You may be surprised to discover that humans didn’t habit Madagascar until recently. Settlers arrived as late as 500AD, which is probably the reason why its fauna has remained so diverse for so long. It’s incredible to see what sort of wildlife can flourish when not impacted by the presence of humans.
The remoteness of this island also made it perfect for pirates. They would hide out here with the rest of their crew when they weren’t pillaging the other boats at sea. Since there were very few laws on Madagascar as well as clean water and friendly natives, the island was an ideal hideaway for pirates.
Despite its size, Madagascar has a very dense population. On this massive island, the community is roughly 26.3 million people, making it even more populated than Australia, Greece, Romania, or the Netherlands.
All of those people were crammed into some populated regions around the island must be quite stifling. Even more so, given the fact that the Malagasies are trying to preserve their rainforests as much as possible. Unfortunately, deforestation has accelerated immensely since the human density started to rise on Madagascar about 1,400 years ago. Roughly 40 percent of Madagascar’s original forest was lost between 1950 and 2000, and the remaining forests have thinned by nearly 80 percent.
In Madagascar’s early history, East Africans and Arabs came here to develop trading posts as a means of commerce. Settlers began arriving on the island in waves in the period between 350 BC and 55 AD. Eventually, kings came into power and would extend their reach to their neighbors through this trade.
What really gave Madagascar’s leaders their power was that their location made them perfect for African countries to become part of the Silk Road, which was one of the most extensive sets of trade routes in the Eastern world, extending from Europe all the way to Java. The Silk Road connected the East and West from the 2nd century BCE and the 18th century.
The fossa is an exciting animal to view. Although it seems like a cat, it’s a relative of the mongoose. It’s entirely endemic to Madagascar, meaning that it can’t be found anywhere else in the world. This mammal is closely related to the mongoose family and physically resembles a cat.
It can grow up to about six feet long and weigh a little under 30 pounds. It has a long tail that helps it maintain its balance, as it likes to climb through the trees. It is on the endangered species list, due to their habitat being reduced through human intervention.
11. Spots and Stripes and All the Colors of the Rainbow
The panther chameleon is another animal that is endemic to Madagascar. A shame, because this reptile has some very striking colors! It can grow up to be nearly 8 inches long. Males are more colorful than female panther chameleons.
It is considered to be the most colorful of all the chameleons, with some of the most intriguing patterns researchers have ever seen. They’re also one of the largest in the chameleon family, making them very desirable for those who like keeping reptiles as pets. The panther chameleon eats only insects, shooting its long sticky tongue at them and pulling them into its mouth.
You’ve probably never heard of a tomato frog before. You can clearly see how this tiny amphibian got its name too. Anyone would mistake it for a tomato sitting on the ground in the middle of the forest.
When threatened, these tomato frogs secrete a white mucus from their skin that can be unsettling to look at. This mucus isn’t actually toxic, but it can be quite irritating if it gets in your mouth or eyes. Tomato frogs can live from between six and eight years. Adult tomato frogs can range from being deep red to yellow-orange in color.
The comet moth is also called the Madagascan moon moth and is considered to be one of the most beautiful moths in the world. Its wingspan can get as big as seven inches across, also making it one of the most giant moths in the world.
No one knows just how many of these there are in the world, which makes it difficult to determine whether they’re endangered or not. The female can lay between 120-150 eggs in one day, but so few of these will make it to adulthood. Add to the fact that some of these eggs are removed and sold in international trade makes it even more challenging to determine their status.
The Madagascar fody is a bird that is native to the island and has been introduced to the surrounding islands recently. They can be as big as about five inches long, and it’s only the males that have this bright red plumage. This beautiful bird closely resembles a cardinal bird that’s native to North and South America.
However, they’re not always red. Their plumage can be various shades of orange and yellow, and they go through a molting period right during the mating season that makes the males the same colors as the female: a drab olive-brown. The Madagascar fody eats mainly grass seeds and insects. They also eat fruits, copra, and nectar.
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is one of the most intriguing reptiles you’ll ever see. Or not see, because it’s so great at disguising itself in its environment. Also known as the eyelash leaf-tailed gecko, this tiny lizard only grows up to be three and a half inches long.
