We can’t have a month dedicated to Madagascar without mentioning the animal that, in my opinion, encapsulates all that is weird, wacky and wonderful about Madagascan wildlife: the aye-aye. The largest nocturnal primate in the world, the aye-aye is by far the most specialised, unusual, and evolutionary distinct offshoot of the lemur family tree. Its jumble of quirky physical features baffled taxonomists for years, and even today it is viewed by many people as an incarnation of an evil spirit.
One of Madagascar’s most peculiar habitats can be found on the southwestern edge of the island. Strange spiny forests cover an area slightly larger than Wales – and it can only be described as a botanical wonderland. As the name suggests, spines are everywhere in this environment. There are huge, thorn-covered trees and strange, almost otherworldly-looking plants called Didierea, which are several metres tall and wave spiky arms towards the sky. This place looks like what a filmmaker might imagine an alien landscape to look like.
For the whole of October, The Nature Nook has been looking at Madagascan wildlife. We’ve already looked at lemurs, fossas, tenrecs, and the smallest reptile in the world, among others – but the end of the month is rapidly approaching and we still have many more weird and wonderful Madagascan creatures to cover. So today we are posting a ‘Madagascan Miscellany’ – a list of eight strange animals that live on this great island, from a chameleon that only lives for five months to an ant that sucks the blood of its own larvae…
Madagascar, it can be said, is the greatest stronghold of chameleons in the world. Of the 200 or so species, almost half can be found on this huge island. The rest are primarily found in Africa, with a few in Asia, and two species – the common chameleon and the African chameleon – even extending into southern Europe. It may even be the case that the chameleon family as a whole originated in what is now Madagascar before it split off from mainland Africa.
Like many wealthy people of the Victorian Era, Charles Darwin was a passionate orchid collector. He was amazed by their beautifully complex shapes, patterns and structures, and he began amassing a collection of rare specimens from around the world. Even before he wrote On the Origin of Species, Darwin knew that every unique orchid flower must be a result of some advantage that was bestowed upon that species in its particular habitat.