Tour to Neocene


41. Savannas of Lemuria



Translated by João Vitor Coutinho, Brazil
Edited by Timothy Donald Morris, Australia

In the Neocene, Africa underwent significant geological changes. This continent, which was previously a single and whole landmass, had split into two parts. From the east, a large island broke away from Africa – it is Zinj Land. But to the east of Zinj Land, in the Indian Ocean, another island lies, also once a part of Africa, but its breakaway had happened much earlier. It is Madagascar.
The nature of Madagascar in the epoch of the first settlers was remarkable in its great degree of originality. There, animals that became extinct at the “Grand Terre” have been preserved – lemurs and tenrecs, as well as numerous species of endemic birds and plants. The human colonization of the island had became the reason of the extinction of the most of the large animals of the island. Among them, there were “elephant bird” Aepyornis, giant species of tortoises and lemurs (and among these primates not only individual species died out, but entire families also). People cut down forests, developed ground for the crop plantations, changing landscapes radically. These activities have led to a depletion of biodiversity of the island. Over time, the number of people on the Earth has exceeded all the limits allowed for live beings of such a size, and it has further aggravated the global ecological crisis. The area of pristine, primigenial natural communities has shrunk greatly, and many species deprived of their usual habitat have become extinct. The sensitive insular flora and fauna suffered from the anthropogenic activities in especially great degree. The nature of Madagascar suffered heavy losses in the human era.
And then everything was over. Humanity disappeared, becoming a victim of a fateful confluence of many circumstances – like dinosaurs. So, the natural communities unrestrained the rigid framework that man put upon them began to develop freely only under the laws of nature, but not the will of the beings declared themselves to be the “Crown of Creation”.
The terrain of Madagascar largely determined the image of its nature. The island is divided from north to south by a mountain range, and this has had a decisive influence on the pattern of the distribution of the natural communities of the island. The east of Madagascar, open to the winds from the Indian Ocean, is entirely overgrown with tropical rainforests, and savanna with small areas of forests and wetlands dominates at the west of it. As a consequence, the fauna of these places is drastically different.
Western Madagascar is a place where the change of seasons is particularly noticeable. However, in this area not winter and summer alter, as, for example, in the middle latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, but dry and rain seasons. In the east of the island, for example, the seasonal changes are almost not pronounced.
The flora of Madagascar as a whole suffered due to the deforestation and the introduction of exotic animals and plants by people. The savanna of Western Madagascar is somewhat distantly similar to African one, although it has its own special flavor. It is given by the broad “fans” of the leaves of a special plant called Ravenala, or “travellers’ tree”. It remained here since Holocene epoch and survived successfully the epoch of human domination (it happened, perhaps, due to its cultivation in botanical gardens). In warm and humid climate of Neocene this tree species thrives, forming sometimes almost monospecific thickets along the forest edges and on well-moistened soils. Small groups of trees of other species grow mainly near rivers, lakes and wetlands. Drier places are occupied by grasses. Also, the savannas of Madagascar are characterized by various baobab species. These trees with easily recognizable thick trunks grow on the plains and in the foothills in small groups or as separate trees.
The beginning of the dry season is a time when the inhabitants of the Madagascar savanna are still enjoying the abundance of food, but are already beginning to prepare for harsher times. During this period, many species of trees completely or partially shed their foliage for the sake of saving moisture. Therefore, animals living in tree crowns behave more warily than in the rain season – they can be easily noticed by any of the local feathered or ground-dwelling predators.
In the sparse forests of Madagascar, it is possible to spot creatures looking strange at first sight. At the dawn, they leave shelters where they spent the night and go out to feed. Looking at these animals, you might wonder if the depopulated Earth was inhabited by fabulous creatures. These animals step over the trees on their hind legs deftly and gracefully, like little humans. And on their shoulders as if fur mantles are shuffled on. Are they forest fairies? No, after all, these are animals – they have long mobile tails and elongated muzzles. When one of these creatures yawns, long canines are clearly visible in its mouth. From time to time, one or two adults watch the sky, trying to notice in advance the large birds of prey that are their main enemies.
These creatures are representatives of one Neocene lemur species. Becoming smaller in comparison with their ancestors, they managed to maintain a numerous population and acquired in addition another interesting ability unique to primates. When these lemurs come to the edge of the tree crown, their way is not barred: they can easily get to a nearby tree. Having swayed while standing on a branch, these animals make jumps one by one like huge shaggy and tailed frogs. In the air, they spread their front paws to the sides, and what appeared to be a fur robe, stretches into a patagium. With this device, animals easily cover the fifteen-meter distance between neighboring trees. After this ability, this species got its name – it is flying lemur.
Approaching the targeted place, these lemurs stretch their hind legs forward, and land on the branches accurately, clutching against them with all four paws in a death grip.
These lemurs spend all their time in the tree crones, only occasionally venturing for a risky journey to the ground. In the trees, they find both food and shelter for themselves. But with the beginning of the dry season, when the amount of food in the tree crowns is reduced, they are forced to cross the land much more frequently. At this time, the ability of making gliding jumps does not save them from predators, and ground-dwelling predators are added to their list of enemies alongside with the aerial ones.
Flying lemurs represent just one of the many species of lemurs that have inhabited Madagascar since human disappearance. Virtually all Madagascar primates are descendants of only a few species of lemurs that have successfully survived the ecological crisis. In the due course of evolution, they have occupied a wide variety of ecological niches – this process is named as “adaptive radiation”. Even forms descended from one common ancestor can be completely different from each other and have different lifestyles.
In the distance from the tree harboring a group of flying lemurs, a herd of fairly large animals appears. From a distance, they look a lot like tall thin people, but move in long jumps, like kangaroos. These are some of the largest lemurs of Madagascar – giant kangaroo lemurs. Oddly enough, they are close relatives of flying lemurs, sharing a common ancestral species. These animals have long hind legs and thickened elastic tails that perform the function of balancers.
A group of kangaroo lemurs is rapidly approaching, and it can be seen that it includes animals of different ages. Among the dozen adult animals, about half a dozen adolescents is visible, and on one female’s back, a very small cub sits. Kangaroo lemurs are omnivores; they consume a wide variety of plant foods. Due to their growth, these primates easily reach leaves still left on the bushes or low-growing trees. They usually eat the leaves, bending the branches down with their front paws, like ground sloths, but if needed, kangaroo lemurs can jump slightly to get hold of a particularly attractive leaf.
Flying lemurs watch from the branches of the baobab for their large relatives. These small creatures do not like to be disturbed, and kangaroo lemurs, which have not too many enemies in savanna, can behave very noisy. Trying to take off all slightly edible leaves, they rock the tree strongly. Lemurs scream to each other, when sharing the dropping leaves. When one of them breaks a branch, the nerves of flying lemurs cannot stand it, and they jump to a nearby tree. Having settled among its branches, the small lemurs watch from there their huge relatives feeding.
Kangaroo lemurs, in their turn, do not care about the alarms of any small creatures, and they continue feeding. Young animals that find it difficult to reach the branches of the tree, sneakily steal fallen leaves that adult lemurs did not notice. The smallest member of the pack, which is only two weeks old, settled better than anyone else. It feeds mainly on mother’s milk, but already tastes the food of adult animals. Although it is still small, food getting is easier for it than for others lemurs of this pack: the cub sits on the female’s back and simply reaches out its paw to drag a few leaves almost directly from its mother’s mouth. For all mammal cubs, childhood is a time when many antics and liberties must be forgiven. Tasting its mother’s food, it learns to recognize trees with edible leaves. When it becomes an adult, it will be very useful for its further life.
For now, the little kangaroo lemur cub spends most of its time on mom’s back, holding on to strands of long wool on her shoulders. Sometimes it comes down from her back to play with young or adult lemurs. When playing, young lemur learns the establishing of social connections, explores the world around it and meets the inhabitants of the savanna.
This little lemur is very curious – it is characteristic of all mammal cubs. All the new things pick its interest, and the bright birds suddenly flying out of the grass in a flock, attract its attention. And it wasn’t the only one who paid attention to them: having heard the flapping of bird wings, many adult lemurs stopped eating and began to look around. Instead of admiring the bright plumage of birds, adult lemurs worry: birds that suddenly take off may be frightened by some kind of predator. And really, noise can be heard in the grass, and kangaroo lemurs become even more wary. They rise on their hind legs, peering into swaying grass. Their muscles are tense, and the animals are ready to flee at any moment, rushing with the speed of wind. Frightened kangaroo lemur cub climbed onto its mother’s back and clung even tighter to her wool: if he falls down while fleeing from a predator, the mother is unlikely to return and pick him up at this point. A few days ago, its brother died this way, failed to hold on the female during her jumps.
And now, among the grass, the arched bristly back of an animal that had become the reason of the disturbance of lemurs appears. Paws stomp loudly on the ground – it is so unlike the silent footsteps of a prowling predator… The fears of kangaroo lemurs are groundless: from grass another inhabitant of the Madagascar humid savanna – the spike-backed tenrec – comes out. This animal, looking rather like a giant hedgehog, does not represent any danger to the large lemurs. But it willingly consumes meat food; frog, lizard or chicks of small birds nesting in the grass represent a good snack for it. Seeing that there is no threat, the adult kangaroo lemurs calm down and begin tearing the leaves off the tree again, occasionally bouncing up to get a fresher leaflet. And the cub sitting on its mother’s back gets another important life lesson.