What makes this gecko so elusive is that it looks exactly like a pile of dead leaves. This not only helps it to blend into the environment to escape predators, but it also keeps it hidden from the insects it feeds on too. You can find the satanic leaf-tailed gecko in hues of brown, orange, yellow, purple, and tan.
This unusual animal is better known as the aye-aye. These nocturnal primates are known for their big ears and eyes that help them to locate food and see in the dark and are known for being the largest nocturnal primate in the world. The aye-aye feed on grubs that they find by tapping on trees much like a woodpecker. The method that they use is called percussive foraging and is only performed by one other species on earth: the striped possum.
They are considered an endangered species, but when they larger populations, the people of Madagascar would find the sight of one a bad omen. That’s understandable, given how bizarre these creatures look.
The painted Mantella is quite a colorful frog that comes in a wide variety of colors. No two frogs are precisely the same when it comes to their markings, either. Painted Mantella are typically yellow and black in color. Occasionally they can be found with green, red, and orange spots.
They’re pretty good at tolerating warm environments, being most active during the day. The reason for their coloring is to warn predators not to eat them because they can be quite toxic. Ingestion of one of these can make you quite ill. That is due to several poisonous alkaloids present in their skin.
The lowland streaked tenrec is one of the strangest looking creatures and is usually found scrounging on the ground. Its long pointed snout, disorganized quills, and tiny eyes give it quite a disheveled appearance. They can grow to be up to nearly seven inches long.
It stays low to the ground and roots around for insects in the dirt, though its diet also consists of worms, frogs, and sometimes small fish. Females can give birth to about eight young at a time, so they have many mouths to feed. You can find these unique creatures digging underground, roaming on land, or swimming in shallow water.
Your first instinct when you hear hissing is to freeze and not move because it could be a snake. This is hissing of a different kind, and you’re not going to find yourself on the end of a poisonous bite. The Madagascar hissing roach is quite fascinating if not for the fact that they’re still a cockroach.
They have no wings (thank god) and only using their hissing during a conflict or when they’re stressed. They are one of the largest cockroach species in the world and can be up to 3 inches in length. On Madagascar, you can find more than 20 species of the Madagascar hissing roach. Many people keep these giant bugs as pets.
The Madagascar long-eared owl is about 19 inches long, making it one of the largest giant owls on the island. It can reach lengths up to 20 inches. Surprisingly enough, the females are usually bigger than males. This owl is native to Madagascar and can be found only on the island.
Its white and brown appearance can be striking and even haunting if you spot one at night. They’re naturally nocturnal animals and very reclusive, so the chances of spotting one are very slim. They also have special feathers that make them completely silent when they fly so that they can catch their prey more effectively.
The sifaka is a type of lemur. Their name derives from the sound they make when they’re alerting the rest of their troops to danger. You may have seen this type of lemur on the popular kid’s show Zoboomafoo. They leap from tree trunk to tree trunk to travel and dine on fruit, leaves, and flowers.
They have a striking white and brown coat that’s actually quite soft to the touch. However, it’s not a good idea to get close to these as they’re on the endangered species list. Their body grows about 22 inches long, and that doesn’t even take in the length of their tails.
It’s hard to lump lemurs together into one group when there are so many different kinds of these mammals living on one island. Mouse lemurs alone comprise 20 different species and are considered the smallest group of primates in the world. The 24 different species of mouse lemur have evolved from a common ancestor dating back 10 million years.
Altogether, they’re about two inches long, not including their tails. Because they’re so elusive, there’s very little information on what their daily lives and practices are like, but they are a threatened species due to deforestation. Mouse lemurs have been named the most endangered vertebrates in the world.
These are the lemurs that you’re used to seeing in movies and on TV. The ring-tailed lemur got its name from the 13 black-and-white alternating stripes on its tail. Ring-tailed lemurs dine on plants, leaves, and fruits and are diurnal, which means that they are only active during the day.
What makes the ring-tailed lemur different from the others of its kind is that it spends 40% of its time on the ground; other lemurs prefer to remain in trees as much as possible. They can weigh up to about six pounds, with their tails getting as long as two feet.
