For those who may have only seen the movies, Madagascar is, in fact a real place, an island off the coast of Mozambique near the southern tip of Africa.
It is the fourth largest island in the world, and many of its plants and animals are unique to the island. The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India about 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation.
With an area of 587,041 km², Madagascar is about the size of Ukraine or almost twice the size of the US state of Arizona. The island has a population of more than 22 million inhabitants. The capital city of Madagascar is Antananarivo.
Over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth.
And there are some very weird, but also wonderful, animals.
Here are four of my favourites
Often mistaken for a butterfly, the Comet moth also known as Madagascan moon moths, they are second only to the Atlas moth in size, making it one of the world’s largest silk moths. Their brightly coloured wings can reach spans of 20 centimetres (eight inches), while their tail spans can reach 15 centimetres (six inches).
It would appear that the only reason for its existence is to mate and lay eggs as the adult moth cannot feed and only lives for 4-5 days. Mating has to happen on the first day after hatching, as the female comet moths’ eggs cannot be fertilised later. The females can lay up to 170 eggs.
The comet moth caterpillars feed on fresh eucalyptus leaves and have a pupation period of between two and six months; their cocoons have small holes in them to prevent drowning in the wet rain forests.
Tomato frogs are found only in the northern, wetter parts of Madagascar.
While they’re frogs, they also have several toad-like traits such as smooth toe pads and their feet are not webbed, and when threatened, they puff up their bodies and the frog’s skin secretes a thick substance that gums up the predator’s eyes and mouth, causing the predator to instantly release the frog to free up its eyes. The gummy substance contains a toxin that occasionally causes allergic reactions in humans.
The lifespan of the tomato frog can be from 6 to 8 years.
When adult, the colours may vary from yellowish orange to deep red. Females are larger than males and can reach 4 inches in length. Males can reach 2 to 3 inches in length. Most females range from reddish-orange bright dark red.
Tomato frogs will reach sexual maturity in 9–14 months.
They breed in the rainy season and are nocturnal and mostly feed on small insects and invertebrates.
This amazing frog is regrettably on the endangered species list.
Darwin’s Bark Spiders
This little spider has to be my all-time favourite when it comes to the “can you believe it” list.
Darwin’s bark spider (scientific name Caerostris darwini) is an orb-weaver spider that produces one of the largest known orb webs, ranging from 900 to 28,000 square centimetres (140 to 4,340 sq in), with anchor lines spanning up to 25 metres (82 ft).
The spider was discovered in Madagascar in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park in 2009. Its silk is the toughest biological material ever studied, over ten times tougher than a similarly-sized piece of Kevlar. The species was named in honour of the naturalist Charles Darwin, with the description being prepared precisely 150 years after the publication of The Origin of Species, on 24 November 2009.
The unique strength and size of the webs mean they can be placed where no other spider could live, reducing competition for food and space. Pretty neat for a species whose females have body lengths of about 2.5 centimetres (one inch) and males one-fourth of that size.
“Aye-aye Captain Bligh”. Sorry, no connection to the Captain or any other seafaring story.
The aye-aye is a lemur, a strepsirrhine primate native to Madagascar that combines rodent-like teeth that perpetually grow and a special thin middle finger (be handy to have one at political rallies).
As the world’s largest nocturnal primate, it is characterised by its unusual method of finding food; it taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood using its forward slanting incisors to create a small hole in which it inserts its narrow middle finger to pull the grubs out. The only other animal species known to find food in this way is the striped possum. From an ecological point of view, the aye-aye fills the niche of a woodpecker, as it is capable of penetrating wood to extract the invertebrates within.
Their bizarre appearance and behaviour have caused the people of Madagascar to consider them an omen of bad luck, and like many Madagascan animals, they are currently considered endangered.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr: Pousse-pousses in Antisrabe, Madagascar