Flora and Fauna of Madagascar

Flora of Madagascar

The flora of Madagascar includes more than 12,000 species of vascular and non-vascular plants. The fungus is still rare. The island of Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot, this exceptional originality is due in particular to the fact that Madagascar has been an isolated island for about 70 million years, separating from Africa about 165 million years ago, and after India nearly 100 million years later.

About 83% of Madagascar’s vascular plants are endemic to the archipelago. Among these endemics, 85% of the 900 Malagasy orchid species are indeed unique to Madagascar; some 200 species of palm trees, six species of baobabs and emblematic species such as the traveler’s tree and the Madagascar periwinkle.

There are four different geographic-climatic macrozones, each with its own characteristic vegetation.

  • The rainforest along the east coast
  • Dry deciduous forest and prairie in the central highlands
  • The savannah in most of the western plains
  • Spiny forest and desert to the southwest

The baobab

The baobab – a monster among trees with its massively swollen trunk and few stubby branches – is emblematic of Madagascar. This is the motherland of the baobabs. Of the nine species found worldwide, six grow exclusively in Madagascar. The others (one in Australia and two on mainland Africa) are believed to have originated from seed pods washed up from Malagasy shores.

baobab tree madagascar

The reason for the extraordinary girth of the baobab tree, which sometimes exceeds 30 m, is that it is well adapted to inhospitable dry conditions. It is capable of absorbing and storing water from sporadic downpours very efficiently, its porous wood acting like a huge sponge. No doubt inspired by the sheer size of some specimens, it has been claimed that these giants can live for many thousands of years. It’s hard to be sure because, unlike other trees, baobabs don’t produce growth rings, but recent radiocarbon dating suggests the oldest may be 900 years old.

Traveler’s palm

The traveler’s tree or traveler’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis) is one of the most spectacular plants in Madagascar. Its graceful fronds are arranged in a dramatic vertical fan, decorative enough to have earned it a role as the logo for Air Madagascar. It is not a true palm tree, but rather a member of the strelitziaceae family. Its common name comes from the relief it offers to thirsty travelers: fresh water is stored at the base of its leaves, which can be released with a quick blow of a machete.

traveler's palm flora madagascar

Vanilla – Madagascar’s biggest export

People are often surprised to learn that vanilla comes from an orchid. The genus Vanilla contains 110 species of which six are native to Madagascar, but the one that is cultivated commercially – V. planifolia – was actually introduced from Mexico.

It is an ingredient used in everything from ice cream and confectionery to cakes and Coca-Cola, as well as in perfumery products. But most vanilla is artificial (made from wood tar or a byproduct of papermaking). Synthetic vanilla is much cheaper to produce but far inferior; contains only one of the aromatic components found in natural vanilla, of which at least 171 have been identified.

vanilla pods

Real vanilla is expensive to produce because it is the most labor-intensive agricultural crop in the world. The plant grows as an evergreen vine that must be sheltered along supporting trees. In its native Mexico it is pollinated by Melipona bees, but in Madagascar there is no suitable insect, so for the pods to develop each flower must be hand-pollinated with a needle. Harvesting is equally labor intensive as pod development must be monitored to ensure they are harvested on the correct day.

Madagascar produces about 1,300 tons a year, more than half of the world’s supply. One hectare of vanilla yields only 60 kg of product. Prices peaked at €400/kg in 2005, but have since dropped to less than 10%.

Madagascar wildlife

The fauna of Madagascar, like its flora, is very rich. It presents between 80 and 90% of the endemic species. Many factors have contributed to the original evolution and diversification of the current animal species on the island: the absence of certain predators, the successive fragmentation of the continental masses of which the island formed a part millions of years ago, the influence of changes paleoclimatic, the drift towards the north of the island to its current position, the development of certain forest ecosystems (appearance of angiosperms about 140 million years ago), the topography of the island, etc.