Brookesia, also known as leaf chameleons, are some of the smallest reptiles you’ll find in Madagascar. They’re also the smallest chameleons you’ll ever lay your eyes on… if you can find one. It has only been in the last thirty years that the leaf chameleon has been identified to science.
They’re mostly brown in color, but they’re very secretive in nature. Only a small handful of their kind have been found in recent years, and they were discovered in very remote areas that were difficult to access. Because of their elusiveness, it has been hard for researchers to study the brookesia properly.
The red-ruffed lemur is definitely a fascinating creature to behold. If not for the beautiful rust-red color, it has a poof collar of fur around its head that makes its black faces stand out. They are roughly 20 inches long and have a tail that is 24 inches long.
They mostly reside in the northern part of Madagascar, living in the trees and eating primarily fruits, pollen and nectar to satisfy their sweet tooth. You wouldn’t think that with those large canines they have. The red-ruffed lemur is a fan of cleanliness and spends a significant portion of its day grooming itself as well as other lemurs around it.
Elephant birds once lived on Madagascar around 1000-1200 CE before they went extinct from human-related activities in around the 17th Century. People think that they were related to ostriches, but they had more in common with kiwi. Humans eradicated this species by hunting them and eating their eggs. They also used the elephant bird eggshells as bowls.
They were giant flightless birds that stood about 10 feet tall and weighed close to 1,600 pounds. Experts have had a hard time determining the diet of the elephant bird, but they believe it fed on vegetation like leaves, fruit, and shrubs.
Couas are mainly terrestrial birds that are closely related to the cuckoo. They enjoy walking along tree branches and are more recognizable by the bright skin they have around their eyes. There are ten different species of coua bird located in Madagascar.
They’re also known for having enormous feet for their size, which are great for walking on the ground of the dense forests they live in. Their third toe is actually reversible, which is common in all cuckoos. Four species of coua birds are found in the rainforests while the other six are in the dry forests, all around Madagascar.
It’s pretty apparent how the giraffe weevil bug got its name. However, it doesn’t use that long neck the same way giraffes do. The purpose of its long neck is to build nests and for winning in fights with other weevils. This unique insect is just under one inch long but is a tough opponent during a battle.
It’s the male that has the long neck, so it’s going to be territorial when there are other males around. Their breeding practices are weird too: the female will remove a single leaf, roll it up, and then lay a single egg inside it.
The giant-striped mongoose is giant… and striped. It’s also known as Grandidier’s mongoose. It lives in the southwestern parts of Madagascar, which consists of mostly deserts. This meat-eating mammal is one of the rarest carnivores in the entire world. The giant-striped mongoose is nocturnal and typically the most active during twilight.
It hunts at night, given that it’s nocturnal, and hides from the aggressive heat of the sun during the day by hiding in limestone holes. They’re very social animals and haven’t shown any aggression towards humans, even when they’re trapped. They mostly eat lizards and rodents but will resort to eating bugs.
The koala lemur is also an animal that was once native to Madagascar but went extinct. It was a “mega lemur” that measures at least five feet long, not including its tail. This extinct mammal exclusively dined on leaves and used a leaf-cropping method for foraging their meals.
It didn’t have the usual body shape that you’re used to seeing with a lemur, usually long and sleek. Instead, it was squatty, kind of like a koala. The form of its hands and feet didn’t make it conducive to walk around on all fours, so they were most likely tree-dwellers for all of their lives.
The beloved dugong dwells in the ocean waters around Madagascar. It is the only sea animal that is entirely herbivorous. Don’t mistake them for manatees; they look similar, but they have very different body structures and feast on different things. Dugongs are found in the waters of over 40 countries and territories in the Indo-West Pacific Ocean.
They were once mistaken for mermaids by sailors, though no one really knows how you can make that kind of mistake. Their life expectancy is about 70 years, but that has been shortened over the years and placed them on the endangered list.
The name whale shark may be misleading, but it is more of a shark than a whale. It is one of three shark species that are filter feeders. The most massive whale shark ever found was more than 60 feet long. The whale shark is the largest living vertebrate that is not a mammal.
It got the name “whale” for being generally docile and its large size. It can get as long as 33 feet, which dwarfs the basking shark, which can only get to about 20 feet long. Due to their gentle nature, diving and swimming with them have become a tourist attraction whenever one is spotted off the coast.
