 60 and 80 centimeters (24-31 inches) tall with a tail of just 5 centimers (2 inches) - all other Lemurs have tails that are around the same length as their bodies. 

The Indri has a dense coat of black silky fur with a varying number of white patches depending on the geographic region. Their toes and fingers are very dexterous and are good for grasping and their long hind legs aid them in leaping between vertical branches in the forest. The yellow eyes of the Indri face forwards to help them to judge the distance before making a jump.

The Indri is an herbivore that feeds on fruit and leaves in the canopy of the rainforests of eastern Madagascar.  The animal is famous for its eerie wail that sounds a bit like the song of a humpback whale.  I hope we get good guides that will be able to identify animals by call as well as by physical appearance.

Lepilemur (Photo by Raphael Medina)
Lepilemur lemur

Also known as Sportive or Weasel lemur, Lepilemurs are strictly nocturnal and predominantly arboreal.  They are easily spotted during daylight hours as they hide in leafy covering or rest in tree hollows. Lepilemurs, which are neither weasel-like nor sportive, feed on leaves and are quite vocal at night.

The fur of Lepilmur is gray brown or reddish colored on the top and whitish yellow underneath. They typically have a short head with large, round ears. They grow to a length of 30 to 35 cm (12-14 inches) with a tail just about as long as their body and weigh up to a kilo (2.2 lbs).

Lepilemurs are mainly herbivores and their diet consists predominantly of leaves.

Mouse Lemur (Photo from
Mouse Lemur

Mouse lemurs are the one of the world's smallest primates, and one of the smallest lemurs on Madagascar.  The mouse lemur was named after its size and appearance that resembles that of a mouse.  Teeny, tiny, the mouse lemur measures just around 6-12 centimeters (2.25 to 4.75 inches) long with a 12 centimeter (4.75 inch) long tail.  They only weigh about 30-109 grams (1-4 ozs)

Mouse lemurs are forest dwellers that are predominantly arboreal.  They are omnivores feeding on insects, small vertebrates, fruit, and flowers.

Although threatened, the grey mouse lemur is considered to be one of the most abundant primates on the island.  Female lesser mouse lemurs enter a dormant state during Madagascar's dry season, from April or May to September or October. Females are inactive during this time and may not leave their tree holes. During the same season, however, males are more active.  Hopefully, we'll catch sight of one because if you ask me, they are just darn cute!

Red Fronted Brown Lemur (Photo by Jialiang Gao)
Red Fronted Brown Lemur

The Red Fronted Brown Lemur is widely distributed in the dry deciduous forests of western Madagascar, where it feeds on flowers, leaves, seed pods, fruit, insects, and bark.

The Red-fronted Brown Lemur has a head and body length of 35-48 centimetres (14-19 inches) and a tail length of 45-55 centimetres (18-22 inches).  Its weight  ranges between 2.2 and 2.3 kilograms (4.9 and 5.1 lbs). It has a gray coat and black face, muzzle and forehead, plus a black line from the muzzle to the forehead, with white eyebrow patches.  Males have white or cream colored cheeks and beards, while females have reddish brown or cream cheeks and beards that are less bushy than males.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Photo from

The Black and White Ruffed Lemur is the more endangered of the two species of ruffed lemurs, both of which are endemic to  Madagascar.

The Black and White Ruffed Lemur ranges in length from 100-120 centimeters (3.3-3.9 feet) and weighs between 3.1- 4.1 kilos (6.8-9.0 lbs).

They are arboreal, spending most of their time in the high canopy of the seasonal rainforests on the eastern side of the island. They are also diurnal, active exclusively in daylight hours.

They are frugivores with a diets that consists mainly of fruit, although nectar and flowers are also favored, followed by leaves and some seeds.

Ring-Tailed Lemur

The ring-tailed lemur is the best known and best recognized of lemurs thanks in part to their long, vividly striped, black-and-white tail.

The average adult males weighs around 3 kilos (6.6 lbs); females are usually smaller.

Ring-TailedL emur backs are gray to rosy brown, limbs are gray, and their heads and neck are dark gray. They have white bellies. Their faces are white with dark triangular eye patches and a black nose. Their tails are ringed with 13 alternating black and white bands and can measure up to 61 cm (24 inches) in length.

Ringtails live in the dry forests of southern and western Madagascar but unlike most other lemurs, they pend 40 percent of their time on the ground.  They forage for fruit, which makes up the greater part of their diet, but also eat leaves, flowers, tree bark, and sap. They also eat fruit, herbs, and small vertebrates.