Spike-backed tenrecs are rather simple-minded and harmless inhabitants of the savanna. Having approached the kangaroo lemurs, this beast sniffs the ground near their feet with its long proboscis. Having not the best eyesight, this huge afrotherian has developed a peculiar habit: having sensed the presence of the pack of lemurs, this animal approaches them and picks up the rests of their food. Sometimes, using its size and pointed teeth, it can even steal a small lemur’s food. However, next to kangaroo lemurs it doesn’t seem to have anything to gain: these primates eat mostly plant foods, and a large part of their diet is made up of tree leaves. Spike-backed tenrec prefers roots and tubers of plants, insects and other snacks that can be dug out of the ground. Therefore, it only briefly lingers near kangaroo lemurs, and heads to where the voices of the other inhabitants of the Madagascar savannas – crested lemurs – are heard.
Crested lemurs are the counterparts of baboons and other monkeys in the savannas of Madagascar. These beasts are smaller than kangaroo lemurs, and descend from a completely different primate species. They live in a large united group with a complex hierarchy. These lemurs are omnivores, and can get a wide variety of food – from grass to insects and small vertebrates. Life in a pack gives them one undoubted advantage: many eyes are constantly watching the surroundings, and it is more difficult for a predator to get close to them to attack suddenly. In addition, if necessary, lemurs can drive away the enemy themselves, taking advantage of their numerical advantage.
The spike-backed tenrec knows that there is something to gain next to crested lemurs. Being guided by their voices, it quickly finds a troop of crested lemurs. It didn’t hide its intentions and some lemurs have long noticed it. But, since these beasts are not predators, the lemurs were calm to its approach.
The tenrec is not particularly smart, but from its experience it has learned well a simple rule: where lemurs feed, it is possible to find a lot of delicious things. Therefore the spike-backed tenrec tries to get as close as possible to the crested lemurs, and begins searching for food near them. When one young lemur had dug up a particularly tempting plant root, the spike-backed tenrec grunted softly and snatched it from the lemur’s hands and immediately swallowed it. After robbing one lemur, it approaches the next one and watches closely how the primate hunts a large beetle among the grass. But it is already not a stupid youngster, but an adult female, and she does not appreciate such close attention from the tenrec. She tries to drive the arrogant stranger away, displaying her teeth. The tenrec perceives it as a threat, and grinds its teeth in response, releasing in addition some sharply smelling musk on the grass. The frightened female screams plaintively, and the lemurs appeared nearby rush to her aid. Seeing that this spiky subject can spoil the feeding, the lemurs drive it away. Having arranged in a crescent line, they strike at the tenrec, loudly screaming and baring their teeth. Frightened by such a rebuff, the spiky beast retreats, grunting disgruntledly and grinding its teeth back. But the lesson is learned: now it does not behave so ungratefully and only picks up scraps after lemurs.
This spike-backed tenrec is not a lazy one living at the expense of other animals: it just does not miss an opportunity that would benefit it. If necessary, it knows how to get food by itself. Herein it is helped by a fine sense of smell and powerful claws. In the Madagascar savanna insect larvae may be found – they are nutritious and tasty as a food. Most often these are large grubs of scarabeid beetles – cetonians and chafers. They dig in the ground, gnawing at the roots of various plants. They are willingly eaten by both lemurs and tenrecs, but for the lemur with its short nails getting such food is not easy. However, the tenrec digs the ground with its claws much better than lemurs, and grubs appear in its diet much more often.
Again, this time the sharp sense of smell did not fail the tenrec: from under its claws several very large whitish grubs with reddish-brown heads came to the light. They were feeding on the roots of grasses, protected from many insectivorous animals, but not from tenrec. And now, being thrown to the ground surface, they can only wriggle helplessly, trying to dig back in the ground. Having noticed that the tenrec found such a delicacy, one of the lemurs decides, in the turn, to steal some grubs from it. The primate approaches cautiously from the side of the tenrec and waits. When the tenrec was about to eat one grub, from behind its head the lemur’s paw extended, grabbed several grubs at once, and the sound of hurry retreating steps is heard. Turning towards the offender, the spike-backed tenrec only saw swaying grass stalks. Then, somewhere in the distance, he heard loud screams of crested lemurs: it seems that the robber lemur himself managed to eat not all stolen grubs.
Searching for food, crested lemurs do not forget that predators are found in the savanna. Therefore, from time to time, each lemur rears on its hind legs, monitoring the surroundings carefully. Crested lemurs have good stereoscopic vision, but seem to have failed to notice two pairs of warily twitching ears whose owners have hided in the grass and are keeping an eye on every movement of the lemurs. Crested lemurs are in danger: they are watched by largest local predators.
A long time ago, the largest predator of Madagascar was the fossa – a representative of Eupleridae family that looked like a cross between a marten and a leopard. But it did not survive anthropogenic pressure, and died out as a result of the destruction of the environment. But its small ground-dwelling relative fanaloka has turned out in much better position: it was smaller than the fossa, and therefore managed to survive, and after extinction of humanity had turned into a terrifying predator of the plains of western Madagascar. This descendant of fanaloka is a ferocious gefana, a fleet-footed predator, somewhat similar to cheetah and wolf. Gefanas do not form packs like wolves do, but do use a well-coordinated driven hunt in pairs.
The spotted head of one gefana appears from the grass, looks around and hides again. The wool of gefanas is covered with spots, and hunting animals are not visible in the grass. The predator observes the troop of crested lemurs, searching for an animal that has moved far from the main troop. The gefanas do not dare to make a frontal attack to these lemurs: acting as a whole, a troop of crested lemurs can give a worthy rebuff to the aggressor. Therefore, gefanas behave cautiously: the male knows firsthand about the power of the collective defense of lemurs. His shoulder carries a long scar that has somewhat broken the pattern of spots – he had got this mark in his youth, when he had overestimated his own strength when attacking.
The gefanas sneak cautiously towards the group of lemurs, freezing when any of crested lemurs rears on its hind legs to monitor the surroundings. Gefanas have a good chance to dine on fresh meat: an old crested lemur with a graying head lags behind the troop, plucking the seed heads of cereals, and it seems to be an easy prey to get it.
But skill of the hunter does not always determine success in hunting. Accidents can happen during the hunt of predators suddenly: a bird takes off from under the feet of the gefana female with a shrill call. The hunt is wrecked: all crested lemurs become wary. As if on command, they rise on their hind legs, anxiously raise the hair tufts on their heads, and begin looking around. Having heard the bird’s call, the old lemur returned into the group of his congeners in some leaps. The gefana female makes an unforgivable mistake: she peeks out of the grass carelessly. One of the crested lemurs immediately notices the predator and sounds the alarm, screaming in a loud voice. Panic spreads over the whole troop: predators have been spotted, but the group is too dispersed to defend itself collectively. Therefore, crested lemurs prefer to flee. They abandon half-eaten plants, and run away into the bushes. Gefana does not hunt in the bush: it is difficult for a long-legged predator to run in the thickets, and this time crested lemurs saved themselves. However, the spike-backed tenrec was left alone with the couple of predators. It is calm: its whole back is covered with spikes, and gefanas will not have the most pleasant sensation if one of them rushes toward it. Tenrec doesn’t run away even when gefanas approach it almost at point-blank range. While the female sniffs the air and distract the spike-backed tenrec with her movements, the male approaches it from the side, hiding in the grass. Feeling threatened by these spotted animals, the tenrec decides to scare them to force predators to keep their distance. The beast menacingly opens its mouth and displays the predators its numerous pointed teeth, growling loudly. But it seems that gefanas are not impressed. Maybe, earlier they just have not tried to hunt such prey, and have little idea of the abilities of this animal. One gefana even allows itself some familiarity in relation to the tenrec: it rises on its hind legs and puts its front paws on tenrec’s back. Tenrec does not forgive such things: it quickly turns around, and its sharp teeth click just a few centimeters from the paws of the gefana. A quick response saves the predator from severe injury: if the gefana had delayed for a split second, the tenrec could snap and bite off its paw. Predators are no longer going to mess up with this animal, and hide in the grass. And the spike-backed tenrec continues digging in the ground, searching for snails and other small animals.
The kangaroo lemurs feed in the savanna, moving from one tree to another. Occasionally they pluck the heads of cereals, and chew them along with the unripe seeds. They are herbivores, and therefore they have to feed most of the day. But they don’t need to track prey – their food grows around plentifully.
It is important for lemurs not to forget that there are other animals in the savanna, for which they represent only a food. Therefore, during the feeding, giant kangaroo lemurs rear from time to time and carefully monitor the surroundings. However, they can’t see everything around, and they don’t notice that they are being watched by two pairs of eyes.
Gefanas have long been watching this herd of lemurs, and are now sneaking up on them in hopes of getting one for lunch. Circumstances favor them: among the savanna groups of shrubs grow, and lemurs cannot notice predators hiding there. In addition, lemurs are too busy with feeding, and therefore lose attention. And one adult lemur, enthusiastically breaking off the leaves, moved away from the herd at all. It seems, it is possible to kill him. Without collusion, gefanas sneak up on him at close range, and then simultaneously attack, rushing out from behind the bush. Kangaroo lemurs notice them too late, and rush away. Gefanas drive the chosen lemur, not paying attention to the rest of the animals. They’re trying to isolate it from the group, and drive away even farther. While the male pursues the chosen kangaroo lemur, the female pushes the herd away from it. Lemurs are even more frightened, and everyone of them is now trying to save itself. The lemur being pursued by the gefana male will not be able to join the main herd: the herd itself does not exist anymore, but there are just numerous separate frightened lemurs.
