Cryptoprocta feroxfossa

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Geographic Range

Fossas are found throughout forested areas of Madagascar. (Nowak, 1999)

Habitat

Fossas inhabit all forested areas on the island of Madagascar. They range from the coastal lowlands to mountainous areas up to 2000 meters in elevation. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

Physical Description

Fossas are cat-like in appearance, with blunt noses and large, forward-facing eyes. Total body length ranges from 610 to 800 mm, with a tail of matching length. Shoulder height is typically 370 mm. Fossas have vibrissae that are as long as their heads, and are covered in short, thick fur of a reddish-brown color, although there are sometimes black individuals. They have short, curved, retractile claws and a plantigrade stance (Nowak 1999). Anal and preputial glands can be found. Males have a large baculum, a barb on the glans of the penis, and are slightly larger than females. They have rounded ears. Teeth are shorter and fewer in number (32 to 36) than other viverrids (Schliemann 1989). The generic name, Cryptoprocta, comes from the fact that the anus ("procta") is hidden ("crypto") by an anal pouch (Kohncke & Leonhardt 1986). (Kohncke and Leonhardt, 1986; Nowak, 1999; Schliemann, 1989)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    7 to 12 kg
    15.42 to 26.43 lb
  • Range length
    610 to 800 mm
    24.02 to 31.50 in

Reproduction

Aggression among males may occur during the mating season, including threatening calls and postures, which lead to fights where each contestant tries to bite the other. Copulation can occur on the ground or on a horizontal branch. To signify her readiness to mate, the female lifts her hindquarters and turns her external genitalia inside out about two to three centimeters. The male then mounts her and bites the back of her neck. The period of copulation lasts up to 165 minutes (Schliemann 1989). (Schliemann, 1989)

Mating occurs in September and October, and young are born in a den in December and January after a three month gestation period. At birth the two to four young weigh 100 grams each. They are altricial, being toothless and blind, but furred (Kohncke & Leonhardt 1986). At four and a half months a young fossa is weaned and ventures out of the den (Nowak 1999). The young fossa leaves its mother when it reaches fifteen to twenty months of age, have adult teeth at 2 years old and attain full adult size at four years of age (Schliemann 1989, Nowak 1999). (Kohncke and Leonhardt, 1986; Nowak, 1999; Schliemann, 1989)

  • Breeding interval
    Fossas breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs in September and October.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    3
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    3 months
  • Average gestation period
    90 days
    AnAge
  • Average weaning age
    4.5 months
  • Range time to independence
    15 to 20 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1496 days
    AnAge

Young are cared for and nursed by females in the den until they are weaned. They are further protected until they become independent, at from 15 to 20 months old.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

While the life span of fossas has not been studied in the wild, one specimen lived twenty years in captivity (Kohncke & Leonhardt 1986). (Kohncke and Leonhardt, 1986)

Behavior

Fossas are secretive and primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, though they are occasionally observed during the day. They are solitary, except during the mating season. Fossas are territorial, both sexes mark their territory with scent glands. Aggressive behavior is not common, except during the mating season. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Average territory size
    1 km^2

Home Range

Fossas are territorial, requiring approximately one square kilometer of territory. (Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Fossas have keen vision, hearing, and smell. They mark their territories with secretions from their scent glands and may use chemical cues to communicate reproductive status. (Haltenorth and Diller, 1980)

Food Habits

Fossas are the largest mammalian carnivores on the island of Madagascar. Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Fossas also prey on lemurs (Lemuridae). They are excellent climbers and will pursue lemurs through the trees. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects

Predation

Fossas are top predators on Madagascar. Their main predators are humans. Young fossas may fall prey to large snakes or birds of prey, although this is not documented. Fossas are cryptically colored and secretive. (Kohncke and Leonhardt, 1986)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Fossas are the top, mammalian predators on Madagascar. They impact the populations of many species of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Fossas are fascinating members of a unique Malagasy mammalian radiation. They are charismatic animals and are important in ecotourism.

  • Positive Impacts
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Among humans, fossas have an exaggerated reputation for savagery and destruction. They do sometimes prey upon domestic poultry, and there have even been accounts of attacks on oxen and goats, but these are rare and their veracity may be questionable. (Nowak, 1999)

Conservation Status

Fossas are widely hunted, and their habitat is constantly being enroached upon by humans. Fossas were upgraded from "vulnerable" to "endangered" by the IUCN in 2000 based on estimates that only 2500 individuals survive in increasingly fragmented habitat. (Nowak, 1999)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Barbara Lundrigan (author), Michigan State University, Trevor Zachariah (author), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Haltenorth, T., H. Diller. 1980. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa, Including Madagascar. London: Collins.

Kohncke, M., K. Leonhardt. 1986. Cryptoprocta ferox. No. 254: Mammalian Species.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol I. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schliemann, H. 1989. Viverrids. Pp. 510-556 in S Parker, ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.