Saturday, June 21, 2014

Creature Feature #245: Fossa

If you have seen the movie "Madagascar" you may think you know what a fossa is.
You are, quite probably, wrong.
How they portrayed this muscular, lithe and somewhat unpleasant creatures was almost demeaning to the species. In fact, the whole movie bugged me on various levels and helped inspire my Lemur Saga. Why call a movie "Madagascar" and make the four main characters all African? Why portray fossa as sort of shoaling hyena without brains? At least they kept the lemurs relatively true to their spirit (I can imagine lemurs partying, oy yeh).

So what is a fossa really then?

Fossa have always been hard to categorise, once classified in with the Viverrids, they have now been shifted into their own Family, Eupleridae, with all of Madagascar's unique carnivores. They somewhat resemble a giant mongoose on steroids. However, unlike mongooses (yes, that is the plural, ask google) she is extremely agile and will leap through the trees with the greatest of ease. Her tails is exceptionally long - as long as her body - and act as a counterbalance. Fossa walk with a plantigrade stance and her ankles are jointed such that she can twist them about and climb down trees head-first. Why must a fossa be such an exceptional climber? Because she loves to eat lemurs.

So you may be able to understand why I am not exactly fond of the fossa. Sure, she plays an important role in nature and is a most interesting creature indeed but she does enjoy chowing down on my favourite animals and also smells rather rank when you meet her in person.

Fossa are not generally social. They certainly don't live in packs as depicted in the afore-mentioned movie, although three male fossa have been recorded hunting one poor Verraeux sifaka, then sharing the kill. When the female comes into heat, she climbs up onto a sturdy branch. She will use the same tree year-by-year and as fossa's cycles are fairly precise, can collect a large array of suitors. The males gather from all around and she decides which ones she wishes to mate with. If she does not like the male, she will back up onto branches that will not bear their shared weight and snarls at him. Fossa mating is very noisy and can last for three hours. She will remain there for up to ten days, mating with multiple partners, before eventually heading off to find a den and birth up to six cubs. Fossa cubs develop quite slowly for a carnivore and do not become independent until they are one year old.

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