Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mad about Madagascar Wildlife

Madagascar broke away from the African continent about 130 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. This is enough time and isolation for evolution to create an assortment of animals far different than anywhere else. Most famous are the lemurs and chameleons, and we saw tons of both. The low quality of many of these pictures, even when we were feet from the animals, makes me appreciate how difficult it is to be a professional wildlife photographer, but we did our best.

Even in Tana, the capital, butterflies abound. No lemurs in the city, though. Here was the best butterfly that we saw.
Our first nature destination in Madagascar was Ranomafana National Park. The National Park system of Madagascar is excellent, with well-trained, English-speaking guides. Typically, you go through the parks during the day and take a walk on the fringes of the park at night (no one is allowed in the parks at night). At Ranomafana, our guide was Roody, who was maybe not so incredible at spotting things during the day (though we saw several lemur species thanks to other guides telling him where they were), but he was really terrific at spotting animals in the dark when Tara and I could barely see anything.

One species of spider in Madagascar builds massive webs, often by bridges. The webs commonly span 100 feet or more with no supports other than the edges, which is really impressive when you think about how the spiders get the webs started. Here is a picture of one to scare Tara when she reads my post.
Ranomafana became a national park mostly because it is home to the Golden Bamboo Lemur, which wasn't discovered until 1986 and only lives in this area. We were fortunate enough to see a troop of them, though it was fairly dark in the forest to take their pictures.
The Golden Bamboo Lemurs on the the smallish side for lemurs. As the name implies, they eat mostly bamboo. Madagascar has 5 species of native bamboo, and now lots of others that have come from Asia.
Tara was tired after our lemur hike, but I went on a walk for a couple of hours in search of wildlife by myself. Unfortunately, without a guide, this was the most exciting animal that I could find. Now, it was a really nice looking insect, but it may not have been worth the energy expended to find it.
At night, the chameleons find resting places lower in the trees, which makes them easier to find. Madagascar has about 50 chameleon species, ranging from about an inch long to a couple of feet. This one is a juvenile of an already tiny species (I think it is just called the green chameleon), so it is particularly small. Small ones often hang onto little leaves like this.
This is a full-grown short-horned chameleon catching a little shut-eye. I resisted my desire to grab him and pet him.
This is a juvenile short-horn, which you can see isn't as dark as the adult above.
This is a full-size green chameleon with me in the background for size comparison.
This is the same one as above, but without me to ruin the picture. So tiny and so green.
This one is an even smaller species. A brown something or other. Maybe the size of a pinky finger if you include the tail.
This one is another species, but was quite high in the tree and harder to see.
I'm sure that you are sick of chameleons by now, but I am not, so we'll go on after a short intermission of frogs. This tree frog has a nearly blue underbelly.
Like the frog above, this species only lives in Madagascar, but frogs don't evolve all that quickly, so they look very much like tree frogs everywhere.
This is one of the best-looking chameleons that we saw. Two-toned, horns in the front, looks like he is ready to ride into battle.
This is the juvenile of the ugliest chameleon that we saw. He looks really great and really ugly up-close.
This is a juvenile of the two-tone one above. Again, a bit brighter as a juvenile.
Back at our hotel, a huge beetle was walking around. Maybe an inch or so. About 60 seconds after this picture, Tara accidentally smashed it.
An adult of the ugly chameleon. Not much prettier, but bigger.
I didn't really get any good bird pictures in Madagascar, but we'll try to put a few unexciting ones in for the hardcore birders that I'm sure frequent our blog. This is the female of the paradise flycatcher, a bird that is very common in Madagascar.
Don't know what this one is, but the picture was better than the last one.
Green geckos (this one is Gordon) are common in many parts of the island.
Red-backed lemurs are one or the larger and more common lemurs in Madagascar. Here is the female in a tree.
The male is a gray color, despite the name red-backed. Here is a blurry picture of him. He lives with a group of females, which isn't always the case with lemurs, as some are monogamous.
At Isalo National Park, we partnered with Chloe, a very nice French girl we met on the bus, to take a day hike to canyons nearby. Beautiful dragonflies in red and orange were common near the many streams.
Our guide, John (I'm sure that John was his name as much as John is the real name of the Indian guy who picks up your customer service call from Mumbai), found us a nice group of ring-tailed lemurs, probably the lemur most identified with Madagascar. Here is one pole dancing for us.
Here are two more posing for a picture. These are used to humans and weren't afraid at all, but because lemurs only have one rare natural predator (the fossa), they generally aren't too afraid of people.
Many people in Madagascar, and particularly in the area around Isalo National Park, measure their wealth by the number of Zebu cattle that they own. The cattle are valued at about $300 each, which is a lot. Typically, a man needs to give the family of a girl two of them to marry a woman, but men often can't afford two. So, they will sometimes steal cattle from nearby villages (because they are the only thing of value that anyone has) and sell them at a discount to one of the really big cattle families around. They then use the money to buy zebu for the brides family. So, it is essentially cattle laundering.
One more ring-tailed lemur picture. Too cute not to post.