Accidents can wreck a hunt, but can lead to success also. When the gefanas tried to attack crested lemurs, the accident prevented them, but this time a blind chance plays on the side of predators: the kangaroo lemur stumbles, hitting a burrow in the ground with its foot at full speed. At this point, it tears the tendon on its leg and falls, and gefanas immediately pounce on it. The male grabs the throat and strangles the primate, and the female piles on top of the lemur, preventing it from defending itself with its long rear paws. A few seconds later, a lemur wheezing is heard in the grass. The hunt ended successfully.
After a successful hunt, the gefanas rest for some time: during the attack, they spent a lot of energy. Nevertheless, in the savanna, it is dangerous to leave prey uneaten for a long time, and the predators start eating, trying to eat primarily the fleshy parts of the legs and the entrails rich in vitamins. Gefanas eat quickly and voraciously, so they have time to eat quite a lot when other meat lovers appear near their prey. One after another, baribal lemurs emerge from the grass – heavy-built ground-dwelling primates, looking very much like bears with small tails. One of the adult males has an impressive white beard: he is the head of their clan. Males are the first to approach the carcass of the kangaroo lemur, and a youngster and two females with cubs stay away for now.
Alas, in the savannah, the quite human principle prevails: “One beats the bush, and seven others catch the bird” – for every predator hardly getting its piece of meat, there are a lot of lovers to profit at someone else’s expense. Baribal lemurs are among such animals. They have long followed the hunt of gefanas, trying not to let on. While the predators chased the lemur, they watched closely from the bushes how their chase takes place. The death wheezing of the kangaroo lemur serves as a signal for them to start feeding. However, these primates know from experience that they need to be able to “keep a pause”. If they come to the carcass too soon, gefanas can attack them, protecting their prey. And no one wants to mess with these predators unnecessary, not even the head of their clan. However, when gefanas satisfy their hunger at least partially, the primates can try to eat the remains of the meat.
When the huge baribal lemurs approach the carcass, both gefanas bare their teeth, and the wool stands on the back of their necks. They are well aware of what encountering these lemurs can turn out to be, but still trying to show that this prey belongs to them. Male takes some steps towards the baribal lemur, deliberately raising his legs high when moving. He tries to display its force to these primates, and even makes some rushes towards the baribal lemurs, snapping its teeth. The female does not join him: it is not a true defense, but rather a predator’s reminder of its own rights on prey. Gefanas have already managed to eat a lot, so they do not try very hard to protect their prey. Moreover, it was not a lonely lemur that came to them for lunch, but a whole clan of them.
Gefanas, in general, are not too dangerous for baribal lemurs: adult lemurs are too strong and robust to be attacked with impunity. Only occasionally too young lemurs of this species falls prey of the gefana. A family group of these primates is organized and strong in a collective attack. In a fight the large baribal lemur is also stronger than the gefana alone.
The bearded baribal lemur rushes at the gefana and strikes predator with its paw. The gefana male bounced off in time, and the blow fell sidelong on his back. Events seem to have taken a serious turnover, and predators immediately retreat. They’ll not protect a half-eaten carcass by risking their own lives.
When gefanas have disappeared among the grass, the baribal lemurs begin feeding. They tear off pieces of meat from the carcass of a kangaroo lemur, and eat them with pleasure, crunching the gristle. Baribal lemurs are very fond of meat, and try to eat everything that is possible on the carcass… Unless, of course, they are not hindered by anybody else.
In the African savanna, the function of scavengers was performed by vultures and marabous. In Madagascar their role was partly assumed by numidornises – the representatives of gallinaceous birds. These birds – descendants of guinea fowl, but reaching the size of Australian emu – roam the savanna, searching for small animals, grass seeds, and... carrion. They are wary of getting too close to gefanas eating meat, but wander somewhere far away, waiting for the predators to be satiated and gone.
Due to their height, numidornises notice from afar baribal lemurs eating meat. Of course, the lemurs are strong, and it was not difficult for them to drive gefanas away. But numidornises live in a large flock – there are about a dozen of them. They also have very strong beaks and a very assertive and nasty temper. Chicken is chicken, even if it is as tall as an ostrich. Therefore, having set a goal to get meat, numidornises immediately proceeded to take decisive action. They push their way to the kangaroo lemur carcass and tear off pieces of meat and tendons from it. When one of the young lemurs reached its paw to the meat, one numidornis just pecked it with force, and the primate pulled its paw away. Gradually, baribal lemurs begin to retreat: numidornises drive them away one by one, taking advantage of their own numbers and wielding their pointed beaks. Finally, even the head of the baribal lemur clan steps aside, and numidornises peck at the meat and tear off ligaments and muscles from the bones, being undisturbed. From time to time, they snatch tidbits of meat from each other’s beak, and then the offended bird screams at the offender with its hoarse voice.
The beaks of numidornises work on the remains of the lemur very efficiently. After their feeding, the lemurs can only lick the bones and gnaw the cartilage that these birds were unable to eat. But, not fearing large baribal lemurs, the numidornis birds, in return, may fall prey of gefana – they are quite stupid and easily panic, so during their hunting gefanas just scare them to remove the advantage of collective defense, and then catch a single bird.
In the savanna, night comes quickly. Baribal lemurs chose a place surrounded by bushes, and sleep stretched out on the ground. They have nothing to fear – an adult lemur of this species has few enemies. But the young ones still press closer to their parents – in the dark any rustle can frighten them.
The branches of the bushes move, and from among them a small mammal appears, similar to a squirrel with a large head and wide ears. It is a secretive and cautious ant lemur, coming out of its shelter exclusively at night. At this time, most predators sleep, and the insects it feeds on are not nimble enough to defend either. Looking for insects, a small lemur rustles through fallen leaves. But from time to time it freezes and listens. The main nocturnal enemies of ant lemurs are owls and snakes that attack quietly, but with deadly accuracy.
Finding the galleries of termites under the bark of the bush, the ant lemur opens them with the claws of the fused index and the middle finger. A few neat movements are made, piece of the bark falls off, and from under it several termites appeared. Before they managed to crawl away, the lemur licked them off, and continued poking the insect tunnels. It interrupted only to lick off the termite soldiers running out to defend the nest, and hardly noticed that he was being watched.
A little baribal lemur woke up from the rustling in the bushes, and now with curiosity watches the activity of the ant lemur. The ant lemur is not a predator, and will not cause any harm to the little baribal lemur. It pays almost no attention to the huge lemurs: at night they sleep and do not interfere with it. However, in the daytime the ant lemur would prefer to hide from them, and even climb a tree: a baribal lemur could easily crush this animal with its paw and eat it.
When an ant lemur in searches of insects comes too close to the sleeping baribal lemurs, the moonlight glitters in its large eyes. For a second the eyes of a small lemur flash green light, and become very similar to eyes of an owl. The baby baribal lemur is frightened by this sight and squeals loudly. Its mother wakes up, raises herself a little and sniffs the air. Realizing that there is no danger, she begins licking her cub’s face, calming it down. It climbs under mom’s paw and falls asleep again. And the ant lemur that became the culprit of the night turmoil, rushed into the bushes as soon as one of the adult baribal lemurs moved a little bit.
The dry season continues. Many bodies of water in the savanna have long dried up, and their inhabitants either migrated to the rivers, or buried themselves into the mud at the bottom, or simply died. At the drying swamp, giant porcine tenrecs feed. These huge insectivores, replacing wild boars in Madagascar, are more moisture-loving than their spike-backed relative. In the wet season, they feed on the rhizomes of reeds, and even dive to get crayfish and frogs. In the dry season, they also stay closer to the drying swamps, digging up the plants tubers from the mud. In this, they are helped by canines sticking out of their mouths. Canines also serve as an excellent weapon against predators like gefana, so the porcine tenrec has no enemies. Additionally, this huge insectivore is protected by ribs expanded in width and forming an almost continuous shell under the beast’s skin. But it is rather a device for protection against beasts of its own kind: in the mating season, porcine tenrec males arrange quite cruel fights among themselves, literally ramming each other by canines. But these tenrecs have one enemy, against which their canines and armor are powerless: these are swarms of stinging insects that live in abundance near swamps. But it is possible also to get rid of them if you know how. The backs and sides of porcine tenrecs are covered with a crust of mud: in this way these animals protect themselves from insect stings.
Being so well protected from all sorts of misfortunes, porcine tenrecs pay little attention to the anxieties and concerns of the other inhabitants of the savanna. So when a whole herd of kangaroo lemurs at maximum speed rushes along the edge of the swamp, tenrecs barely turn their heads in their direction. Their vital interests do not coincide with the needs of lemurs, and these two species almost do not compete, rarely encountering in nature. But when the voices of the gefanas are heard from the grass, the tenrecs prepare to protect themselves. They come together, and can give a serious rebuff to this predator. But in fact gefana may threaten only a young porcine tenrec, or a single adult.
Defending themselves, the porcine tenrecs stand shoulder to shoulder, and begin shaking their heads, having turned to the side, from where the voices of gefanas are heard. Suddenly, right on them a young kangaroo lemur jumps out from reeds. It is wounded: its side is torn, and the wool is stained with its blood. It can be seen that this lemur has lost a lot of blood: it breathes heavily and staggers. After a fast backward glance, he jumps over the porcine tenrecs and hides in the thickets. And some seconds later, a couple of gefanas appears after it. They clearly did not expect to meet such resistance here: the gefana male stops, and the female followed him nearly knocks him off his feet. Having appeared face to face with these predators, tenrecs grin and begin shaking their heads from side to side. In doing so, they open their mouths, displaying their canines. Gefanas are not going to get into a fight with them: they retreat some steps back. As if inspired by it, the porcine tenrec male makes a threatening rush in the direction of gefanas, displaying its force. Gefanas were engaged in chasing the kangaroo lemur: the female’s muzzle is blood-stained – it was she who wounded the beast. In order not to miss their prey, predators retreat and run around the irritated porcine tenrecs. Some seconds later, they jump in the reeds, following the kangaroo lemur.
