Photo: A fossa

Until recently scientists thought the fossa, with its feline features, was a primitive kind of cat. It’s actually one of the largest members of the mongoose family.

Photograph by Luke Dollar

Map

Map: Fossa range

Fossa Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
15 years
Size:
Head and body, 23.5 to 30 in (60 to 76 cm); tail, 22 to 28 in (55 to 70 cm)
Weight:
15.5 to 26.5 lbs (7 to 12 kg)
Protection status:
Endangered
Did you know?
Until recently, scientists had mistaken the puma-like fossa for a primitive kind of cat.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Fossa compared with adult man

A relative of the mongoose, the fossa is unique to the forests of Madagascar, an African island in the Indian Ocean. Growing up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) long from nose to tail tip, and weighing up to 26 pounds (12 kilograms), the fossa is a slender-bodied catlike creature with little resemblance to its mongoose cousins.

It is the largest carnivore and top predator native to Madagascar and is known to feed on lemurs and most other creatures it can get its claws on, from wild pigs to mice. Unlike mongooses, and more like felines, the fossa has retractable claws and fearsome catlike teeth. Its coat is reddish brown and its muzzle resembles that of a dog.

The fossa is also equipped with a long tail that comes in handy while hunting and maneuvering amongst the tree branches. It can wield its tail like a tightrope walker's pole and moves so swiftly through the trees that scientists have had trouble observing and researching it.

The elusive fossa is a solitary animal and spends its time both in the trees and on the ground. It is active at night and also during the day. Females give birth to an annual litter of two to four young, and adulthood is reached after about three years.

Madagascar is home to an enormous variety of plant and animal life, and a number of species are unique to the island—including over 30 species of lemur, the fossa’s prey of choice. Explorers first arrived on the island some 2,000 years ago, and scientists believe that they would have been met by a bizarre assemblage of now-extinct beasts, including lemurs the size of gorillas and a ten-foot-tall (three-meter-tall) flightless bird.

Presently, fossas are endangered creatures due to habitat loss. Less than ten percent of Madagascar’s original, intact forest cover, the fossa’s only home, remains today.

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