Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: males, up to 31 inches (80 centimeters); females, up to 27 inches (70 centimeters)
Tail length: 27 to 35 inches (70 to 90 centimeters)
Weight: males, 13 to 22 pounds (6 to 10 kilograms); females, 11 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kilograms)
Life span: unknown in the wild; up to 20 years in zoos
Gestation: 3 months
Number of young at birth: 2 to 4
Weight at birth: 3 to 3.5 ounces (80 to 100 grams)
Age of maturity: about 4 years
Conservation status: endangered
• 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.
• The modern mongoose and the fossa evolved from the same ancestor, which arrived on Madagascar about 21 million years ago.
Listen to a fossa purr!
Listen to a fossa chirp!
Listen to a happy fossa!
At first glance, a fossa looks like some kind of cat, monkey, or weasel. It has paws with claws like a cat, a long tail like a monkey, and round little ears like a weasel, so it's easy to be confused! Although it shares some adaptations with cats, the fossa is closely related to mongooses and civets. Its coat is short, usually a rich brown color with a golden tinge. The fossa's tail makes up about half of the animal's length! Native only to the island nation of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, the fossa has puzzled scientists since the 1830s.
A very agile animal
Fossas are intelligent, agile animals that move with ease high up in the trees of their forest home, even though they can weigh up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms). That extra-long tail helps the fossa balance and jump from branch to branch. Retractable claws like those of a cat help it climb down a tree headfirst! Although it spends a lot of time in trees, the fossa is just as comfortable running flatfooted like a bear along the ground.
Not such a night owl
There is still more to learn about the rare fossa. Until recently, it was believed that fossas were nocturnal because they were so hard to find in the wild. Recent studies show that fossas nap and hunt day or night, depending on mood or circumstance. A fossa can travel up to 16 miles (26 kilometers) in a day. It is solitary except during the breeding season.
Meals on the move
The fossa is a carnivore and excellent hunter. It preys on small- to medium-sized animals from fish to birds, mice, and wild pigs. But its main food item is the lemur, and the fossa is Madagascar's only predator able to kill the largest lemur species. The fossa is an ambush hunter: it uses its forelimbs and claws to catch its prey, killing it quickly with a bite from its sharp teeth. Fossas at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are fed dried cat food, carnivore diet, mice, and large knuckle bones.
Fossas are ready to start their first family when they are about four years old. When it is almost time to give birth, the mother makes a den in a place like an old termite mound or the hollow of a tree. There are two to four pups in a litter, and they are born toothless and with their eyes closed. They are very dependent on their mother for the first few weeks. Their eyes begin to open at about 16 to 25 days old. Fossa pups develop slowly and don't leave the den for about four months; they are dependent on their mother for another eight months. To get the mother's attention, the pups make a high-pitched noise call "mewling." Pups continue to grow until about two years of age. They will find a space of their own and usually only meet up with other fossas during the fall breeding season.
Fossas and people
Fossas are found throughout Madagascar wherever there is forest, but they are rare and their numbers are unknown. In 2000, there were less than 2,500 mature fossas in parts of Madagascar. As one of the island's top predators, fossas do not have natural enemies, but local people kill them because they sometimes attack farm chickens. Fossa habitat is being taken over by humans, and fossas have to compete for food with introduced species like civets. There are also diseases that threaten the fossa: rabies was introduced to the island by domestic dogs and wild cats. The fossa has help, though, because it is protected from export and trade. Ecotourism also helps the fossa and other wildlife on Madagascar. When people travel to this island to see its amazing biodiversity, their visits provide money for the local people and encourage them to keep the forests as they are.