The swamp has not completely dried up, and there are still several swampy areas across it. Gefanas studied this area perfectly, and took advantage of it masterfully: at one of these places, the kangaroo lemur hit into the trap, being bogged down in mud. Gefanas are also thin-legged, and a careless step can end badly for them. Therefore they walk around the lemur, checking the dirt carefully with their paws. In their presence, the kangaroo lemur panics and begins to thrash, trying to free itself. But it only plunges the beast deeper into the mud. Gefanas come closer, and then, the male finishes the hunt, having rushed at the lemur’s throat.
Having convinced that the lemur is dead, the gefana male pulls it out of the swamp, supporting its paws against relatively dry areas of soil. It is a long work: the lemur had bogged down deeply. The predator drags the dead animal to a dry place, and there two gefanas eat their prey together. Anyone would hardly interrupt their feast here.
Two more days passed. Drought continues, and porcine tenrecs are still not leaving the swamp. In the reeds, they find the remains of the kangaroo lemur killed by gefanas. Maggots already swarm in it, but it does not stop the omnivorous tenrecs. On the contrary, animals eat the remains of meat right with the mass of maggots. Their sharp teeth easily tear off and gnaw dried cartilage. In the dry season, every kind of food is appreciated, and it is too expensive to be picky or squeamish.
Yet the dry season cannot last forever. Sooner or later the rain season replaces it: the direction of the humid winds blowing from the ocean changes. Rain clouds bypass the mountain ranges, and rains finally pour on the savannas of Western Madagascar. Changes happen quickly and suddenly. Even in the morning, the savanna had been tormented by the heat, but already in the middle of the same day the sky became cloudy, and by the evening it was raining heavily.
Residents of the savanna have different attitudes towards rain. It is hard to say, whether they understand that rain means the imminent appearance of a variety of food, but they clearly do not like water falling from the sky. Giant kangaroo lemurs hide under trees and huddle together. They are not very pleased with the rain: the wool of these beasts is soaked, and any gust of wind is keenly felt. The animals pinched by cold shake, trying to become at least a little bit drier. But this does not help, and those ones who are on the edge of the herd, tremble from the cold and wetness. However, the smallest cub feels almost no inconvenience: its mother and two more females carefully cover it from the rain.
Baribal lemurs hide from the rain in the bushes and cuddle. Each lemur chooses a place most comfortable for itself, not caring about others. When it began to rain, the adult male unceremoniously pushed a young lemur out of the bush, having realized that there was a very good place. Baribal lemur female covers her cub with her body, exposing her back to the drops falling from the leaves.
But not all inhabitants of the savanna feel that way about the rain. Porcine tenrecs generally love water, and during the rain, these stout animals are happy to wallow in the wet grass. They have no one to fear: predators do not hunt in such weather, and in addition, mosquitoes and flies very annoying to tenrecs cannot fly during the rain.
The couple of gefanas, having managed to catch several small mammals before the rain, lies in a spacious dry hole, having moved away from the entrance. In the rain, they allow themselves to relax a little and take care of their own hygiene. The male gently licks the head of the female, and she tries to bite out a sharp thorn stuck between her fingers.
The rest of the day and the whole night pass under the sound of rain. Closer to morning, it finally ends. And then flying lemurs, usually timid and secretive, arrange a deafening “roll call”: they howl loudly and for a long time in a whole band. When their yells finished, the voice of another clan of flying lemurs living some miles away echoed them from afar. This call means that the time of danger and fear is over, the time of abundance and tranquility is coming.
The rain fell for several days with short breaks. The savanna begins to transform literally before our eyes. Where there was dry cracked ground, a small lake stretched now. At its bottom, in a thick layer of dried silt, tubers and rhizomes of aquatic plants were waiting for their time; they immediately began their rapid growth. Green lacy aponogeton leaves develop one by one, and next to it a water lily spreads its round olive green leaves covered with brown strokes. Some more days later, the surface of the lake adorns with the pink and white flowers of the water lilies, and aponogetons shoot white and lilac-pink spikelets of small flowers above the water. Frogs and water beetles actively settle in the water, and multi-colored shiny dragonflies fly over the leaves of water lilies. Although you’d think this lake had always been here, in fact about two weeks ago there was dry ground in its place, covered with a network of deep cracks. Frogs spent the dry season in burrows and wet silt. Having recovered and fattened up after the dry season, they arrange “concerts” from evening to morning, drowning out even bird voices with their croaking. Perhaps they know that water means life much better, than other inhabitants of the savanna.
In the rain season, the rapid growth of grass begins. Remains of dry stems hide among the young sappy shoots, and bulbs and tubers as if explode with wide leaves and bright flowers. In some days, the savanna scorched by the sun turns into a flowering meadow. On trees buds burst and young leaves unfold quickly. Flying lemurs feel safe: now they are almost invisible among the branches, and there is a lot of food around. They can rest much longer, and around the noon, the animals arrange a “nap time” for themselves. But young lemurs do not want to obey the rhythm of adult life: they play in the foliage, making long leaps. And the bravest ones of them even dare to jump on nearby trees alone.
In the rainy season, the savannah gifts its residents with a rare delicacy – trees begin to blossom, and birds and mammals have an opportunity to taste nectar. One night, the large white flowers of local baobabs open. Like all night-blossoming flowers, they exude a delicate and attractive aroma, inviting pollinators to them. Around the flowers hanging down from the branches, small bats and large moths hover. Flying lemurs are also among those invited to the night feast. Getting close to the flowers of baobabs, they scare away bats and moths flying around. Sticking its muzzle into the flower, a flying lemur licks off the nectar. When it turns away from the flower, its whole muzzle is powdered with the pollen, so it sneezes and wipes its nose. But it is a fee for the delicacy: small mammals are the main pollinators of baobabs. Primates are in a hurry to enjoy the food – each flower opens for just one night. In the morning, the feast will end: the flowers will fall, but they will be replaced by new ones. A week later, the blossoming of baobabs will end, but other trees – acacias – will begin blossom.
During the rainy season, water is far from being scarce, and animals become more picky. If in the drought, the giant kangaroo lemurs could quench their thirst even with a muddy slurry remaining in place of the pond, then in the rainy season they give a wide berth to the puddles with disgust, preferring to drink fresh water from the rivers. A watering hole is a place where predators set up ambushes especially often. Therefore, kangaroo lemurs, going to drink, come to the river carefully. While some of them drink water, others monitor the surroundings. And it seems their fears were not in vain: a soft chesty growl is heard by the lemurs. Without waiting to see the events unfold, the kangaroo lemurs flee. Out of the bushes the couple of gefanas comes, and they head for the water. Their muzzles are stained with blood and feathers stuck to the wool: several hours earlier, the predators had successfully hunted a young Numidornis and had eaten to repletion without sharing the prey with anyone else. The predators can rest after hunting: they aren’t afraid of anybody else, but they inspire fear in most of the local inhabitants. Gefanas stretch on the sand, and the male begins to play with the female, lightly biting the tip of her tail. Gefana family persists for a long time, and it is important for them to maintain relationships by hunting and playing together.
But the rest of the predators does not last for very long. A grumbling and noise make the gefanas spring on their feet. The family group of porcine tenrecs are the disturbers of their tranquility. The beasts came to the river not only to drink some water. Porcine tenrecs spend a lot of time near the reservoirs, and now they want to eat fresh greenery of aquatic plants. Three large tenrecs at once begin displaying their huge canines to gefanas, shaking their heads menacingly. The gefanas are in the minority and not going to hunt. Anyway, these tenrecs are stronger than the gefanas, especially being in the numerical majority. Gritting their teeth, the gefanas retreat and leave, being stared after by the large-toothed adult tenrecs.
When predators hide in the bushes, porcine tenrecs sniff the air for a long time, lifting up their movable proboscises. Finally convinced that predators are far away, a large female enters the water the first, and other beasts follow her. They dive underwater and search for sprouted tubers of water lilies and aponogetons at the bottom. Having found a tasty plant, the beast hooks it up with its canines, pulls it out of the bottom and eats the tender young foliage. Reed rhizomes are also eaten by tenrecs, along with the snails stuck to them. Having satiated, porcine tenrecs can relax: they just nap in the water, swaying in the waves.
The savanna changes its general coloration: from a yellowish-gray sun-burned area it becomes vivid green, and in some places the greenery is shaded by white, yellow or red flowers of various bulbous plants. Replacing each other, they will bloom throughout the wet season, and the last flowers will wither when the rains become rare, and the grass begins turning yellow.
The tops of the grasses sway: clumsily waddling, a spike-backed tenrec wanders through the grass. It had not noticed much around itself with its faint eyes before, and even less now: it is compelled to rely only on a keen sense of smell. On the contrary, giant kangaroo lemurs enjoy an abundance of food. They can even regale themselves with sappy and sweetish peduncles of bulbous plants, or dig up and eat their bulbs at once. Away from the lemurs, numidornises with chicks roam the savanna. Brood had hatched recently and the parents teach the chicks to search for food. They peck insects, at the same time showing their chicks what they can eat, and what is better to stay away from. The chicks might get lost in the tall grass, but the parents are looking to them and calling the back.
Savannah returns to a time of abundance. However, this time will last as long as rains will fall here. But to the east of this place, beyond the mountains, there is a different world – there are no grasslands, but tall evergreen trees. This world receives all the rain from the ocean, and here the most diverse life is bubbling all year round.


