30 Jan Six Trippy Animals You Can Only See on a Trip to Madagascar
A trip to Madagascar offers nature lovers the chance to come face-to-face with some of the most extraordinary and unique creatures in the world. The island nation is often to referred to as the “eighth continent” because its flora and fauna are so wildly different from that of any other place on earth. The island’s long isolation from neighboring continents has given rise to distinct, often bizarre species, which collectively account for 5% of our planet’s total biodiversity. In fact, 80% of Madagascar’s species are found nowhere else. And, according to World Wildlife Fund, more than 600 new species have been discovered in the past decade alone, including 69 amphibians, 61 reptiles, and 41 mammals. Unfortunately, deforestation and other pressures threaten the island nation’s remarkable natural heritage and its wonderful, wild inhabitants.
Here are six of the many, many truly strange creatures you might encounter on a Madagascar nature trip:
1. Aye Aye
This strange little lemur was thought to have gone extinct in 1933, until it was rediscovered in 1957. Believe it or not, it fills the same ecological niche as the woodpecker: it taps on logs and branches to locate insects, uses its rodent-like teeth to bore into the wood, and then retrieves the bugs with its very, very long middle finger. The aye aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is also the world’s largest nocturnal primate and is known for displaying some pretty brazen behavior, such as walking up to people on its hind legs and wandering through villages. Unfortunately, many people in Madagascar believe that the aye aye is a harbinger of death. Some even think that it sneaks into houses at night and murders people in their sleep. For this reason, they are often killed on sight. Thanks to this superstition, as well as widespread habitat destruction, the aye aye is now endangered.
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2. Madame Bertha’s Mouse Lemur
Speaking of lemurs, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur was discovered in 1992 and only identified as a separate species in 2000. It is the world’s smallest primate, with an average body length of about 3.6 inches and an average weight of of 1.1 ounces (or about as much as five quarters or an average slice of bread). It is found in the Kirindy Forest of western Madagascar and eats fruits, flowers, insect secretions, arthropods and small vertebrates, such as geckos and chameleons. It gets it curious name from conservationist and primatologist Prof. Dr. Madame Berthe Rakotosamimanana. That’s right, the world’s smallest primate was named after a primatologist with the world’s longest name.
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3. Giraffe Weevil
This curious little character, one of the longest weevil species, is obviously named for its crazy-long neck, which is two to three times longer in males. The male giraffe weevil (Trachelophorus giraffe) extends his neck to battle with other males for the right to mate with females. The female uses her shorter neck to roll a leaf tube nest, in which she deposits a single egg. If its neck isn’t enough of a showstopper for you, check out its bright red wing covers. Snazzy.
4. Tomato Frog
Say what you will about the tomato frog (Dyscophus antongilii), but at least it lives up to its name. Its vibrant, orange-red color acts as a warning to potential predators. If that doesn’t work, it will secrete a white, gluey substance from its skin that gums up the predator’s mouth and can cause an allergic reaction in humans. Tomato frogs are also endangered, unfortunately.
Is it a weird cat? A huge weasel? No, it’s a fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), Madagascar’s largest carnivore, weighing in at close to 20 pounds. Taxonomists have scratched their heads over the years about how to categorize this unusual animal. Recent genetic studies have lead them to conclude that the fossa’s closest living relatives are other Madagascan carnivores, and have placed them all in the distinct family Eupleridae, a close relative of the mongoose family. The fossa is found in forests throughout Madagascar, where they prey upon everything from lemurs, to lizards, to birds.
6. Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko
All hail our dark overlord! Or not. There are 14 species of endemic leaf-tailed geckos in Madagascar. This one, commonly referred to as the satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus), is a true master of disguise. Its body is a dead ringer for a decaying leaf, which helps it elude predators and catch insects. Unfortunately, leaf-tailed geckos have become a favorite of reptile enthusiasts and collectors and they are being captured at alarming rates for the international exotic pet trade. WWF lists all Uroplatus species on its “Top ten most wanted species list” of animals threatened by illegal wildlife trade.
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