Verreaux's Sifaka on the move. (Photo by Robyn Gianni)
Verreaux's Sifaka

Sifakas are relatiely large lemurs found throughout Madagascar.
From head to start of the tail, adults measure about 46 centimeters (18 inches) with a tail of the same length.  They weigh anywhere from 3.2-6 kilos (7-13 lbs).

Verreaux's Sifaka's have a fur that is thick and silky and is generally white with brown on the sides, top of the head, and on the arms. Like all sifakas, it has a long tail that it uses as a balance when leaping from tree to tree.

Verreaux's Sifaka is an herbivore that lives in the dry forests of western and southern Madagascar, where it forages, in the daytime, for leaves, flowers, fruit, buds, and tree bark.  They have been known to eat about a hundred different plants.

Verreaux's Sifaka's are so highly adapted to an arboreal existence that on open ground its only means of locomotion is a two-legged sideways hop. Hence, they are sometimes known as *dancing lemurs*.  After watching them on a YouTube video, I really hope we not only get to see one of these beautiful creatures but we get to see them hopping about.

Madagascan Flying Fox.  Photo by The Travelling Taxonomist
Madagascan Flying Fox

I guess if you call this cute and adorable (yes, I think they're adorable) creature a bat, many people would shriek and run. So, they're given a more more acceptable nickname - flying fox.

But this is no fox but a megabat meaning it's a big bat.  This is the largest bat in Madagascar, with a body length of 23.5–27 centimeters (9.1–10.5 inches), a wingspan of 100–125 centimeters (39–49 inches), and a body weight of 500–750 grams  (1.1-1.65 lb).

I've seen them India and Sri Lanka and no surprise, they also live in the subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests on Madagascar.  Here, the feed on fruits, flowers, and leaves.

Fossa.  (Photo by Chad Teer)

The fossa is Madagascar's top predator. If we encounter one, I hope it's from a distance and I'll look at through my zoom lens!

The fossa is a cat-like, carnivorous mammal endemic to Madagascar that is closely related to the mongoose family. Its classification has been controversial because its physical traits resemble those of cats, yet other traits suggest a close relationship with civets. 

Adults have a head-body length of 70–80 centimeters (28–31 inches) and weigh between 5.5-8.6 kilos (12-19 lbs), with the males larger than the females. It has semiretractable claws and flexible ankles that allow it to climb up and down trees head-first, and also support jumping from tree to tree.

The species is widespread, although population densities are usually low. It is found solely in forested habitat, and actively hunts both by day and night. Over 50% of its diet consists of lemurs, tenrecs, rodents, lizards, birds, and other animals are also documented as prey. They also prey on chickens in and around Malagasy villages and are hunted by local people as vermin.

Fanaloka (Photo by Sean Crane)

Also known as the Malagasy civet, the fanaloka is a small civet, endemic to Madagascar.

The fanaloka is a small mammal, about 47 centimetres (19 inhes) long excluding the tail which is only about 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) in length. The fanaloka can weigh 1.5-2.0 kilograms (3.3-4.4 lbs).

The fanaloka has a short coat greyish beige or brown in color, with dark black horizontal stripes running from head to tail, where the stripes are vertical, wrapping around the bushier tail. The stripes morph into spots near the belly. Its legs are short and very thin.

Fanaloka are nocturnal creatures that live in the tropical forests of the eastern and northern areas of Madagascar where they feed on small vertebrates, insects, aquatic animals, and eggs stolen from birds' nests.

George is forever asking me if I am eating civet - it's his way of teasing me about being such an adventurous eater.  I think he'll get a kick out of seeing the civet's Malagasy cousin!   Of course, this presumes that a) we go on a night walk through a park and b) that we actually cross paths with one of these elusive creatures!  Fingers crossed.

Lowland Streaked Tenrec (Photo by Frank Vassen)

Tenrecs are a family of 34 species of mammals found on Madagascar and in parts of the African mainland.  30 of the 34 species can be found on Madagasacar.

Tenrecs are widely diverse; as a result of convergent evolution, they resemble hedgehogs, shrews, opossums, mice and even otters.
They occupy aquatic, arboreal, terrestrial and fossorial environments. Some of these species, including the greater hedgehog tenrec, can be found in the Madagascar dry deciduous forests.