Spike-backed tenrec (Dorsospinogale maximus)
Order: Afrosoricida (Afrosoricida)
Family: Tenrecs (Tenrecidae)

Habitat: Madagascar, sparse forests and shrub savannas.

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

On the islands, the phenomenon of adaptive radiation – closely related species occupying all available ecological niches descend from the non-numerous ancestral forms – is expressed much brighter than on the continents. This is what happened in Madagascar: a variety of species have emerged among the local tenrecs, similar to hedgehogs, shrews, opossums and other small mammals. But after the mass extinction, descendants of the survived species had gone through even greater flourishing, competing successfully to the other inhabitants of the island.
One of the most notable inhabitants of Madagascar savannas is a huge (although not the largest) member of the tenrec family, the spike-backed tenrec. It is a direct descendant of the greater hedgehog tenrec (Setifer setosus), which lived in Madagascar during the Holocene epoch; it was a mammal looked like a large hedgehog with a long muzzle. Spike-backed tenrec is a heavy-built mammal, weighing up to 40 kg. When such a giant wanders among the grasses, from a distance it resembles some kind of giant hedgehog.
The limbs of the spike-backed tenrec are plantigrade and relatively short. On the front paws, sharp thick claws adapted for digging grow. Hind legs are approximately equal to the front ones in length, and the back of the animal is arched upwards. This species is tailless. The body is covered with short gray wool. On the belly, the wool color is lighter, and on the chest and the throat there is often a white spot.
It is quite clear that with a stout physique it is difficult to be a good runner. However, the spike-backed tenrec doesn’t need it: it has an excellent protective adaptation. The back of this animal is covered with relatively thick skin, while on the hips, lower back and the sacrum, among the wool numerous yellowish-white spikes grow, that protect it from an attack from behind. The beast can raise and lower the spikes at will depending on the situation.
Passive protection against enemies sometimes isn’t enough. Spike-backed tenrecs, despite their massive constitution, have other defensive tactics, they are quick and quite aggressive. Taken by surprise, they can defend themselves not only with the help of spikes: with sharp teeth, this beast inflicts deep bites on the aggressor. And thanks to the short muscular legs, the spike-backed tenrec can make short sharp rushes and turns, attacking the enemy suddenly.
Spike-backed tenrecs are solitary animals. To communicate with congeners, they use mostly scents, without coming into direct contact. These beasts have large musk glands on the hips. With their secretions, they mark the territory. Each gland has a sac for musk, surrounded by ring muscles. Contracting these muscles, the mammal splashes musk out for a short distance, spraying it in tall stems of grasses and shrubs, serving as natural landmarks of its territory.
The head of the spike-backed tenrec is elongated; the snout is mobile and flexible, elongated into proboscis. The front teeth are sharp (canines are longer than the incisors), the molars are tuberculate. This tenrec is omnivorous, feeding mainly on plant matter and insects. For foraging, it uses the claws of its forepaws. Having smelled insects or edible roots, the animal diligently digs the soil. Sometimes after its feeding, several square meters of soil are completely torn up, and vegetation appears destroyed. In addition, the spike-backed tenrec willingly eats carrion, even strongly decomposed. Thus, in the ecosystems of Madagascar, they appear to be an ecological analog of armadillos.
The sense of smell in this beast is developed excellently – the inner surface of the nasal passages is creased. Vision is almost useless among the dense grass, so the eyes of spike-backed tenrec are small. Hearing is good; ears are rounded and small.
During the mating season (lasting over several months), the male actively courts the chosen female: he runs after her, blocks her way, splashes on grass the secretions of his musk glands. He is larger than the female, and can behave aggressively sometimes, if the female does not accept his courtship. If the female is ready to accept it, she displays her submission by lowering the spikes. After mating, the male leaves the female and looks for a new one, without taking part in the care of the offspring. Females give birth to cubs once a year.
Pregnancy lasts up to 2 months. There are up to 5 cubs in the litter. They are born helpless, naked and with eyes closed. The female hides them in a shelter – among thorny shrubs. She carefully hides the location of the nest, abundantly marking the territory on a great distance from it to distract possible predators.
Cubs develop quite quickly: at the age of one week they are covered with hair; in two weeks, their eyes and ears open, and month-old cubs can walk. At the age of six weeks, they leave the nest and go wandering with their mother. Spikes in young animals begin to grow at the age of about two months. Until that time, the mother actively protects them, attacking even the congeners.
One-year-old spike-backed tenrec weighs about 20-25 kg, and at the age of two years it becomes completely adult. Life expectancy in this species reaches 25-30 years.
In shrub thickets and sparse forests, as well as in the mountain forests of Madagascar, its close relative lives: the armor-backed tenrec (Armogale loricatus). It is smaller (its weight is only about 15 kg); back and lower back are protected by thick keratinized skin, forming a kind of armour. The spikes on it are reduced and look like bristles among the thin and short wool. It is tailless. The front of the body, head and legs are covered with yellowish-brown wool. The snout is more mobile and longer than that of the spike-backed tenrec. On the forepaws there are large claws adapted for digging. The largest claws grow on the 2nd and 3rd fingers. Unlike its larger relative, this species builds permanent shelters – burrows in the bush or under the roots of large trees. There are up to 5 cubs in the litter. The female bears offspring twice a year.

Giant porcine tenrec (Scrofogale titan)
Order: Afrosoricida (Afrosoricida)
Family: Tenrecs (Tenrecidae
Habitat: Madagascar, savannas and marshlands.

Picture by Timothy Morris

Initial image by Alexey Tatarinov
Colorization by Carlos Pizcueta

The order of insectivores is represented for the most part by small and very small animals. So, shrews belong to it - the smallest beasts on Earth. But in the Neocene among this kingdom of dwarfs appeared large Madagascar tenrecs, and among them - the porcine tenrec, a real giant, in size comparable even to relatively large representatives of other orders of mammals. The porcine tenrec is a fairly large animal by mammalian standards: it weighs up to 60 kg with a body length of up to 1.2 meters. It's a mammal of massive build: it has short five-toed legs, barrel-shaped body without a tail, and a large head. The animal is not brightly colored: the hair on the body is dark brown, along the back passes 3 – 5 intermittent parallel strips of white wool. Cubs have light stripes wider, and they appear lighter than adults.
Small tenrec species often defended themselves against enemies with needles that grew in the wool. Thin needles were possessed by the ancestor of this beast - the common tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus). The porcine tenrec retains individual needles among the stiff bristles of wool on the back. But to protect themselves from enemies, they developed another device. – the ribs greatly expanded and formed a kind of "armor" on the chest.
The head of the porcine tenrec is peculiar. The eyes of the animal are very small - these tenrecs don't see very well. The ears are also small, only slightly protruding. The snout is elongated into a short movable proboscis with a wide "patch", which determined the name of the mammal. The proboscis is devoid of hair and covered with a thick dark skin. With its help, the animal can dig up food from the soil.
The external resemblance to pigs is enhanced by the teeth of this tenrec. Canines of the upper jaw have large, strong bases, sticking forward and to the sides, protruding from the mouth. If necessary, they are used for defense, but their main function – digging the ground. The basis of the diet of the porcine tenrec is the roots and bulbs of plants, as well as insect larvae, which are found in abundance in the soil. This species swims well and often feeds in shallow waters, plowing out the roots of reeds and marsh grasses with their fangs. This tenrec loves delicate greens and sweetish tubers of aquatic aponogeton plants, very diverse in Madagascar. During the dry season, porcine tenrecs feed in dried-up riverbeds, where they search for tasty tubers, digging up the silt that has dried into a dense crust.
The porcine tenrec does not hibernate, unlike its ancestor.
These animals are more accommodating to each other than their relatives. They often form small groups. However, these mammals are more mobile and aggressive towards a predator. Defensively, they try to strike with fangs or bite. Attacking porcine tenrecs makes jerky loud noises, similar to a dog barking.
The mating season for these animals begins around the middle of the dry season, and after two months, at the beginning of the wet season, the female gives birth to only 2 - 3 large cubs. For the den, she usually chooses a place on an island inside a swamp. Cubs are born blind and deaf, but covered with short hair. They open their eyes on the 10th day of life, and after another 3 to 4 weeks they are able to follow the mother. They will be able to reproduce at the age of three, and the luckiest of them will be able to live up to 25 - 30 years.

