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What Is the Madagascan Fossa?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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When an island spends a long time physically separated from other parts of the world, evolution tends to produce animals that are unique to that island. The Madagascan fossa, which is a carnivorous cat-like creature, is an example of this type of evolution, as it only lives on the island of Madagascar. Fossas are brown mammals that look like large cats but are more closely related to mongooses. A fossa can climb trees and counts lemurs, reptiles and birds among their prey.

In scientific terminology, the Madagascan fossa is known by the name Cryptoprocta ferox. Commonly, it simply goes by the name fossa, as no other types apart from the Madagascan type are in existence. On the island of Madagascar, the animal lives in forests, and tends to be active during the night and at both dusk and dawn. The fossa's scientific name comes from both a feature of its appearance and of its supposed nature. Crypto means hidden in Latin, and Procta refers to an anus, as the fossa has a pouch of skin covering its rear end. Ferox, on the other hand, means fierce.

A Madagascan fossa's fur is most often brown with a hint of red, but a few have black fur. Its maximum length,including the tail, is approximately 6 feet (about 1.8m.) The mammal has big eyes and round ears, with small teeth and very long whiskers. It can see well and has a good sense of hearing and of smell. Fossas also have scent glands, which produce a smell that the animal leaves around its neighborhood as a communication to other fossas.

As its native range is the forest, and its prey may live in the trees, the fossa has evolved an ability to climb. Its feet have claws that it can retract, and its long tail acts as a balance for the rest of its body when moving from branch to branch. As the island of Madagascar has become deforested over time, the possible range for the fossa to live and breed in has become smaller, significantly reducing the amount of animals and putting the Madagascan fossa in the endangered category, as of 2011.

Baby fossas spend four and a half months in a den being fed milk by their mother. The young fossas become independent at about a year and half old, and grows to its final size at about four years old. A fossa kept by humans lived for 20 years, but it is unknown how long the animals live in the wild.

Due to Madagascar's isolation from outside species for thousands of years as an island with little species immigration, the fossa is the keystone predator on the island, apart from man. This means that it has no real predators itself and it eats large species; one example is the lemurs that live in the forests. As well as the lemurs, a fossa can hunt reptiles, birds and animals smaller than lemurs.

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