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Madagascar is a large island, about 140% the size of California, off the southeast coast of Africa. The island is renowned for its high rate of endemic species (found nowhere else). The island contains 5% of animal and plant species on Earth, with 80% endemic to the island. Species endemic to Madagascar include the famous lemur infraorder of primates (over 40 species), the carnivorous fossa (related to mongooses), three bird families, and six boabab species (huge trees with wide stumps). There are so many species endemic to Madagascar that some ecologists have called it "the eighth continent".
The most famous species endemic to Madagascar are the lemurs, small primates. Their name is derived from the Latin lemures, which means "spirit of the night" or "ghosts". They have long tails, large, reflective eyes, and some species have a distinctive wail, which must have contributed to their name. Lemurs are unique primates that once lived on the African mainland, but traveled to Madagascar 18-24 million years ago, long after it broke off from the African mainland 70 million years ago. On the African mainland, their ancestors were outcompeted by monkeys, apes, and other primates, but the island of Madagascar has long served as a sanctuary for them. Once, there were lemurs as large as chimps or even larger than gorillas, but these have gone extinct in historically recent times due to human colonization.
Another species endemic to Madagascar is the fossa, a small carnivorous animal that is currently considered an endangered species, with only about 2,500 mature individuals in existence. The fossa is so rare that is was once thought to be exclusively nocturnal, even though it does walk around during the day. An agile hunter, the fossa can move through trees in a manner similar to squirrels, and eats anything it can get its paws on, including birds, fish, and small lemurs. Fossas are about two feet in size, and are the largest mammalian carnivores on the island.
Tenrecs, a family of small omnivorous mammals, primarily find their home on Madagascar, with 30 species found only there, and just 3 on the African mainland. They are of variable body form, and have come to resemble shrews, hedgehogs, and otters as a result of parallel evolution, though they are not closely related to these groups. Tenrecs have such a low body temperature that they do not require a scrotum to cool their sperm, as is required by most other mammals.
There are numerous other species endemic to Madagascar, including 14 unique Malagasy rodents, 15 species of bat, various chameleons and geckos, over a hundred birds, and hundreds of beetles and other insects. Conservation efforts must proceed aggressively to preserve this unique Madagascar fauna.
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