Gefana (Hyaenosoma velocipes)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Madagascar “Mongoose” (Eupleridae)

Habitat: Madagascar, savannas and sparse forests with small areas of thick forest.
The largest predator of Madagascar during the Holocene epoch was fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), a cat-like representative of the Eupleridae family. In times of climatic change at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene, this species became extinct: the fossa was a forest-dwelling animal, and the area of forests has greatly decreased, a significant part of their inhabitants had become extinct. But another predator of Madagascar was much luckier: the land animal fanaloka from the same Eupleridae family (oddly enough, but in Latin this species is called Fossa fossa, although it is only distantly related to fossa) managed to survive. This comparatively small predator of the rainforest, looking like a fox with a spotted skin, adapted successfully to life among grasses and shrubs. Descendant of fanaloka, the large predator gefana, turned into a fleet-footed doglike animal.
Gefana greatly increased in size compared to its ancestor. This mammal has about 1 meter at the shoulders, a body length up to 120 cm and tail about 1 meter long; the weight of an adult animal may reach 70 kg. Wool is short and thick, straw-colored with scattered longitudinal rows of brown spots. Spots are especially noticeable in young animals, becoming paler with age, to the point of disappearing completely in old animals. On the head, the spots are relatively small and located mainly on the forehead. The pattern of the spots varies greatly individually, and may help different animals to recognize each other.
On the tail, the spots remain contrasting till the whole animal’s life and merge in adult animals into wide cross rings. A striped tail raised upwards serves to maintain visual contact while living in the tall grass of the savanna. In addition, the long thin tail serves as a balancer in sharp turns, when gefana chases its prey.
In the ecosystems of Madagascar, gefana occupies an ecological niche of cheetahs and canids, and partly of hyenas. The legs of this beast are long; the claws are short and pointed. Shoulders are slightly higher than rump; because of it the back of gefana is sloping. At short distances, the predator can reach speed of up to 80 km per hour, but it is able to run so fast only for some minutes, after which it rests for a long time.
Gefana feeds on large prey – ground-dwelling lemurs and tenrecs. It has a large head with long jaws. The muzzle has prominent cheekbones – its jaw muscles are very strong. The canines are relatively short and pointed, with strong roots. Due to its strong jaws, the animal easily gnaws on cartilage and, if necessary, eats even soft heads of bones.
Gefanas hunt during the day, so the main role in the search for prey is played by their vision. The eyes of this animal are large and dark brown with round pupils. Visual fields of the eyes largely overlap. In the search for prey, the predator is also helped by an acute sense of smell – the nasal passages of gefana are covered with numerous plicae that increase the olfactory surface. The ears are short and rounded.
In the way it hunts, gefana resembles canids: it pursues prey for a long time. First of all, animals (they hunt in breeding couples) pounce on the intended prey and wound it. Usually, during the first attack, predators do not kill their prey, giving it a chance to run away. After the attack, gefana couple chases the wounded prey for a long time, exhausting it to such an extent that the attacked animal may drop dead from fatigue. However, gefana catches and eats small prey on the spot.
Usually, gefanas eat as much meat as they can, and do not return to the prey afterward. During periods of lack of food, these predators are not so picky, and can eat even from the partly decomposed carcass. If large prey is unavailable on some causes, gefanas eat small animals – rodents, small birds and reptiles. In a drought, they visit drying ponds and rivers for fish and other aquatic inhabitants. Often, gefanas intentionally drive large animals into the bog and attack them some days later when the soil around the bogged down prey will dry out a bit and support the weight of the predator.
A small part of the diet of gefanas is still made up of plants: this predator loves to feast on the fruits of various trees, giving preference to strong-smelling and sugary ones. Sometimes gefanas wallow on rotten fruit remains to mask their own smell before hunting.
Gefana lives in pairs that last a lifetime. A couple hunts together and both animals mark their territory with musky secretions, using for this purpose single trees and bushes, as well as termite mounds. Declaring their rights to the territory, gefanas “sing” a duet at dusk and dawn. Their voices sound like the cat’s meow, but more deep and loud.
Gefanas bear offspring once a year. There is only one cub in the litter; at first, only the female takes care for it, and then both parents do it in turns. The den is a very large burrow (up to half a meter in diameter) in shrubs, or any naturally formed cave. The cub is born with closed eyes and ears, but grows and develops rapidly. At the age of one month, it leaves the shelter and leads a nomadic life with its parents. Gefana becomes an adult at the age of two years.

Ant lemur (Myrmelemur pumilis)
Order: Primates (Primates)
Family: Dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleidae)

Habitat: Madagascar, light forests and shrubby savannas.

Pictures by Alexander Smyslov

Oddly enough, the phenomenon of mass extinction has some benefits for some representatives of fauna and flora. When many living beings go extinct, survived species have the opportunity to occupy the exempted ecological niches and start active speciation. After the extinction that happened at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene, among the animals of Madagascar this process has begun actively, and the forests of the island had filled with life again.
At dusk and dawn, among the bushes in the Madagascar light forests one of the representatives of the new fauna of this island can be seen: a small mammal climbs among the branches, occasionally tearing off pieces of bark and trawling through the foliage in search of insects. It is especially interested in the nests of social insects, termites or ants. Having found such a nest, the animal stops its fussy movements and begins feeding slowly: standing on its hind legs, it digs up the dwelling of insects, and quickly licks off its inhabitants.
This animal, a direct descendant of representatives of the indigenous fauna of Madagascar, is called ant lemur. It is a small primate species: body length is up to 15 cm, and tail is up to 20 cm long.
Ant lemur is adapted to feeding on insects. Its tongue is slightly elongated and covered with sticky saliva secreted from the large salivary glands. On the index and the middle fingers of this primate the main tools for the destruction of insect nests grow: these are large claws. The fingers themselves are united by a common skin cover, and look like one thick finger with a double claw. The bones of these fingers are thick – due to such fingers, even the hard nests of termites are ravaged by ant lemur. If its fingers cannot cope with the nest of insects, its teeth are used: the front incisors on the upper and lower jaws are very large, slightly similar to the incisors of rodents.
The ant lemur leads a predominantly arboreal lifestyle, although it is often found on the ground. Because of its very large claws, the ant lemur moves on the ground on two legs, keeping its front paws suspended. The forepaws of this lemur have kept the characteristic grasping ability of the primates. The thumb is opposable to fingers IV and V, forming a strong grip. Fingers II and III during climbing are raised, and do not interfere with grasping the branches. Hands are covered with dark wool. The hind legs of this mammal are not so specialized, but the 1st digit is opposable to the others.
The ant lemur’s head is rounded, with a flattened face and a short snout. Canines are very short; premolars have sharp cutting edges. The face is covered with dense short black fur. The eyes are large; the iris is brown. Ears are short.
The male’s wool is bright red, while the female is straw-yellow. Tail is long; it is used as a balancer during the tree-climbing. At the tip of the tail, a bright black and white switch grows. The sign of threat in ant lemurs is a trembling tail raised up.
Once a year, the female gives birth to only one cub. It is covered with dark wool, and gets the coloration of adult animals only at the onset of maturity. For the first two months of life, it sits on the mother’s back, gradually learning to climb trees and search for food. With its large fingers, it holds on to the parent’s hair. When the claws begin to grow strongly and cause its mother pain, she is less and less likely to allow it travelling on her back. Up to five months, the cub stays near the mother, then leaves her and leads a lonely life.
Social insects represent a specific food resource: their nests are located relatively sparsely. That is why lemurs live alone; only the female and the cub stay together. Ant lemur marks its territory with urine, regularly renewing its scent marks.
This small animal carefully guards the territory from relatives. If two ant lemurs meet at the border between their possessions, they begin claiming their rights to the territory: with their tails pulled up, they display black-and-white switches, screeching and grinding teeth at the same time. Only a female ready for mating allows the male into her territory, but chases him away immediately after mating.
This lemur spends day and night hours in shelters – usually in hollows of tree trunks. The most active feeding time is at dawn, when the nocturnal predators are already going to sleep, and diurnal ones have not yet woken up. In the evening, the lemur also goes out to feed, but then it is more cautious.
Like at all small animals, the lifespan of ant lemurs is short: no more than 10 years. Their natural enemies are snakes and birds of prey. Young animals occasionally die, having failed to recognize the dangerous species of ants: they are stung to death.

Giant kangaroo lemur (Saltopithecus cynocephalus)
Order: Primates (Primates)
Family: Indriids (Indriidae)

Habitat: Madagascar, sparsely forested areas and sparse mountain forests of the western part of the island.

