Madagascar’s dense rainforests hide plant and animal life unlike anything else on earth. Almost all of its reptiles, and roughly 90% of its mammals and plants, are unique to the African island nation. Our gallery showcases this rich and often bizarre wildlife.
Compiled by Mary Alexander
Almost all of Madagascar’s reptiles, and roughly 90% of its mammals and plants, are unique to the African island nation. Its dense rainforests hide tiny tree frogs that range in colour from blue to orange and yellow or green. Half of the world’s chameleon species live there, alongside geckos that can grow up to 30 centimetres long.
Among the more than 600 new species discovered in the last 10 years are the Berthe’s mouse lemur, the smallest known primate (it grows to an average of 9.2 centimetres, and weighs just 30 grams). Also recently discovered is Komac’s golden orb spider, which spins a web up to a metre in diameter.
Today this island of stunning orchids and towering baobab trees is in danger of destroying what its best known for – its unique biodiversity. But scientists have a plan to save the forests for future generations.
Grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). This is not a mouse. It’s not even a rodent. It’s a primate – part of the same order as monkeys and apes. Human beings – scientifically, we are classified as Homo sapiens – are also apes, and so we are members of the same order as this tiny creature. (Image: Arjan Haverkamp, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
A giant leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus), Nosy Mangabe, Madagascar. Photographer Frank Vassen explains: “The giant leaf-tailed gecko is easily observed on the island of Nosy Mangabe in the Bay of Antongil off Maroansetra. When alarmed, it opens its mouth largely, displaying its brilliant orange-red interior, presumably as a means to deter predators.” (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
Tomato frog (Dyscophus antongilli), Maroantsetra, Madagascar. In this rather large species of amphibian the females are much larger than males, reaching up to 10.5 centimetres and 230 grams in weight. The sewage system of the eastern coastal town of Maroansetra is one of the world’s best places for seeing Madagascar tomato frogs in the wild. (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
Zebu cattle – one of the few mammals on Madagascar not indigenous and endemic to the island – being driven through the Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava, Madagascar. (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
A male Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), also known as Oustalets’s chameleon, near Lake Ravelobe, Madagascar. With a maximum total length (including tail) of 68.5 centimetres, or 27 inches, this is the largest chameleon in the world. (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
A male Labord’s chameleon (Furcifer labordi), Kirindy Forest, Madagascar. This species has an extreme life cycle, spending more of its time growing in the egg than living in the world. It gestates for eight months, in the egg. Once hatched, it lives for only four to five months. Almost immediately after it has reproduced, it dies. No other land vertebrate has a shorter – or weirder – lifespan. (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)
A female Indri calling, in Andasibe, Madagascar. The indri is the world’s largest lemur – tied with its Malagasy cousin, the diademed sifaka. The indri’s head-and-body length is up to 72 centimetres (2.4 feet), reaching 120 centimetres (3.9 feet) with legs fully extended. Its Malagasy name “babakoto” is most commonly translated as “ancestor” or “father”, but several translations are possible. “Koto” is a Malagasy word for “little boy”, and “baba” a term for “father”, so “babakoto” could be translated as “father of a little boy”. (Image: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Flickr)