Photo: Bertal, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.
The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island of Madagascar. They can reach nearly six feet in length, with half of that due to their long tails.
They look like a cross between a cat, a dog, and a mongoose. Fossas have slender bodies, muscular limbs, and short, reddish-brown coats. They have small, cat-like heads, short, dog-like muzzles, and large, rounded ears.
So what is a fossa? Read on to find out about Madagascar’s top predator.
1. Their scientific name means “hidden anus.” The fossa’s genus name, Cryptoprocta, is inspired by how its anus is concealed by an anal pouch. It comes from the Greek for hidden (crypto) and anus (procta). The fossa’s species name, ferox, refers to its exaggerated reputation for ferocity.
2. Fossas are the top predator in Madagascar. Fossas hunt during both day and night, and can take prey from both the ground and in trees. Lemurs make up a good deal of their diets, but they also eat small mammals, fish, lizards, birds, frogs, and insects.
3. Their classification has been complicated. The fossa has features in common with three different families of carnivores: Herpestidae (mongooses), Viverridae (civets and their relatives), and Felidae (cats).
Recent molecular studies have put the fossa in the Eupleridae family, a group that consists of Malagasy carnivores. Members of this family are thought to have descended from mongoose-like ancestors that colonized Madagascar about 20 million years ago.
4. Fossas are mainly solitary. With the exception of mothers with young and brief pairings during the breeding season, fossas are solitary animals. They patrol and defend territories as large as four square kilometers.
An exception was recorded in 2009, when scientists observed three male fossas cooperatively hunting a sifaka for 45 minutes. After they caught the prey, they shared it.
The scientists believe this behavior may be a vestige of the cooperative hunting that would have been necessary to take down larger lemurs that existed in the past on Madagascar.