Picture by Timothy Morris

Madagascar is one of the largest islands on the Earth. In the Holocene, its unique fauna has suffered considerable damage due to human activities. Climate change at the border of the Holocene and Neocene has caused a mass extinction of a large number of species of native animals associated in their lives with forests. The species that can exist in conditions of rare forests and open spaces survived more or less better. They became the ancestors of the new fauna of Madagascar.
In the Neocene, this island regained forest cover, but in the southern part of the island vast areas of sparse forests remained. Here the trees do not form a continuous canopy, and the ground is overgrown with grasses. Among the trees some of the largest representatives of Neocene Madagascar fauna search for food. These are the descendants of sifaka lemurs (Propithecus verreauxii), inhabitants of the dry forests of Madagascar. Having adapted to life in open spaces, they turned into strange and bizarre creatures – giant kangaroo lemurs.
The height of an adult animal is up to 2 meters (males are larger than females), but their constitution is lighter and more graceful compared to great apes. The head of this lemur is large, vaguely similar to a dog’s head – the muzzle is elongated. The jaws are relatively wide; molars are flattened: a significant part of the diet of this species consists of fibrous plant food, and giant kangaroo lemurs chew it the most of the time. The ears are rounded, slightly protruding, located on the sides of the head. The eyes are large; vision is binocular. The face of giant kangaroo lemur is hairless, the skin on it is dark. On the upper jaw near the nose, there are thin long vibrissae. Face is bordered by a zone of white hair; in old males on the cheeks peculiar “muttonchops” appear.
The body is covered with relatively thin hair. Back is beige with black longitudinal stripe; belly is white. On the shoulders of females, long wool forms a kind of “epaulettes” – cubs hold on it during the movement of the parents. For this species, the body positioning is characteristic: at rest, the body is held almost vertically, the animal supports on its tail. The forepaws are free and the animal can use them when searching for food.
Giant kangaroo lemur moves on the ground jumping on its hind legs; if necessary, it can make jumps up to 4 meters long. Hind legs are adapted for this type of movement: the foot is narrow; its toes are fused along almost the entire length. The animal moves, leaning on the tips of four toes, big toe does not touch the ground. During jumps, the body is tilted forward, the upper arms are pressed to the sides, and forearms and hands are free.
Young kangaroo lemurs are more mobile than adults: they can easily climb trees like their ancestors. They can even jump from one tree to another.
The tail serves this animal as a balancer and counterweight. It is long, thick at the base: fat is deposited in it. At the tip of the tail, a switch of white hair grows. These switches are used to identify relatives: from time to time lemurs raise their tails up, signaling to relatives about their location.
Giant kangaroo lemurs feed mainly on vegetative food: leaves of trees and shrubs, fruits and seeds of graminoids. On occasion, these primates may eat food of animal origin – insects and small vertebrates. When searching and getting food, this lemur actively uses its forepaws: it plucks and brings to the mouth heads of graminoids and fruits, digs up leaf litter in search of insects. Having raised on their hind legs, giant kangaroo lemurs can rip leaves off trees.
Giant kangaroo lemurs live in herds of 15 to 20 animals. The herd includes several families of roughly equal rank, headed by males.
Once a year, the female gives birth to two cubs. They are born with eyes opened and covered with wool. Wool of cubs is darker than that of adults: there is only a small white spot on the chest. Immediately after birth, the cubs climb on the female’s chest, holding on to her wool. During her jumps, the female holds them with her front paws. Grown up cubs move to the mother’s back.
The cubs are carefully cared for by all females of the family group, and sometimes by females from neighboring groups. With such care, even an orphaned cub has a chance to survive, if it lost its mother when it no longer needed milk. Females allow cubs to taste the food they eat.
At two months of age, young lemurs begin playing with each other and spend a lot of time on the ground. They need the care of adults up to eight months of age, after which they become completely independent. Males most often move to other herds, forming families with young females. Young females remain in parental herds, but stay away from “married” females. The first cubs appear at them, when they are three years old, after which these females become “insiders”.
The life expectancy of this lemur reaches 40-45 years.

Flying lemur (Microsifaka volans)
Order: Primates (Primates)
Family: Indriids (Indriidae)

Habitat: Madagascar, sparse plain forests and sparse montane forests.
Perhaps Medieval legends about people with dog heads were born after how European explorers met the amazing animal world of Madagascar. Some of the lemurs that lived in the Holocene on this island resembled shaggy humans with long beast muzzles.
At the border between Holocene and Neocene, natural disasters significantly reduced the number of lemurs, and a large number of their species became extinct irretrievably. Nevertheless, some species survived the hard times and evolved into completely new forms. One of them is a lemur adapted to make long gliding jumps and having a gliding membrane of a bizarre anatomy.
Flying lemur is a relatively small primate species: the weight of an adult animal is up to 5 kg. Hind legs are grasping, with a well-developed big toe. While moving in the forest canopy, this primate uses them mainly. It is one of the few Neocene mammal species that can move on its hind legs: lemur just walks on the tree branches. But, unlike a human who just stepped foot on the ground or other support, the lemur additionally grabs a branch with grasping toes of its hind feet with each step. The muscles on the hind legs are well developed. Due to them, the animal can make long jumps from one tree to another.
The forepaws are grasping and tenacious. The thumb is well developed and is opposable to the fingers. While moving, this lemur grabs branches with its paws to keep balance. Also with its front paws, the flying lemur gouges the bark and rotting wood in search of insects. However, insects represent only a small part of the diet of this animal. Flying lemur is omnivorous, and equally willingly eats food of both plant and animal origin. It ravages bird nests, catches frogs and lizards and eats juicy tree fruits, including those that may be inedible for other lemurs. Occasionally, flying lemurs search for food on the ground. But at this time, they are especially cautious, and do not go far from trees. At the slightest danger they seek salvation in a tree, and sometimes make jumps up to 5 meters high – from the ground directly to the lower branches of the tree.
Like some marsupials and rodents, this primate has adapted to make long gliding jumps. On its forelimbs a device for it appeared: the distal end of the humerus continues from the elbow joint as a cartilage rod that is about half of the forearm in length. Between this rod, the upper arm, side and base of the animal’s thigh the patagium stretches. Of course it is not as extensive as that of the flying squirrels, “true” flying lemurs and sugar gliders of the Holocene era, but all the same significantly prolongs the gliding of the mammal in the air. Due to it, the animal flies up to 20 meters, and up to 30 meters when jumping from the tree to the ground. A significant advantage of the structure of such a patagium is that the hands of the animal are relatively free, although the leading edge of the patagium is not as hard as in other mammalian gliders, in which the membrane stretches to the entire limb.
The patagium has another important function: it is a heat radiator. The lower surface of patagia is almost hairless, and on the upper one wool is thinner than on the torso. The tissues of the patagium are penetrated with blood vessels, which dilate when the mammal is overheated. Blood rushes to the patagia and radiates an excessive heat. Due to this property of the patagium, the flying lemur can feed in the sun and does not suffer from overheating. If the lemur is hot, it lifts the upper arms slightly and makes several flapping movements by them, as if by wings.
The wool of lemurs of both sexes is white. There is a longitudinal dark band on the back.
The voice is loud and sounds like the dog’s howl. In the morning, lemurs arrange a loud “roll call”, which sometimes lasts up to half an hour. This usually happens during the wet season. In drought, when the leaves partially fall off from the trees, lemurs become more cautious.
Flying lemurs live in groups of up to a dozen animals.
Reproduction of this species takes place almost all year round, and in each group 2 to 3 cubs of various ages are always present. Young animals differ from adult animals in completely white hair. A characteristic stripe appears on the back of young flying lemurs only at the age of 7-8 months, when they become independent.
In the rainforests of Eastern Madagascar a related species lives: forest flying lemur (Microsifaca acrobates). This species differs in larger size and dark coloration: the upper side of the body is black, the bottom is white. On its head, male has bright red tuft; female has just a patch of short gray hair instead of it. Living in the crowns of emergent trees, it makes long jumps in their crowns.

Crested lemur (Papiolemur cristatus)
Order: Primates (Primates)
Family: Lemurs (Lemuridae)

