The fossa (pronounced “FOO-sa”) is the largest predator in Madagascar. It lives in forests, both in trees and on the ground, and is active in the day or at night. The animal is an excellent hunter and a great tree climber. It travels up and down trees and along branches with ease. It can also move rapidly over land.
The fossa was once thought to be a type of cat. Researchers have now concluded that it’s related to mongooses, despite having a body with several cat-like features and a dog-like muzzle. Its scientific name is Cryptoprocta ferox. “Crypto” comes from the Ancient Greek word for hidden and “procta” from the word for anus. The name refers to the fact that the animal’s anus is hidden inside a pouch, which opens to the outside via a slit. “Ferox” comes from the Latin word for fierce.
Madagascar is the fossa’s only home in the wild. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the animal’s population as vulnerable due to the loss and fragmentation of its habitat.
Coat and Body
A fossa is a slender animal with a highly elongated body and a long tail. Its hind legs are longer than its front ones. Its hair is short and dense. The animal’s coat is usually reddish or golden brown in colour but is occasionally black. In contrast, its belly is generally cream or light tan.
The fossa’s head is quite small. It has a projecting muzzle, rounded ears, and long whiskers. The nose is bulbous and often especially noticeable. The large eyes of a fossa help it to see at night. Its sharp canine teeth are helpful for attacking its prey.
Dimensions and Weight
The fossa’s head and body have a total length of around twenty-four to thirty-one inches. The tail is often as long as the body. The animal is between fourteen and fifteen inches high at the shoulder.
Fossas weigh around fifteen to twenty-four pounds. Females are generally shorter and lighter than males. The size of one fossa in relation to a human is shown in the second video below.
The long hind legs of the fossa enable it to leap from branch to branch in the trees. Its long tail helps it to balance as it jumps. The animal has semi-retractable claws, like those of a cat. It also has flexible ankles that can bend through an angle of 180 degrees. This ability helps the fossa to cling to tree branches and walk head first down tree trunks. Fossas in captivity have been observed hanging upside down from ropes with just their hind feet attached to the rope.