Monias benschisubdesert mesite

Geographic Range

Monias benschi are endemic to Madagascar. The species occupies a strip of coastal land 70-80 km wide and 200 km long on the southwestern border between the Mangoky and Fiheranana rivers.

(Collar and Stuart 1985; Morris and Hawkins 1998)


Subdesert mesites occupy the dry spinney forests of southwestern Madagascar. Their habitat has minimal herbaceous growth with sandy soil, and includes areas that are well littered with leaves. Nevertheless, they are also able to live in open forests if shade and leaf litter occur. The subdesert mesite is restricted to its current habitat of Madagascar due to its inability to move across the Mangoky and Fiheranana rivers that surround its range. The subdesert mesite lives from sea level to 130 m above sea level.

(Del Hoyo et al. 1996; Morris and Hawkins 1998)

Physical Description

Subdesert mesites are medium-sized birds ranging from 30-32 cm in length. Monias benschi have white heads and throats, with black stripes. Both males and females have dark, long, curved bills with a red base. The adult male has a white breast with black crescents. Their short rounded wings and long tails are brown-grey. The male also has a reddish iris, along with red feet and legs. The female subdesert mesite differs from the male in appearance only in that she has profound dark spotting on her breast and wings and an orange iris. The young are very similar to the adults, they have pinkish legs and feet and usually have a slightly browner breast. Seasonal variation has not been reported.

(Collar and Stuart 1985; Langrand 1990; Morris and Hawkins 1998)


Egg development occurs in the months of December and January. The eggs are laid by the female between October and April. Little else is known about their basic reproductive biology. Both the male and female incubate the developing eggs, also sharing the responsibilities of feeding and caring for the young. Breeding occurs in the rainy season, and different females have been found to lay eggs in the same nest.

(Del Hoyo et al. 1996)


Subdesert mesites are terrestrial and active during the day. They rarely live alone but instead live in groups of three to six. Sometimes as many as ten birds live together. As a group the birds move together from place to place and sometimes spend the night perched together on a branch that is three meters from the ground. The birds are mostly restricted to the ground and only fly to escape danger. Routinely they fly up to a nearby branch that is very close to the ground and perch motionless with their heads down and tail up. This motionless behavior is a predator-evasion technique, and they may remain frozen for up to a half hour. Territorial fighting has been observed, but there is no documentation on whether or not the birds are group-territorial. Males are more fearful than females.

(Del Hoyo et al. 1996; Morris and Hawkins 1998)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Monias benschi use their long curved bills to peck and dig into the leaf-covered soil as they feed mostly on invertebrates including cockroaches, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles and millipedes. Their diet also consists of seeds and small fruits.

(Del Hoyo et al. 1996; Morris and Hawkins 1998)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As an endemic species with distinctive terrestrial habits and vulnerable status, M. benschi attract bird watchers and other naturalists, creating needed revenue for Madagascar.

(Morris and Hawkins 1998)

Conservation Status

Monias benschi are classified as globally threatened. The bird is threatened mainly by the rapid rate of habitat loss and the destruction of the forests to which they are restricted. The subdesert mesite's small range makes them especially threatened by environmental pressures that are applied by the Madagascar subsistence agriculture. Other environmental pressures are produced by commercial exploitation for charcoal and timber. They are also in danger as a result of neighboring villagers hunting and trapping them, and face dangers enforced by predators, mainly dogs. The range of the subdesert mesite does not include any protected areas.

(Collar and Stuart 1985; Del Hoyo et al. 1996; Morris and Hawkins 1998)


Robert Ley (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate

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.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


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.


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).


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.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


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


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Collar, N. 1985. Threatened Birds of Africa and Related Islands. Cambridge, UK: International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP).

Del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. 3. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona: Hoatzin to Auks.

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to Birds of Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

Morris, P., F. Hawkins. 1998. Birds of Madagascar: A Photographic Guide. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.