Madagascar Day Gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis)

I saw this little guy on the cover of one of my favourite animal websites, and he was so bright and pretty that I was immediately interested in writing about him. I will admit that I was also influenced by the fact that I knew I had to draw him. I love using fun colours so that made the Madagascar day gecko a perfect blog candidate.

Madagascar day geckos belong to the family Phelsuma, which contains about seventy species and subspecies. These are commonly known as ‘day geckos,’ as these species are active in the daytime, unlike most other gecko species. The Madagascar day gecko lives in Madagascar (unsurprisingly), along the east coast of the island. There are also introduced populations in Florida. These lizards are arboreal, and are most at home in tropical rainforests.

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Aren’t they cute?

I called them little, but that isn’t very fair. Madagascar day geckos are actually one of the largest species of geckos, reaching lengths of up to 25 cm. As I mentioned, this species is brightly coloured, with the geckos being being bright green or bluish green in colour. They have a rusty-red stripe running from their nose to their eyes, and have various red or brown stripes and spots on their bodies.

Day geckos possess flat toe pads equipped with adhesive scales, which allow them to climb and stick to smooth surfaces. This is no doubt very helpful to a species that spends most of its time hanging around in trees. Day geckos like to relax in their tree perches, soaking up the sun when they’re not looking for food.

Madagascar geckos aren’t exceptionally picky eaters; they feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, as well as fruit and nectar. They get almost all their water from that which collects on leaves, meaning they don’t have to head to the ground to drink. So very convenient.

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My drawing of a day gecko – I had fun with this one though the scales were quite tedious. Still working on getting good scan quality for my pencil crayon drawings, so apologies for that! 

Mating in Madagascar day geckos takes place between November and April. Males attempt to court females by approaching them with their heads moving back and forth. If he is feeling good about his courtship, the male with then grasp the female’s neck with his teeth. After this, the male’s colour darkens, and rests his throat on her head while emitting a soft noise, presumably to comfort her after the trauma of having her head bitten.

Females lay clutches of two eggs, and can lay more than one clutch in a year. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 47 to 82 days, at which point they are on their own. Like many reptiles, the gender of the young is influenced by temperature; eggs incubated at high temperatures produce males, while lower temperatures produce females. Young geckos are pretty much just tiny versions of the adults, though they are slightly different in colour. They become sexually mature after one or two years of age.

As is so often the case with brightly coloured lizards, Madagascar day geckos are popular as pets. You have to be careful with these guys though — they are very territorial and will act aggressively towards each other if kept in the same tank. Despite their popularity, day geckos are still doing just fine in the wild, which is great news.

Cover image source: Tambako the Jaguar via https://www.jigsawexplorer.com/puzzles/madagascar-day-gecko-jigsaw-puzzle/

Satanic Leaf Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus)

There are a few criteria I use to pick animals for this blog. If they’re strange looking, they are eligible for a post. If they have a really bizarre name, that works too. Of course, if they’re just a very odd, crazy animal, they definitely deserve a post. But the lovely thing about today’s animal is that it hits all three categories.

Satanic leaf geckos are members of the genus Uroplatus, which contains 14 species of leaf-tailed geckos. Satanic leaf geckos certainly have the best name of the bunch, though. All leaf-tailed geckos are found in Madagascar and surrounding islands, and the satanic gecko is limited to the northern and central forests of the island. They spend most of their time in trees, for reasons that will soon become very clear.

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The tiny spot in Madagascar where satanic geckos are found. Image source: Wikipedia

Satanic leaf geckos are one of the smallest species of leaf gecko, only reaching lengths (including the tail) of 6.6 to 15.2 centimetres. Leaf-tailed geckos rely on disguise to keep them safe, and they are extremely good leaf impersonators. Satanic geckos’ tails are flattened and shaped like a leaf; some specimens even have chunks missing from their tails to mimic the appearance of a decaying leaf. Satanic leaf geckos are usually brown, though they can also be purple, orange, and yellow.

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Look how cool these guys are! Image source

These amazing reptiles are nocturnal, preferring to spend the day pretending to be leaves. This is a great strategy to avoid predators, but it isn’t the only one satanic leaf geckos use. When threatened, they will flatten themselves against other leaves, hiding their shadows to better blend into the foliage. If pressed, they will open their mouths wide to reveal bright red mouths, and when things get really bad these guys simple shed their tails to distract and confuse predators.

As you might expect for such a distinct-looking animal, these guys are very popular in the pet trade. Though they are currently a species of least concern, harvesting for the pet trade and habitat destruction are very real threats to this species. So as always, if you want one as a pet, make sure you can source it to captive breeders.

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Some leaf geckos look cooler than others, but presumably they don’t blend in as well… Image source

There is one unfortunate fact about satanic leaf geckos. Though they have an incredible name, they don’t possess the moniker ‘satanic’ for any biological trait. In fact, the name was coined in 1990 to help market these guys to the pet trade. But their crazy looks more than make up for it, these are certainly some awesome lizards.

Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox)

Madagascar is a strange place. Since it’s an island, and a big one, the flora and fauna of Madagascar are very unique, and sometimes very strange. I am sure more Malagasy animals will make their way onto this blog, but for today we will focus on the largest Malagasy Carnivore, the fossa.

