10 Incredible Fossa Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: October 8, 2022
© belizar/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:
Continue Reading To See This Amazing Video

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!

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.

©kellinahandbasket / Flickr

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.

The name “fossa” has different meanings

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

©Mathias Appel / Flickr

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.

Fossas have an ancient ancestry

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

©Josh Henderson / Flickr

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.

Fossas are Madagascar’s largest mammal carnivore

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

©Chad Teer / Creative Commons

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.

Fossa’s are amazing climbers

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

©Ran Kirlian / Creative Commons

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.

Fossas mostly live in isolation 

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

©Ran Kirlian / Creative Commons

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.

Fossas can produce different sounds

Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, New York

©Dave Pape – Public Domain

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.

Fossas are fierce carnivores

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

©M.M. / Creative Commons

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.

Fossas use scents to communicate

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

©Keven Law / Creative Commons

Both males and females have glands across their chest 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.

There still is some confusion as to what fossas are

Fossas are presently classed as part of the Eupleridae family.

©Ltshears / Creative Commons

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.


The Featured Image

Coolest Animals: The Fossa
Malagasy fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) in a tree. The fossa is one of the top predators on the island of Madagascar. Fossas have scent glands that release a stinky smell when the animal is irritated or frightened.
© belizar/Shutterstock.com

Share this post on:
About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.