The Malagasy mammalian fauna has nothing to envy to the other kinds of animals on the island, the latter being exceptional in many respects. It is divided into 7 orders (Afrosoricida, Soricomorpha, Chiroptera, Primates, Carnivora, Artiodactyla and Rodentia) and 23 families, that is, more than 150 species, almost all endemic to Madagascar and the Comoros. Noteworthy (if we exclude introduced species) is the absence of large African species belonging to groups of modern mammals with Ethiopian affinities (elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, deer, cattle, and cats). Similarly, primitive groups such as monotremes and marsupials are also absent. Lemurs are the best known mammals in Madagascar. They can only be found in Madagascar. In the absence of monkeys and other competitors,

About 280 species of birds have been recorded in Madagascar and about 200 of them breed. Although these are relatively low numbers for a large tropical island, there is a high degree of endemism. More than 100 bird species are endemic and 49 of them are restricted range endemics with a range of less than 50,000 km. Relatively few families and genera of reptiles have reached Madagascar, but they have diversified into more than 260 species, of which more than 90% are endemic. Chameleons are very well represented, as two-thirds of the world’s species are found there. There are more than 290 species of amphibians in Madagascar and new species are regularly found. Almost all of them are endemic and most are limited to primary forests. Madagascar has a rich freshwater fish fauna with a very high rate of endemism. The full diversity is unclear, as new species are regularly being described, and species may have disappeared before they were discovered; estimates suggest that the island has between 135 and 150 species of indigenous fish that are restricted to fresh water.


Madagascar is the only place in the world where lemurs are found in the wild; the lack of predators on the island and its isolation from the rest of the world has meant that they thrive. Over time, they have adapted to the country’s different habitats, evolving into many different subspecies ranging from the tiny pygmy mouse lemur to the child-sized indri.

lemur wildlife madagascar

Some of the fondest memories of my travels in Madagascar came from lemur encounters, whether it was listening to the whale-like cry of an indri high in the trees, seeing the light-up eyes of mouse lemurs on a night walk, or sharing a barbecue with some opportunistic ring-tailed lemurs looking for scraps. More than 30 species of lemurs have been recorded throughout Madagascar; some are easier to find than others, but your guides will know the best places to look.

Satanic Leaf Tailed Gecko

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko endemic to Madagascar is a master of camouflage. This incredible lizard can incredibly camouflage itself to resemble a dead leaf. No one can easily see the gecko when it is resting on a leaf. This unique species from Madagascar can blend in perfectly with its natural environment. The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is only 10-15 cm long. Gecko coloration is surprisingly varied, ranging from gray, brown, tan, yellow, and orange. They also have leaf-vein-like lines on their body.

satanic leaf tailed gecko

Satanic leaf-tailed geckos are nocturnal reptiles. During the day, they rest on tree branches or lie motionless on dead leaves. They blend in with their surroundings in no time thanks to their unique body shape and spectacular color variability. Thus, satanic leaf-tailed geckos can avoid the threat of potential predators such as birds and snakes. Camouflage is not the only technique used to avoid the threat. When facing a predator, they display bright red mouths by opening their jaws wide. In addition, they also show an erect tail. Thus, the geckos can confuse the predator and can escape its sight.

Aye Aye

Aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the world. They can only be found in Madagascar. They are dark brown in color and have large eyes and thin fingers. All of this makes the aye-aye look so scary. Although, they are very mild and harmless. But many people kill them on seeing them because of their scary appearance. Such hunting and habitat loss make the aye-aye one of Madagascar’s endangered animals.

aye aye primate madagascar

The aye-aye lives in the coastal forest of Madagascar. It is an animal that lives in trees and avoids contact with the ground. They have very sharp claws on each of their fingers. This allows them to easily move between branches. The aye-aye is a nocturnal creature and only hunts at night. During the day, they sleep in the sphere as a nest built in the branches of trees. At night, they travel more than 4 km in search of food. They use their large, sensitive ears to detect wood-boring larvae and scoop them out with their elongated middle finger. The aye-aye diet also includes seeds, fruits, and nectar.


