10 Incredible Fossa Facts

Coolest Animals: The Fossa
belizar/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Gaeng

Updated: August 25, 2023

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Fossas resemble cats, monkeys, or weasels. It’s easy to confuse because it has cat-like paws, a monkey’s tail, and weasel-like ears. The fossa is related to the mongoose and civet but possesses cat-like adaptations. It has a short, thick coat with golden tints and a lighter belly. A fossa’s tail is half its length.  

The mongoose and fossa are closely related as they are unique to Madagascar’s jungles. The fossa is an endangered species despite being the top predator on the island and having no natural enemies. Want to learn more? Let’s explore 10 incredible Fossa facts!

Ferox is the scientific name given to the fossa because of the animal’s exaggerated reputation for viciousness.

1. Natives of Madagascar have Many Myths About the Fossa

Fossas, the island’s largest predators, live off Africa’s east coast in Madagascar, a small island.

Fossas are rare and often located in remote, forested areas, contributing to their lack of awareness. Because of this, scientists have been puzzled by them since the 1830s. Fossas, the island’s largest predators, live off Africa‘s east coast in Madagascar, a small island. In Madagascar, the name is pronounced “foo-sa” or “foo-sh.”

You could author a book about the mythology of the fossa. Fossas are said to be able to contract their pupils to the point of complete disappearance, use their scent to kill poultry, sneak into homes, and take newborns from their nurseries. Another legend claims that a fossa may lick a sleeping person and cause them to fall into a deep trance. The fossa subsequently eviscerates the defenseless victim once the victim is possessed. Although these tales may be improbable, they show the fossa as a clever and ruthless creature.

2. The Name “Fossa” has Different Meanings

The anal pouch that covers the fossa’s anus gave the fossa its genus name of

Cryptoprocta

.

The name fossa is defined as “a small dip or hollow” in the English language. In Human Anatomy, the word “deep face” is also employed. The fossa’s scientific name means “hidden anus” in Greek, which is noteworthy. The anal pouch that covers the fossa’s anus gave the fossa its genus name of Cryptoprocta. Their roots can be traced back to the Greek terms for hidden (crypto) and anus (procta). Ferox is the scientific name given to the fossa because of the animal’s exaggerated reputation for viciousness.

3. Fossas have an Ancient Ancestry

Malagasy fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) on tree

The fossa comes from a long line of adaptive mongoose evolution.

As far back as 21 million years ago, a common ancestor of the fossa and the modern mongoose lived in Madagascar. The ancestral species must have migrated from Africa to Madagascar about 20–30 million years ago. To get to the feline form we see today, countless generations of mongoose have undergone adaptive evolution. There are also some mongoose-like features in the fossa.

4. Fossas are Madagascar’s Largest Carnivorous Mammal

Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is standing near river

The fossa’s flexible legs and partly retracted claws allow it to climb and leap from trees head-first.

Several convergent evolutions in the fossa’s evolutionary history have led some Madagascar scientists to compare it to a miniature cougar. Males are larger than females and weigh 12 to 19 lbs., with a length of 28-31 inches, including the head. Its flexible legs and partly retracted claws, which can elongate but not entirely retract, allow it to climb and leap from trees head-first. Cryptoprocta spelea, a much larger member of the genus, is thought to have gone extinct before the year 1400.

5. Fossas are Amazing Climbers

Fossa sitting in a tree, on the lurk.

The fossa moves in a manner known as “plantigrade,” where it walks on the soles of its feet like a bear.

The fossa can climb up and down trees head-first thanks to its semi-retractable claws, flexible ankles, and long, slender tail, which helps it balance as it glides through the woods. The fossa moves in a manner known as “plantigrade,” where it walks on the soles of its feet like a bear. Thanks to this, they may leap from branch to branch with more stability and balance.

6. Fossas Live Mostly in Isolation 

Fossa with an inquisitive look

The fossa’s keen vision can cover nearly two square miles-sized zones.

Aside from moms and their young and brief pairings during the breeding season, all other Fossas are lonesome creatures. Two square miles-sized zones are under their watchful eye and protection. Researchers observed three male fossas chasing a sifaka for almost an hour in 2009, a rare event. After they had seized the prey, they split it up. Researchers believe this behavior may be a vestige of the synchronized hunting that was once required to kill Madagascar’s larger lemurs.

7. Fossas can Produce Different Sounds

Fossa - Cryptoprocta ferox long-tailed mammal endemic to Madagascar, family Eupleridae, related to the Malagasy civet, the largest mammalian carnivore and top or apex predator on Madagascar.

Males will yowl while competing for a female’s attention and sigh if they’ve found a female receptive to their advances.

In addition, fossas employ a wide range of vocalizations, most of which are utilized in the breeding season. Males will yowl while competing for a female’s attention and sigh if they’ve found a female receptive to their advances. The females mew to entice the males.

8. Fossas are Fierce Carnivores

Fossa in the wilrd - Kirindy National Park - Madagascar

The fossa’s diet comprises small mammals, aquatic plants, reptiles, birds, and frogs.

Fossas can hunt during the day or night, mostly on the ground or amongst the trees in the woods, and catch their prey anywhere. In addition to lemurs, they eat small mammals, aquatic plants, reptiles, birds, and frogs. A fossa is Madagascar’s most feared predator.

9. Fossas Use Scents to Communicate

Ferocious, fearsome and fascinating, the fossa is Madagascar's top native predator. Photographed at Kirindy Forest.

Fossas have scent glands that release a stinky smell when the animal is irritated or frightened.

Both males and females have glands across their chests and on the bottom of their tails, which allow them to mark their territories with their scents. Fossas use ground, rock, and tree markings to communicate and stay organized. The animal’s glands also produce a strong odor when aroused or alarmed.

10. There is Still Some Confusion as to What Fossas Are

A Fossa curled up sleeping.

Fossa classification has proved to be a challenge. Like mongooses, civets, and Felidae predators such as cats, they exhibit some of the same physical traits. According to the classification of carnivores found in Madagascar, fossas are presently classed as part of the Eupleridae family. Approximately 20 million years ago, the progenitors of this family arrived in Madagascar as mongoose-like critters.


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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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