My post today is going to sound like an essay written by a little kid, because it’s about one of my favorite animals, the fossa. First off, it’s pronounced ‘foo-sah’, because the name comes from Malagasy (the properish term for things from Madagascar), not from Latin. The other common use of the word fossa is in anatomy (meaning a ditch or trench), and is pronounced ‘fahsa’, because it IS Latin.
The fossa is the largest member of the family Eupleridae, which makes up the Malagasy carnivores. In this context, when I use the word carnivore, I really mean ‘member of the mammalian order Carnivora, not ‘animal that eats meat’. You could also say ‘Carnivoran’ for this, but that’s just annoying. Euplerids are related to mongooses, civets, and hyenas, all of which are in their own families, and more closely related to cats than dogs (but they are NOT cats).
Fossas (remember, not Latin, so this is the plural) are only 2 to 2.5 feet long and weigh maybe 20-25 pounds maximum, with tails as long as their body (so maybe 4-5 feet total), but they are some rough customers for their size. They really like to eat lemurs, another Malagasy-only animal. I’m pretty sure it’s because lemurs are delicious, but you’d have to ask a fossa, because I have yet to eat one. Watching fossas hunt is probably the coolest thing ever, unless you really like lemurs, because when hunting they are basically unrestrained arboreal lemur-murdering machines.
Personally, I like fossas better than lemurs, so their tendencies toward serial-killing of lemurs doesn’t bother me that much. A girl’s gotta eat.
Fossas also have a really crazy mating system. Females mate multiply with groups of males, generally with all the males present. Females also have transiently masculinized genitalia while juveniles (spinescent and enlarged), interestingly reminiscent of the spotted hyena, though not quite as extreme.
Another species of fossa, called the giant fossa, went extinct fairly recently, as the remains that have been found are ‘subfossils’, meaning not-yet-fossilized. The giant fossa wasn’t much bigger than our current fossa though, maybe topping out at about 45 pounds. There are many legends about fossas much bigger than this, up to seven and even ten feet long. Awesome, but probably not true. There did used to be some really big lemurs they could eat though, so maybe we’ll find some huge fossa fossils (fossals) sometime in the future.
Sadly, fossas are endangered, mostly due to habitat loss, as deforestation is a huge problem in Madagascar. Local people will also kill them because they are thought to attack livestock, and also as bushmeat (food), despite many taboos against eating fossas.
So, here’s to the fossa, a unique, awesome, and unfortunately endangered animal that chows down on lemurs. Personally, I’ve still got my fingers crossed that they’ll find one that’s 10 feet long.