A lifelong dream to visit this magical island finally came true for me this year! In many ways, visiting Madagascar is perhaps even more of an evolutionary biologist's pilgrimage than going to the Galapagos - the sheer number of radiations and endemics is mind-boggling!
After reading 'Zoo Quest to Madagascar', I became completely hooked on the idea of visiting this bizarre corner of the world. The promise of spotting lemurs, comet orchids and vangas in the wild was just too enticing.
Here are a few of my highlights ....
a rather 'well-loved' copy of this wonderful book sits on my shelf. it actually belongs to my mum (shhh, don't tell her I have it!)
Sickle-billed vangas (Falculea palliata) were on the top of my list of fauna to see on the red island. The vangas are Madagascar's answer to Darwin's finches, but show even more extreme radiation, exhibiting dramatic morphological and ecological diversification that arose in order to occupy the vacant niches available when the island was first colonised.
sickle-billed vangas are known locally as 'baby birds' because one of their vocalisations sounds very similar to the cry of a human baby!
Giraffe weevils (Trachelophorus giraffa), also known as giraffe-necked weevils, are endemic to Madagascar.
What amazing mini-beasts! The males have elongated necks and this is thought to assist the males when they fight with each other over access to females.
the local malagasy guide found these amazing weevils almost before i finished my rather hopeful request to see them
Angraecum orchids are a 'must see' for Madagascar. The long nectar tube that you can see on this orchid can grow to a bewildering 12 inches long in the comet orchid!
Charles Darwin made a prediction on seeing a comet orchid for the first time. He wrote "...in Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten to eleven inches!".
He was of course correct - over 40 years later, Xanthopan morganii praedicta was identified as the comet orchid's only pollinator! It is now widely know as Darwin's moth.
What exquisite products of coevolution!
not THE comet orchid, but a smaller relative. all angraecum orchids are epiphytes, growing on the bark and branch crooks of trees in the rainforests of eastern madagascar.
I can say, without any shame, that I shed a few tears the first time I heard indris singing up close in the forest. Hauntingly beautiful, their songs reverberate through you like some sort of eerie tree-top whale song.
These peaceful wide-eyed singers could be the original teddy bears! But don't be fooled, these are wild animals and when they decide to move off through the canopy, the sheer power of those spring-like hindlegs becomes apparent.
these tree-top teddy bears sing to keep their groups together and warn neighbouring groups that the area is still occupied
Tsingy are rock formations as sharp as knives, that have been formed by the elements over the eons. Watching this male Decken's Sikaka (Propithecus deckeni) leaping about across the Tsingy made me wince!
The name "Sifaka" originates from the explosive call made by these animals when they are alarmed.
sifakas have a leaping locomotion and thick leather pads on their feet that allow them to survive in this unusual habitat.
If you are considering a trip to Madagascar ... just go!
behaviour and evolution natural history photography travel & wildlife wandering