Scientific Name: Cryptoprocta ferox
The fossa’s scientific name comes from the Greek crypto, which means “hidden,” and ferox, which means “brave” or “fierce.”
Pound-for-pound, the fossa is one of the most formidable hunters on the planet. It is acrobatic, agile and relentless in its pursuit of lemurs. They possess a set of long, lean forearms that are coupled with some truly gnarly claws and a fearsome set of teeth.
STATUS: The fossa is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The fossa must have trees to live in if it is to be successful, and the forests of its native Madagascar are being depleted by human habitation at an alarming rate.
HABITAT: The fossa is the apex mammalian predator on the island of Madagascar. It prefers the densely forested savannahs of the coastal plains and the mountains that run along the edges of the island. It will avoid the treeless areas of the central highlands where habitat destruction has already destroyed about 90% of the forests.
DIET: The fossa is strictly carnivorous, with well over one-half of its diet consisting of the lemurs, which it catches and consumes while in the trees. It will also feed opportunistically on the ground for birds, baby bush pigs, civet cats, fish, rats, eggs, snakes, frogs, and insects. Occasionally, the fossa will raid into domestic areas and steal chickens, small sheep, and tiny goats.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Picture a miniature mountain lion with short stubby legs and an oversized tail leaping from tree to tree…that is the image of the fossa. Muscular and athletic, the fossa has a deserved reputation as a fearsome and solitary hunter. Standing about 15 inches tall, its long slender body might reach up to 32 inches long (with an equally long tail to match). Possessing a thick reddish-brown coat on its backside and a cream-colored furry underbelly, the fossa is a beautiful animal. Its retractile claws allow it to grasp its prey and quickly scamper up the trees. Its catlike face and thick facial whiskers allow it to plunge through the thickest foliage with lightning speed.
A Star is Emerging
The fossa has one of the most unusual mating rituals known in the animal kingdom. Fossas are solitary creatures except for the mating season (which runs from September until October). A single, dominant female will climb high up onto a tree branch and utter a spray of both verbal utterances and liquid pheromones, announcing her intentions to all of the males who have gathered below. The gnarliest male will win the rights to first courtship and will mate with the female for something approaching 2 hours at a time. Then, the second-most capable male will climb the tree, and she will mate with him as well (from an evolutionary viewpoint, this mating strategy ensures that the female will acquire the most-fit DNA from the male population). After the first female has disembarked from the tree, a second female will duplicate her routine, until every fossa in the area has had a chance to mate.