From Isalo National Park, we continued to Ifaty, where we did some scuba diving of which we have no pictures. However, that is also the area where the "Spiny Forest" begins. It is more a desert with cactus like plants and baobab trees. Some lemurs can live on the cacti, but we did not see any. The best we did was this lizard.
The area is also known for tortoises. We got a ride with some locals who saw this one by the road. The woman was going to try to take it home to her kids, but they have very sharp claws and she put it back out of the car as soon as it came out of its shell.
Our next stop was Tsingy National Park, which we knew nothing about except that I had seen a picture and decided we were going there no matter what. The park turned out to be really great and had some wildlife, too. Here is a tiny frog living in our hotel room.
Tons of small caves exist in the Tsingys where geckos like this one live. They stick even to the rock.
This lizard living in the cracks blends in well.
Another green gecko hanging out at our hotel.
In the Petite Tsingy, we saw this falcon. Maybe the best bird picture we have from Madagascar.
We also saw these Madagascar black parrots. Two species of parrots exist in Madagascar, but black, and nearly identical except that one is slightly larger. We saw both and couldn't tell them apart.
A red-backed lemur looking down at us.
This is a sportive lemur, which I thought was called a sporty lemur about the first 10 times the guide said it. Mostly nocturnal, this one was sitting around resting during the day. Looks more like a squirrel, and about the same size, but definitely a primate.
Madagascar has more than one type of butterfly that Tara refers to as a monarch butterfly. This is one of them.
Near the Way of the Baobabs, we saw these zebu grazing by the lake filled with water hyacinth.
Our last park stop was Andasibe, home to the Indri, which is the largest and one of the rarest lemurs. It cannot live in captivity, and now lives in only a small portion of Madagascar (it used to be common over much of the island). It is sometimes called a giant teddy bear. The indri is mostly famous because it makes a loud wailing noise when it wakes up in the morning that can be heard for a couple of miles.
This giant grasshopper was several inches long. Our guide says that they can also bite and that they hurt, so we kept our distance. It reminded me of a comment from one of our earlier guides, though, when he was talking about how the locals eat giant spiders. I asked him what it tasted like and he replied, "It tastes a lot like a giant grasshopper." Right, of course it does.
Here's another indri picture. They have almost no tail, unlike other lemurs, and mostly jump horizontally from one tree to another.
This green spider is maybe only an inch across, but his coloration was amazing.
Red-fronted lemurs are not so rare, but are apparently rare in the park where we were. The guide was really excited to see them and said he hadn't seen them in months. We saw some in Ranomafana as well, but this is a better picture.
In Andasibe, we also saw the rare Diademed Sifaka. They are large and have a lot of personality in addition to their beautiful markings. This one is trying to reach some fruit.
Here is another one holding onto a tree.
Tara found this tiny red beetle that looked as though it had been painted with fingernail polish. After about 50 attempts, we got this okay picture of it.
I was walking aroung the grounds of our hotel unsucessfully looking for chameleons when one of the gardners saw me and told me to come over to a bush where he showed me this guy. When he thought the chameleon wasn't cooperating for pictures, he grabbed him and moved him to a lower branch despite my objections, which is why he looks angry in this picture.
When asked if he could get a mouse lemur to stop long enough for a picture, our guide at Andasibe for the night walk told us that he knew how to hypnotize them and it shouldn't be a problem. We thought this was a joke because we had seen another mouse lemur that moved at remarkable speed without ever stopping. As it turned out, the guide wasn't joking. If you can hit them just right with a low intensity flashlight, they freeze a bit like a deer in headlights and then you can photograph them. So, here is our brown mouse lemur picture. They are the same size as a hamster and are the smallest of all primates. They weight 1-2 ounces, depending on the species.
The other animal that I told the guide I wanted to see was the leaf-tailed gecko, which has a tail sort of like a beaver that is supposed to look like a leaf for camoflauge. They are rare, but he said we would try. Towards the end of our walk, he spotted something about 20 feet away and happily announced that he thought it was a leaf-tail. We get up to it and I said, "Where's its tail?" He looks and replies, "Hmmm...looks like this one had its tail bit off." The irony of finding this rare animal without its namesake appendage was too much not to laugh about.
This short-nosed chameleon (not to be confused with short-horned) is very small and has a nice big nose.
This is a short-horned like in earlier pictures, but at a different park. They look like a triceratops.
A short-nosed from a different angle.
If by some miracle you are still reading, that wraps up our wildlife post for Madagascar. Despite costing a fortune to get there, the wildlife of Madagascar really was remarkable. We would happily go back and try to find some of the species that we weren't able to spot this time.


  1. Very informative, although I would love to have seen Tara in at least one picture.

  2. Wow, these are amazing animals! I was curious, so I looked up what a fossa is. They're like cat weasels! Madagascar is amazing.

  3. Mom, I am always in lots of pictures...let Andy have his moment in the Internet spotlight! =)

  4. Wonderful wildlife photos, Andy (and clever commentary too). They brought back some fond memories of our trip to Madagascar. I was really impressed with all the good close-ups of the chameleons and geckos. The only chameleon I photographed was a dead one that the local cat had killed! Keep posting those photos! ...............JUDY ANDES

  5. Wow! What a great collection of photos. And you got the Bamboo Lemur. I was never able to get one myself. They were always in the shadows or on the move.