Habitat: savannas and sparse forests of southern Madagascar, sparse mountain forests.
Almost all prosimians are forest-dwellers. Therefore, in the period of ecological crisis at the turn of the Holocene to Neocene, when the area of forests decreased, many of their species became extinct. But among the surviving lemurs species that can live almost exclusively on the ground had evolved.
In the seasonally dry areas of western Madagascar, troops of these animals roam in sparse forests. Usually they may not be seen immediately among the tall grass, but from time to time, these beasts raise their shoulders and heads above the grass, and some of them stand on their hind legs, and look round. Then the feature becomes noticeable, for which these primates were named crested lemurs – on the crown of adult animal a long white wool looking like fluffy crest noticeable from a distance grows. If the lemur is frightened or surprised by something, it keeps the crest raised for a long time. Other animals, noticing it, begin behaving more cautiously, and carefully monitor the surroundings.
The number of enemies of crested lemur is relatively small: adult animals of this species are the size of a shepherd dog and weigh up to 50 kilograms. In its strong physique, and partly even in its habits, crested lemur is similar to a baboon – due to similar habitat and lifestyle. Crested lemurs roam the sparse forests in troops numbering up to 20 individuals. Within the troop, there are several stable families: male, one to two females and their cubs. In contrast to the strict hierarchy that prevails within the baboon herd, in crested lemurs, the submission relationships do not go beyond the family. But they meet the enemy all together, face to face. And few can oppose the power of their collective defense.
This species is a descendant of the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), one of the most numerous species of Holocene lemurs. This species has spent more time on the ground than other lemurs, and in conditions, where the forest area of Madagascar has decreased, so the peculiarity of behavior became favorable for survival.
Crested lemur has large short head and strong jaws: it consumes mainly fibrous vegetative food. To facilitate lateral jaw movements, the crested lemur’s canines became short and similar in shape to the incisors. Molars are wide and flat, and jaws are quite deep, so the head of crested lemur looks like a monkey’s one. Only a “doglike” nose shows that these beasts belong to prosimians.
Grass is a hard-to-digest kind of food, so chewing takes a lot of time in these lemurs, especially at the rest. However, such food is easily accessible. Vegetarian diet is supplemented with large insects, eggs of ground-nesting bird, lizards and frogs. As stocks of such food are scattered over a vast area, this lemur has cheek pouches for food storage.
It is easy to get lost in tall grass, so the lemurs keep the constant contact with each other. In order to be more noticeable, they have grown manes of long white wool on their heads. Due to special subcutaneous muscles, it can rise and lower, expressing the mood of the animal and giving signals to relatives. The striped tail characteristic for ring-tailed lemur has become short in this species (slightly longer than the body length), and the stripes are almost completely blurred. The body of crested lemurs is colored olive-gray with darker back and black “gloves”. On the face, wool is gray with dark spots around the eyes.
The animal moves mainly on four legs, which are of approximately the same length. If necessary, crested lemur easily rears on its hind legs and can keep an upright position for a long time.
In addition to visual signals, these lemurs exchange a variety of sounds. In their “language”, barking, squeal, chirping and whistling are used. When the troop feeds, several animals stay in alert: they observe the surroundings, warning their relatives with harsh cries in case of danger.
The troop of crested lemurs has a vast territory. As these mammals feed on relatively affordable food, they are tolerant of strangers. Sometimes two clans of lemurs can feed at a short distance from each other, not paying any attention to each other.
To notify relatives from other clans about their presence, crested lemurs mark their territory. Their ancestors had odorous glands in the axillary area. To make its relatives feel its smell, the ring-tailed lemur dragged its long tail between the paw and the body, impregnating it with its scent. In the crested lemur, tail is short and this beast would not be able to do that. However, this species marks bundles of grass with secretions of the axillary glands, pinching them between the arm and trunk in the same way. Usually, the entire clan leaves their marks somewhere near each other in order for any relative from another clan to estimate the number and strength of their clan. Sometimes animals do a trick: they leave not one, but several marks. It happens that comparatively small clan can save its territory from more numerous neighboring clans due to such a trick.
The breeding season of crested lemurs lasts for almost all year round, but a large number of the cubs are born at the beginning of the rain season. There is only one cub in litter. It is similar in coloration to adult lemurs, but lacks white tuft on the head.
A young animal stays with its parents for a long time, and remembers about kinship relations for its whole life. Sexual maturity in this species comes at the age of 15-18 months. Sometimes even young crested lemurs, having their own cubs, can still continue begging for food from their parents for a certain time. Young animals that have become independent often leave the parent group and form their own one or join another small group. It happens if the clan becomes very numerous – small-scale skirmishes are inevitable, and young animals prefer to stay away from adults. Then the self-preservation instinct can take precedence over the feelings for relatives, and the clan breaks apart.
The life expectancy of the crested lemur is 13 to 15 years.

Baribal lemur (Ambulolemur terrestris)
Order: Primates (Primates)
Family: Lemurids (Lemuridae)

Habitat: Madagascar, savannas and sparse forests.

Picture by FanboyPhilosopher

In the Holocene, shortly before the human colonization of Madagascar, the island harbored a great number of lemurs, including large ground-dwelling animals similar to chimpanzees and gorillas in lifestyle. People destroyed them, and from the whole variety of lemurs, only few rather small forms remained by the end of human reign. After the disappearance of people, during the Ice Age, some of the survived lemur species became extinct due to climatic changes. But by the Neocene era, the few survivor forms began evolving actively, occupying ecological niches available. Among the Neocene lemur species, there is baribal lemur, a very large ground-dwelling prosimian.
Like the crested lemur, this animal is a descendant of the ring-tailed lemur of the Holocene era. Baribal lemur is a large, heavily built beast, resembling a bear outwardly. It is almost exclusively a ground-dwelling animal and it rarely climbs trees – mostly only at a young age. The body length of this species is up to one and a half meters, along with the tail.
The head is large and the snout is short. This lemur is omnivorous and has wide jaws with tuberculate teeth, allowing it chewing easily both tubers and bulbs from grasses, and small animals. The canines are short, only in old males they protrude slightly from the mouth. The eyes are directed forward; the vision is stereoscopic. The auricles are small, on their outer side long hair grows, forming two thick tufts. Snout is covered with short wool; the nose and the area around the mouth are bare. The bare skin on the muzzle has different color: reddish-brown in males and grayish in females. When excited it is filled with blood and acquires a noticeable red tint. The head is covered with a light gray wool; long wool near the ears is black. It helps these beasts recognize each other from afar. In males, white beards also grow. In the old males not only beards, but also the wool on the throat and chest becomes white.
Body is covered with gray hair; on back a wide longitudinal dark stripe stretches. Tail is short with a “brush” of black hair at the tip. Legs are plantigrade with large feet. The animal usually moves on four legs, but often takes a bipedal pose, monitoring the surroundings. The forelegs are slightly longer than the hind legs, therefore, during the moving on four legs, the lemur’s shoulders are higher than the rump, like in the gorilla.
Baribal lemurs stay in couples or family groups led by an adult male. There are usually up to three adult females in the group, and their cubs not reached puberty yet.
This species is omnivorous; if possible it can feed on carrion. Baribal lemur is especially fond of roots and bulbs of plants. To get them, it pulls out the whole plants and shakes the soil off the roots by blows against the ground. It usually leaves greenery, or eats only the sappy lower parts of stems and leafstalks. Next to the baribal lemur, other savanna dwellers – crested lemurs – often feed, picking up leftover food of their larger relative. This species often feeds on the remains of the prey of gefana, a large local predator. A family group of baribal lemurs can easily drive a predator away from its prey.
Once a year, the female gives birth to one cub, but in about a quarter of cases twins are born, especially in mature females. The cub is covered with black wool completely. The female takes care of it for four months, and the young animal spends the next year in the parental group. Sexual maturity in females comes at the age of two years, while in males at three years.

Numidornis (Numidornis atalantae)
Order: Gallinaceous birds (Galliformes)
Family: Guinea fowls (Numididae)

Habitat: Madagascar, savannas and foothills.
Once upon a time Madagascar had home to its own ratite bird – elephant bird (Aepyornis), the heaviest of birds known to people, weighing up to half a ton and found nowhere else. But their fate was as sad as that of other giants of this island: Aepyornis became extinct shortly after the human colonization of Madagascar. In the Neocene, another bird, that had lost the ability to fly, appeared at this island. It is a representative of Galliformes, which even in the human era expressed a tendency to reduce flight capabilities, although no flightless species of fowl was known.
The Madagascar Numidornis is descended from guinea fowl (Numidia meleagris), which was remarkable in its running ability. The descendant of this medium-sized bird is a very remarkable creature: its height is up to 2 meters and weight is about 150 kilograms. The constitution of Numidornis is robust, and its head is relatively small.
Head, neck, and front of the chest (approximately to the level of the craw) are featherless. The skin on the bare areas has a white color, which saves the bird from overheating. On the head, there is a “helmet” of crescent shape, similar to the crest of Parasaurolophus dinosaur, but without cavities. In males, this crest is much larger than in females, and they use it for mating displays. At the corners of the beak, there are large wattles, which can fill with blood and stretch a lot. A circuit of blood vessels penetrates them, and through them the bird radiates the excess of heat from her body. During the mating courtship, in the male they increase significantly and become bright.
Legs of Numidornis are strong and muscular, feet are three-toed (the hind toe is completely lost). The bird can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h, and accelerates up to 60-70 km/h at a short distance (the bird is named after Atalanta, the heroine of Greek myths famous for her speed of run). While running, the bird can abruptly change the direction of movement, helping itself with short broad wings like rheas did.
The plumage of Numidornis is striped: white cross stripes stretch on the bluish-gray background. On the body, the stripes are narrow and of regular shape, and on the wings, the stripes are wide, and their pattern is slightly irregular. Due to this coloration, Numidornis hides easily from predators in the bush and grass.
This species keeps in family groups of one or two males (one of them obeys the other one), and up to 5 or 6 females for each male. Birds are remarkable in their courage: acting in a group, they can drive away the attacking predator. While doing it, they utter loud screaming, stomping their feet and trying to hit the predator with their claws, jumping on it, like a rooster.
Numidornises are omnivores. Their main food includes graminoid grains, small vertebrates and large insects. If possible, they willingly feed on carrion, driving other animals away from it.
Females nest in a group, placing their nests in the territory protected by males. The nest is made in a shelter: in bushes or among tall grass. The clutch numbers up to 10 eggs about 20 cm long with a mottled shell (random brown strokes on a yellowish background).
The chicks have feather “caps” on their heads and yellow fluff with black longitudinal stripes. The front of the head and neck is bare.
Adult birds of the parental group takes care of the chicks together. Juveniles are fully feathered at the age of about one and a half month, and since sixth month, the feathers on the head shed and the growth of “crest” begins. Birds are fully mature at the age of two years. Lifespan is up to 20 years or more.


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