The bamboo lemur is exclusively found on Madagascar. They were first discovered on the island in 1851. These mammals closely resembled marmosets and were given the genus name Hapale, which comes from the Greek word for gentle.
They have short muzzles, round & hairy ears, and grey-brown fur. The bamboo lemur can reach lengths up to 18 inches with tails that are the same length or longer. These animals thrive in damp forests where plenty of bamboos grows. They typically are the most active right after dawn. Bamboo lemurs spend most of their time high in the trees, but will occasionally come down to the ground.
Also known as the babakoto, the indri is one of the largest lemur species in the world. Their bodies can reach up to 28 inches long, and they can weigh up to 21 pounds. The indri is distinguishable by its black and white fur coat. They are closely related to the sifaka and mostly stays active during the day.
This mammal stays upright when climbing or clinging to a tree branch. They live in small clusters and move through forest canopies together. Indris are herbivorous, feeding mostly on leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits. These animals communicate with one another by roaring, singing, and making other unique vocalizations.
Another unique animal found on Madagascar of the Pteropus, also known as the flying fox. This animal is a type of megabat that is one of the biggest species in the world. They reside mostly in tropical climates, making Madagascar the perfect habitat for these giant creatures.
Flying foxes are nocturnal and use a keen sense of smell to search for food and water. They mostly feed on plants and fruit, but will occasionally eat insects. Unlike most bats, flying foxes are unable to use echolocation to navigate their surroundings. Flying foxes live a long time, up to 15 years. In captivity, they have been known to live for almost 30 years.
The fanaloka is another animal endemic to the island of Madagascar. This mammal is also known as a jabady or striped civet. They are only about 20 inches long and can weigh up to 5 pounds. Fanaloka have a short coat that is grey and beige with dark horizontal stripes that run from their head to their tail.
Fanalokas are nocturnal and feed on bird eggs, insects, small vertebrates, and even aquatic animals. After the fossa, the fanaloka is the second largest carnivore found on Madagascar. They have been classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
We mentioned the coua before and told you that there were ten different species of this bird. One of these species is the blue coua. Like most of the animals on this list, this bird can only be found on the island of Madagascar.
These birds have a vibrant blue color with a unique blue oval surrounding their eyes that has no feathers. The blue coua has large feet with a third toe that is reversible. Its bulky body, short wings, and long tail make it easy to spot as it flies through the trees. This bird grows to be about 20 inches long and weighs just a few ounces.
The Nile crocodile is a giant reptile that resides in freshwater habitats in Africa. This species can be found in 26 countries around the world. It’s mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa and lives in marshlands, lakes, and rivers. You will rarely find a Nile crocodile in saltwater areas.
The average adult male Nile crocodile is nearly 17 feet long and weighs between 500 and 1,650 pounds. The Nile crocodile is known as Africa’s largest freshwater predator and quite possibly the second largest reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile. These creatures are notable for their thick, scaly skin that acts like body armor.
Also known as Phelsuma, the day gecko is a small lizard found in Madagascar. These tiny reptiles are considered severely endangered and can be regarded as a threat to individual species. Unlike most geckos, these reptiles are active mostly during the day.
They have round pupils and a transparent plate covering their eyes. Day geckos use their tongues to clean their eyes and keep them moist. You can find day geckos in blue, green, and red colors. Many reptile enthusiasts keep day geckos as pets. They are small, reaching between 2 and 12 inches in length. Small day gecko species live around 10 years, but some in captivity can live for more than 20 years.
Commonly referred to as the Malagasy leaf-nosed snake, the spear-nosed snake is another animal that is found only in Madagascar. This snake is extremely cryptic and hard to find. It dwells mostly in dry deciduous forests as well as rain forests.
The spear-nosed snake is typically found in vegetation that is around six to seven feet off the ground. They are small snakes, only reaching about three and a half feet in length. Male spear-nosed snakes have a brown body with a yellow belly. Female snakes have mottles grey bodies and leaf-shaped snouts. Being bit by a spear-nosed snake will cause severe pain in a human, but it’s not fatal.