The classification of the fossa has been an issue ever since the animal was first discovered. It was originally thought that the fossa was a felid, thanks to its appearance. Others placed the fossa with the civets, in the family Viverridae. Currently, all Malagasy Carnivores are classified in the family Eupleridae, with their closest relatives being the mongooses.

A very fierce looking fossa. Image source: http://thezt2roundtable.com/profile/3989503/

A very fierce looking fossa.
Image source: http://thezt2roundtable.com/profile/3989503/

Fossas range in size from 60 to 80 cm, and can weigh up to twenty kilograms. They have blunt snouts with large eyes, and very long whiskers. Fossas also have cat-like retractable claws (though they cannot be fully retracted), that help them climb trees. Unlike cats, fossas have very flexible ankles, which allows them to go up and down trees head first. Fossas have reddish-brown fur, and a long tail that helps them balance when they are in trees.

Fossas have a semi-arboreal lifestyle, in part because their main source of food, lemurs, are adept climbers. Fossas will also hunt on the ground, capturing snakes, small mammals, and guinea fowl. Due to fossas being the largest predators on Madagascar, they only really have to worry about predation from humans.

One of the strangest things about fossas is their reproductive habits. When a female fossa gets in the mood, she climbs a tree, beneath which a slew of male fossas congregate. They call to her loudly, and also try and get her attention through fights with one another. She chooses a male to mate with, and copulation often takes place in the tree, which would be tricky at the best of times, but is made more difficult by the male fossa’s large, spiked penis.

That’s right, male fossas have a penis with backward-facing spines, that stick out when erect, and lock the two fossas together for an extended period of time (sometimes up to 160 minutes!!). After she’s done with one male, the female will pick another to mate with. She will stay in her tree and mate for about a week, at which point another female will take over the site.

Most baby animals are cute, but fossas just look creepy. Image source: http://www.zooborns.com/zooborns/fossa/

Most baby animals are cute, but fossas just look creepy.
Image source: http://www.zooborns.com/zooborns/fossa/

Females give birth to two to four pups, that are weaned around 20 months of age, and reach full size at four years old. Young female fossas go through a very strange period of masculinization at adolescence, in which the clitoris develops into a penis-like structure, including the spines that are so prominent in male fossas. As the female gets older, this penis shrinks, and by the time she is sexually mature, the pseudopenis disappears.

Fossas are certainly very strange animals — they look fairly innocent, but no truly innocent animal would have a spiked penis. Still, at least they are interesting. I just wouldn’t want to be a female fossa.

Cover image source: http://blogs.sandiegozoo.org/2014/09/10/fossa-madagascars-king-of-the-jungle/

Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)

Most mammals I blog about are fairly cute, and even the ones that are just strange looking have a certain charm. But the aye-aye is nothing of the sort. It is probably one of the creepiest, ugliest mammals around. It looks like something someone made up for a sci-fi movie. See:

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The aye-aye lives in Madagascar, which is a pretty unique island. I guess because of its size and distance from the mainland, the flora and fauna have evolved very differently from everywhere else, so there’s a lot of strange animals living there (think tenrecs!). The aye-aye is no exception, and is probably one of the strangest of the bunch. The aye-aye is a type of lemur, although it is the only extant member of its family, Daubentoniidae.

Aye-ayes are primarily active at night, spending about eighty percent of the night foraging. Which would explain its giant eyes and huge ears – big eyes let in more light which presumably is helpful in the dark when you’re climbing through trees searching for food. Sound is important for most nocturnal animals, and the aye-aye uses its ears in a very special way.

One of the most prominent features of the aye-aye is its long, thin fingers. Personally I find this the creepiest part of the animal, probably because they look a bit like spider’s legs. Here is a picture to show you:

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Creepy, right? Well there’s a reason aye-aye’s hands look like that, and it has to do with the way these animals find food. The aye-ayes tap trees repeatedly with their fingers, using those big ears to listen for the sound of hollow cavities in the trees. When they find one, the aye-aye gnaws a hole in the tree with specially modified incisors. Then it uses its elongated middle fingers to scoop grubs from the tree. In an ecological sense, the aye-aye replaces the niche occupied in other areas by woodpeckers. Though obviously less attractive, more terrifying ones.

And I’m not the only person who thinks these animals are weird looking. In madagascar the aye-aye is often seen as a bringer of bad fortune, or simply as plain evil. Many superstitions surround this unfortunate animal, and often they are killed on sight, then hung up to get rid of the evil spirit inside of it. Another superstition holds that if an aye-aye points its narrowest finger at you, then you will soon die. Some people take this a little further, saying that aye-ayes sneak into houses and murder people by using their long fingers to puncture the aorta. While I’m not a particularly superstitious person, and don’t think any animal should be killed because of them, I can see where these come from. The aye-aye definitely needs a better PR rep.

Maybe that starts right here. Instead of thinking of these strange lemurs as creepy, terrifying and weird, maybe we should change those adjectives. Aye-ayes are interesting, unique, and well-adapted to their life style. While this is clearly true, I’m going to stick with the descriptions I’ve been using. Because quite frankly, they are creepy, terrifying and weird. There’s just no way around it.