Blue Coua.  Photo by Yvonne Stevens
Blue Coua

Incredibly, 258 bird species call Madagascar home with 115 of these being endemic to the island.  One of the more common birds is the Blue Coua, a member of the cuckoo family.

The Blue Coua has deep blue colored feathers with bare, oval, blue-colored skin around each eye and black bills..

The bird averages 48–50 centimeters (18-19 inches) in length and weighs 225–268 grams (8-9.5 ounces), females slightly larger.

The birds can be found in the northwestern and eastern areas of Madagascar in subtropical or tropical dry or moist lowland forests, mangroves and moist montanes.

Blue Couas feed primarily on various insects, small reptiles and fruits, and likely seeds.

Thanks to the brilliant blue feathers, this bird will be easy to identify if we spot it!

Brookesia Chameleon (Photo from Delaplian's Blog)
Brookesia Chameleon

Madagascar is home to about half the world's 150 or so species of chameleons, which are small to mid-size reptiles that are famous for their ability to dramatically change colors. Contrary to popular belief, a chameleon typically does not change colors to match its surroundings. Instead color is usually used to convey emotions, defend territories, and communicate with mates.

Brookesia is a genus of chameleons endemic to Madagascar, that range from small to very small in size -
one species reaches a maximum length of just over 30 millimeters (a little over an inch).  They are 
collectively known as leaf or stumped-tailed chameleons.

Brookesia chameleons are found in the leaf litter of rainforests and dry deciduous forests in much of Madagascar.  They feed on small insects and rely on their cyptic coloration to evade predators. When disturbed, these chameleons will play dead in an effort to resemble a fallen leaf.

These creatures are so diminutive, I hope we can actually spot one!  If we do, I definitely, want to have it sit on my finger for a photo.

Day Gecko (Photo by Manuel Werner)
Day Gecko

The Madagascar Day Gecko is a diurnal subspecies of geckos. It lives on the eastern coast of Madagascar and typically inhabits rainforests and dwells on trees. The Madagascar day gecko feeds on insects, fruit and nectar

Day Geckos can reach a total length of about 22 centimeters (8.7 inches). The body color is light green or bluish green. The skin between the scales often has a light color. A rust colored stripe extends from the nostril to behind the eye. On the back there are brownish or red-brick colored dots which may form a thin line along the mid back. These geckos do not have eyelids, and they have flattened toe pads.

I'm not fond of reptiles but these guys are pretty cute looking.  I'll admire them from a safe distance. Hopefully, George won't try to terrorize me by putting one on me.  I will die.

Uroplatus Gecko.  Not a pretty thing.  (Photo by Yannick Perret)
Uroplatus Gecko

The generic name, Uroplatus, is a Latinization of two Greek words: "ourá" meaning "tail" and "platys"  meaning "flat".  Looking at an image of the creature, I can see why it was so named!

Uroplatus are commonly referred to as leaf-tail geckos, leaf-tailed geckos, or flat-tailed geckos.  They are endemic to the forests of Madagascar and its coastal islands. They are nocturnal, arboreal and are insectivores.

Sizewise, they range in total length (including tail) from about 10-30 centimers (4-12 inches) in length.

The Uroplatus Gecko is just about the coolest animal I've read about so far and I would be so thrilled to see one!  What makes them unique is their highly cryptic coloration, which acts as camouflage, most being grayish-brown to black or greenish-brown with various markings resembling tree bark.

There are two variations of this camouflage: leaf form, and bark form. The leaf form is present in four species.  The species that fall in the bark form category blend almost seamlessly with the tree bark they are resting on; the geckos  sleep with their heads downward, flattened against tree trunks and adjusting their body coloration to their surroundings. Some of these tree bark forms have developed a flap of skin, running the length of the body, known as a "dermal flap", which they lay against the tree during the day, scattering shadows, and making their outline practically invisible.

These are just about the coolest animals I've read about so far!  I came across this image and despite staring at it for several minutes, I still cannot pick out the two geckos that are in it.  I am absolutely astounded as to how well this creature is camouflaged against the bark.  How does it do this??

Uroplatus pietschmanni, the cork-bark leaf-tailed gecko.  (Photo by Travelling Taxonomist)

I think I can spot the head of one (bottom of the photo, near the middle from left to righ)  but from there, can't figure out the rest of the body.  The trick is to look for the eyes but if those are closed, I don't know how you would ever see this gecko.

