Madagascar is variably referred to as “Nature’s Laboratory” or the “Eighth Continent”. It is the fourth-largest island in the world and has been far removed from the other continents in both time and space, allowing various unique species to thrive and develop. In practical terms, this means the island has one of the most wonderful, fantastic, and epic wildlife found anywhere on our planet!

Meet the unique Madagascar wildlife – cheeky lemurs, dancing sifakas, tenrecs that can roll up into a ball just like a hedgehog, and more. This is nature at its most astonishing and diverse – and the wildlife is proof that nature has a rather lovely sense of humour!

Lemur Madagascar

Channeling his inner Yoda! Photo via Max Pixel

Verreaux’s Sifaka – the dancing lemurs

Lemurs are the island’s most famous inhabitants. Primates that have long been isolated from other parts of the world, lemurs are only found on this amazing island. There are over 100 species and they are all incredibly endearing.

Most species are small, nocturnal and arboreal. The sifakas, however, are large and diurnal and regularly descend to the ground, where they hop along while holding their arms in front of them for balance: i.e. the “dancing sifaka”.

Vereauxs Sifaka Madagascar

The adorable dancing sifaka shows off his fast footwork. Photo: Rock Jumper Wildlife

Indri – the world’s largest (and perhaps cutest) lemur

The Indri, with its distinctive yellow eyes, is the world’s largest Lemur and spends most of its life eating and sleeping high up in the trees. Their toes and fingers are very dexterous allowing them to grasp tree branches. Long hind legs help them to jump up to 10 meters between branches.

In fact, their legs are so long that they can’t walk on all fours, so they skip sideways on their two hind legs. So, as you are walking along forest trails watching for wildlife, it will be quite an adventure to spot them!

Indri Madagascar

Am I the cutest or what?

Fossa – not a mongoose!

The fossa’s reddish brown coat and muzzle resemble that of a dog, a long tail like a monkey and claws like a cat, however the fossa closely resembles a mongoose. The fossa is the largest carnivore native to the land and their distinguishing long tail is handy while hunting on tree tops.

They can maneuver their tails so swiftly, even scientists can’t keep up with them. The fossa is known to have a dominant and aggressive hunting style making it an ambush hunter. Beware of its fearsome catlike teeth!

fossa madagascar

The king of the jungle! Rod Waddington via Flickr

Lowland Steaked Tenrec – a big ball of fuzz

The lemurs aren’t the only unique mammals on the island. The shrew-like tenrecs are less well known but equally exceptional. While superficially appearing very similar to hedgehogs, they are, in fact, not closely related at all.

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec is one of the most visually stunning of the tenrecs and can occasionally be found scuttling along on the forest floor. If threatened, they will even roll up into a ball, just like a hedgehog! Just another reason why the wildlife here is truly astonishing.

Tenrec, Streaked, Lowland Madagascar Rock Jumper Birding

The fuzzy tenrec

Giraffe-necked Weevil – may the best man win

With bright red wings on a black body, this is no ordinary weevil. The neck of the male is extraordinarily long and they use it to fight with each other, the winner getting the chance to mate with a female.

The female’s neck is not quite as long as the male, and she uses it to roll a leaf into a tube where she will lay the egg. Regularly seen in the rainforests of the eastern part of the island, this is one of many astonishing insects that a traveler can hope to see on a wildlife trip here.

Weevil, Giraffe-necked -5 Madagascar Rock Jumper Birding

Giraffe-necked Weevil – sticking my neck out!

O’Shaugnessy’s Chameleon – kings of camouflage

As a group, chameleons can be found in many places, but this is certainly the best place to see them. The island is home to over half of the world’s 200 or so species and new species are discovered every year.

From the penny-sized Brookesia micra – the world’s smallest reptile, to the gargantuan Oustalet’s Chameleon, chameleons have radiated into a wonderful array of niches and can be found everywhere on the island in astonishing diversity. Walks along forest trails, particularly at night, give a very good chance at an encounter with these fascinating reptiles.

Chameleon, Oshaughnessy's; Calumma oshaughnessy Madagascar Rock Jumper Birding

O’Shaugnessy’s Chameleon – love this guy’s expression!

Baron’s Mantella – feisty and colorful

The stunning island is also home to an astonishing diversity of frogs. More than 300 species have been described; while, incredibly, hundreds more are awaiting description. Amongst the astonishing diversity of frogs, one stands out from all others, the exquisite Baron’s Mantella.

Frequently heard calling along rainforest streams, careful searching can often yield a sighting of this incredibly brightly colored frog. As one might expect, Baron’s Mantellas are mildly poisonous and the coloring is a warning to would-be predators to leave them alone!

TMantella baroni Madagascar Rock Jumper Birding

Check out my colors! Baron’s Mantella

Aye-Aye – your good luck charm

The aye-aye has quite the diva status among the island’s wildlife. The most unique of the lemurs, and amongst the most difficult to find, is the nocturnal Aye-Aye. Long considered an omen of bad luck by Malagasy people, there are even reports of villages being intentionally burned down when an Aye-Aye ventured into its boundaries. Nowadays, it is considered extremely good luck for a traveler to have a sighting of this elusive, nocturnal denizen of the forests.

With rodent-like teeth, a big bushy tail, and a wide-eyed stare, biologists only recognized relatively recently that this is, in fact, a lemur. Perhaps the most unique feature about this animal is the extraordinarily long middle finger that it uses to pull grubs out of tiny spaces.

aye aye madagascar

Aye-aye, I see you!

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko – devilish and fantastic

The leaf-tailed geckos are the masters of camouflage in the rainforests. They are sit-and-wait predators that blend in incredibly well. Most species lie in wait against the bark of a tree, while the sinister-looking and aptly-named Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko takes a different approach, and hangs upside-down, mimicking a dead leaf.

Finding a leaf-tailed gecko takes patience and skill, but it can be done. The scientific name of the species sums it up: Uroplatus phantasticus!

Gecko, Leaf-tailed, Fantastic

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko: who can resist my devilish charm?

Walk in a rainforest, laze on a serene white sand beach, hear the song of the Indri, and jive with the dancing sifakas, revel in raw beauty and wilderness. 

Want to experience this fantastically unique destination? The experts at Rockjumper Wildlife Tours offer some unforgettable wildlife trips here.

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