The fossa is the largest carnivore found only in the forest of Madagascar. This mammal can reach 1.80 m in length and weigh up to 10 kg. At first glance, the fossa looks like a cross between a mongoose and a cat. Fossas are also Madagascar’s top predator. Unfortunately, only a small population of fossas remains in the wild on Madagascar. Habitat loss is the main cause of the fossa population decline in Madagascar. Fossas have a very strong and muscular body with short, reddish-brown fur. The long tail is one of the most distinctive features of the fossas. The tail actually makes up almost half of the total length of a fossa.

fossa predator madagascar

Fossas are very agile climbers. Retractable claws and flexible ankle joints allow them to easily climb trees. The long tail of the fossas also provides them with the correct balance when moving along the branches of the trees. Like humans, fossas walk on the soles of their feet, a type of locomotion known as “plantigrade.” It gives the fossas stability to jump from one branch to another.

The fossa is the most efficient hunter among the animals of Madagascar. It is an ambush predator, making surprise attacks on its prey. Fossas hunt both day and night. With their sharp claws and sharp teeth, fossas can quickly kill their prey. Lemurs are the main food of the fossas. They also hunt other small mammals, fish, birds, frogs, and lizards.


Sifaka is an attractive species of lemur found only on the island of Madagascar. There are three main types of Sifakas – golden crown sifaka, coquerel sifaka and headband sifaka. They are one of the most endangered species in Madagascar. Habitat loss is the main threat facing the sifaka. Sifakas are medium-sized primates with a body length of between 40 and 55 cm and a weight of up to 6 kg. The long, silky coat is the most distinctive feature of sifakas. The coat color varies between black, gold, white and gray.

sifaka lemur

Sifakas are animals that live in trees. They spent most of their lives in the branches of trees. They can easily jump between tree branches with their powerful hind legs. Sifakas are generally found in small groups containing 6 to 10 members. They feed mainly on fruits, leaves and shoots.


This is one of the strangest looking creatures on earth. While the adults are flat and pinkish like flower petals, the nymphs “grow” a white substance that makes them look like bits of fuzz or curly feathers. The substance protects them from predators, who are left with only the white exterior when the bug escapes. Most of them reside in the western forests of the island, although there are some in the Anja Community Reserve.

flatidae insect madagascar


Madagascar is reputed to be home to a cat-like primate called a lemur. There are 50 different types of lemur that live in the forests of Madagascar. The indri is the largest of all the lemurs found on the island of Madagascar. They have a body length of between 55 and 70 cm and weigh up to 10 kg. The indri is also one of the endangered lemur species with a population of less than 10,000.

indri lemur

The indris inhabit the tropical forests of the eastern part of Madagascar. They live in small groups that include 4 to 8 animals. The indris are famous for making high-pitched calls. They make such calls to communicate with each other. These calls are loud enough to be heard from miles away. Like the sifakas, the indris spend most of their lives in the trees. They are arboreal primates, means specially adapted to move among the trees. Indris have powerful legs and large toes that allow them to grip tree branches tightly. This amazing lemur can cross a distance of up to 10 meters in a single jump.

Tomato frog

Tomato frogs are named for their vibrant orange-red skin. Only the female frogs are as brightly colored as a tomato. Male frogs have a duller brownish-orange color. Without a doubt, tomato frogs are one of the most colorful animals in the world. They are only found in the forests of the island of Madagascar.

tomato frog

In Madagascar, tomato frogs inhabit swamps, shallow pools, or other wetter parts of the island. The bright coloration of tomato frogs is actually a warning to predators. But tomato frogs are not that toxic. When threatened, their skin produces a thick, sticky fluid to deter potential predators like snakes. Tomato frogs are ambush predators. That means they sit in a particular spot and make a surprise attack on their prey. The diet of tomato frogs includes mainly insects and small invertebrates.

Panther chameleon

About the size of a domestic cat, the panther chameleon is one of the largest chameleons in the world. They measure from 43 to 50 cm in length. This large species of chameleon is native to the island of Madagascar. Panther chameleons are also famous for their striking technicolor skin. Panther chameleons inhabit the coastal areas and islands of central and northwestern Madagascar. Their skin color pattern varies depending on where they live. The color of the skin varies between orange, red, blue, dark green or bluish green with different stripes and spots. Male panther chameleons are more colorful than females.

panther chameleon

Panther chameleons have the power to change color with incredible speed. This spectacular change of color does not only depend on the change of location. It is also affected by your mood, health, temperature variation, and light intensity. Male panther chameleons show an amazing skin color transformation during the breeding season or in defense. Chameleon females are usually a dull color of gray or brown. But, during the breeding season they also turn pale or orange to pink.