Leaf-nosed Snake (Photo from Wildlife and Nature Travel)
Leaf-nosed Snake

I will just start by saying that I DO NOT LIKE snakes.  No....don't like them at all.

Unfortunately for me, Madagascar is home to more than 80 species of snakes.  Thankfully, none of which are overtly dangerous to humans - the island has no adders, cobras, mambas, pythons, or vipers—only boas and colubrids.

The Malagasy Leaf-nosed Snake is a medium-sized highly cryptic arboreal species that is endemic to Madagascar.  It is found in deciduous dry forests and rain forests, often in vegetation 1.5 to 2 meters above the ground.  Oh no....they'll be at eye height for me.  Hopefully, I will spot it before it spots me.

The snake can grow up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length and is venomus; a bite will cause severe pain but not death.  Oh...that's good to know.  Luckily, I'm far too big to be their prey which typically include lizards.

Painted Mantella Frog (Photo by Nick Garbutt)
Mantella Frog

Madagascar is thought to have more than 300 species of frogs, 99 percent of which are endemic. Frogs are the only amphibians found in Madagascar—there are no toads, salamanders, or newts.

These are small frogs typically reaching 2–3 centimeters (0.79–1.18 in) in size.  These strikingly beautiful frogs come in  iridescent colors with combinations of black, blue, orange, yellow, and green that reflect the toxic nature of their skins. Several species in the genus are threatened because of habitat loss and over-collection for the international pet trade.

I'm not a fan of amphibians but these cute little frogs could win me long as they don't jump on me.

Tomato Frog (Photo by Franco Andreone)
Tomato Frog

This guy looks cute but looks can definitely be deceiving!

Tomato Frogs are endemic to Madagascar.  Their name obviously references the color of their bright red skin.

A large, round, orange/red frog, females are larger than males and can reach 10 centimeters (4 inches) in length while males can reach 5-7.6 centimeters (2 to 3 inches) in length.

The head is short and wide, and harbors a mouth full of teeth - an aspect not common to amphibians. The eyes sit high on the head and bear thick eye lids.

The Tomato Frog is a nocturnal, terrestrial, rainforest species that feeds primarily on small insects in invertebrates.

When threatened, a tomato frog puffs up its body. If a predator grabs a tomato frog in its mouth, the frog's skin secretes a thick substance that protects it against colubrid snakes, cats, and dogs. The secreted substance can produce an allergic reaction in humans as well.  Note to George:  Do not pick up frog and do not throw at Julee!

March of the Flatid Leaf Bugs. (Photo by Thomas Marent/Minden Pictures)
Flatid Leaf Bugs

I don't like bugs and I wasn't going to feature any on this blog posting but then I saw an image of the Flatid Leaf Bug and I changed my mind.  These bugs are so pretty!

The Madagascan Flatid Leaf Bug, Phromnia rosea, is a beautiful pink-red color in its adult form.  They huddle together for protection.  At first glance, I thought it was an unusual plant I was looking at and not a bug.

But they are indeed true bugs. It has piercing mouthparts which is uses to suck sap out of plants.

The nymph stage looks completely different from the adult stage.  Lacking the colors and wings of the adults, the young secrete a white substance from their abdomen that is suppose to protect them from predators.  The most certainly look very unusual and are oddly beautiful, in their own way!

Flatid Leaf Bug Nymphs (Photo by black)

Comet Moth

Photo from The Magic of Life

I opened this blog posting with the image of an interesting animal and I close with a beautiful one.  I present to you, the Comet Moth, also known as the Madagascan Moon Moth.  The Comet Moth got its name from its long, fluttering hindwings which measure up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) in length and a tail span of 15 centimeters (6 inches), making it one of the world's largest silk moths.

The eyespots on the moth's wings are not only intricate studies in color but they are also critical to the moth's defense.  When threatened, the comet moth can quickly open its wings. The sudden appearance of “eyes” may startle predators or redirect the attack away from the moth’s more vulnerable body parts.

The adult moth cannot feed and only lives for 4 to 5 days but these are common enough that we should be able to see one....I hope.

I know I have barely nicked the surface of the diverse wildlife that calls Madagascar home.  Not to mention the fact that I've not even done any reading on the unique flora of the island.  But, I'm ready to close this posting.

We don't have much time on the island but we will be visiting a few national parks.  I hope that we can do a few night walks as well as many of Madagascar's wildlife only come out in the dark.

I'm so excited!