Blue wedge

One of those unique birds of Madagascar is the Blue Cua. It is a non-parasitic member of the cuckoo bird family. They are famous for their striking deep blue plumage. Blue cuckoos can measure between 43 and 50 cm in length and weigh up to 235 g. Almost all parts of his body are blue. The dark blue plumage and light blue skin around their eyes are very attractive. Unfortunately, this beautiful bird from Madagascar may become extinct in the near future due to hunting.

blue wedge

Unlike other cuckoo birds, Blue Cuas build their own nests. They use the leaves and twigs to build their nest. Blue Quay nests are often hidden in bush trees. They only lay one egg during the breeding season. Interestingly, the Blue Cua also incubates its own eggs.

Giraffe weevil

The giraffe weevil is a strange-looking insect that is endemic to the forests of Madagascar. The giraffe weevil is named for its enormously long neck. The neck of the male giraffe weevil is 2 to 3 times longer than that of the female. Male insects use their long necks to build nests and compete with other males during mating season. With an average length of 2.5 cm, the giraffe weevil is one of the largest insects in the weevil family. The most notable thing, apart from its long neck, is the red shell that covers its hind legs. It’s called elytra. Giraffe weevils use these shells in conjunction with their hind wings in flight.

giraffe weevil

Today, a large population of giraffe weevils lives in the forests of Madagascar. They also feed on the leaves of these trees. Fortunately, there are no known predators for giraffe weevils. Unlike its strange appearance, the giraffe weevil is completely harmless. They do not show any aggression towards humans or towards other species.


Snakes of the strange genus “Langaha” are among the many gruesome reptiles endemic to the island. In the highly distinctive Madagascar lance-nosed snake (L, madagascariensis), males are yellow and tan, with a lance-shaped nasal appendage.

langaha snake

Females look like an entirely different species, grayish in color with a serrated, leaf-like nasal extension, giving rise to the name “Madagascar leaf-headed snake.” The species has a fairly wide distribution and can be seen in places such as Lokobe in the Nosy Be Archipelago, Anjajavy Reserve, and Zombitse Forest in the interior southwest.

Malagasy pochard

With a total population of less than 100, the Malagasy pochard is the rarest duck in the world. They are endemic to the swamps and freshwater lakes of Madagascar. This extremely rare species of duck is believed to have been extinct for many years. But in 2006, around 20 Malagasy pochards were rediscovered in Lake Matsaborimena. That same year a breeding program was started. By 2013, researchers have managed to increase the duck population to 80, from just 20. The initial decline in the duck population is caused by the loss of nesting sites and the introduction of new species into their habitat.

Malagasy porron duck

Still, Malagasy pochards are vulnerable to extinction due to the scarcity of food in their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has classified the Malagasy pochard as critically endangered. It is a medium-sized duck, growing to 45-54 cm in length. It has attractive reddish-brown flanks, a white belly, and a grayish bill.

Kite butterfly

Kite butterflies are a species that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It has a huge wingspan of around 20 cm and a tail span of 15 cm. The wings are yellow with brown markings and eye-like patterns, but it is the moth’s serpentine tail that gives it presence. Largely nocturnal, these butterflies are endemic to the eastern rainforests of Madagascar.

kite butterfly


If you’re visiting between June and October, whale watching is an option on the east coast of Madagascar. Humpback whales (humpback whales) migrate here from Antarctica to breed and calve in the warm waters. They can often be seen crashing the waves from shore, or you can get a closer look at them by heading out on a boat trip from Île Sainte-Marie (an island off the northeast coast of Madagascar).

humpback whale

In addition to the waters of Île Sainte-Marie, they are also in the Masoala National Park in the northeast, where you can see the tail of a whale or a whale spouting water while strolling along the deserted beaches of Antongil Bay.

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