Wildlife is one of the first things that come to mind when we conjure images of Africa. The vast and diverse continent is expected to have exciting safaris, wild tigers, elephants, and deadly creepy crawlies. But how does the island nation of Madagascar compare to the rest of Africa, and what are the most dangerous animals here?
Madagascar is the second-largest island country after Indonesia, and it is located 400 km off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. There are 200 different species of mammal living on the island, and although you won’t find any escaped zoo creatures, you will find a host of exotic wildlife.
There aren’t prides of hungry lions, hyenas, or even elephants like you’d find in the nearby mainland nations of Mozambique and South Africa. Still, Madagascar is home to several deadly animals that even the native Malagasy people fear. So let’s have a look at nine of the most dangerous species on this curious island that you should look out for.
With more than 60 documented species of scorpion inhabiting Madagascar, most of which hold some sort of venom in their curled spiked tail, you wouldn’t want to get close to any of the island’s resident stingers.
They’re ubiquitous in the dry south and often bury themselves in the sandy ground, making them easy to go undetected. Scorpion venom is a mixture of neurotoxins and typically boasts a low lethal dose. A scorpion sting proves excruciatingly painful but usually would not be fatal. Although, young, elderly, and ill people are at a higher risk of severe injury or death from encountering a scorpion’s stinger.
These predatory arachnids have eight legs, large black-brown bodies, defined pincers, and a curved stinger, but some species are lighter in color and even translucent green or yellow. You should give all scorpions a wide berth because they’re known to strike if they’re stunned. Even though many scorpions are not poisonous, their stings will likely hurt an enormous amount.
We need not explain the mighty danger of crocodiles to you. But if you’re wondering if Madagascan crocodiles are anything like the stories you’ve heard of other African predators, the answer might not be the most reassuring.
The Nile crocodiles are probably the only large reptiles that you’d expect on a list of dangerous African wildlife that actually can be found on the island. These resident carnivores can be found at every corner of the continent, from the west Atlantic coast across the East African Rift. Crocodiles are not only one of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar, but globally, and the species who inhabit the island are every bit as formidable as they seem.
Malagasy crocodiles frequent the shorelines of the west and north coasts and the Madagascan wetlands, often hiding in spiny forest swamps and muddy mangroves. Attacks on humans are rare, but that’s because Malagasy people know to avoid these feisty beasts. With a biting force of over 3,000 pounds per square inch, over three times as strong as lions and tigers, you wouldn’t want to encounter their rows of jagged teeth and powerful body lashes.
If you have a fear of spiders, we have some bad news. Madagascar probably won’t be the place for you. There are 400 species on Madagascar, countless of which are carry venom. Of all the creepy crawlies that inhabit the lush rainforest land, the black widow spider is one of the most formidable.
Black widows are not only one of the planet’s most deadly spiders, but the Madagascan black widow carries the most potent venom of any of all black widows. Its extremely painful bites can lead to vomiting, fever, seizures, and even cardiac arrest. Although there is little data about the number of incidents with black widows in Madagascar, black widows are responsible for more than 2,500 hospital visits in the US every year. The bite is thought to be fatal to young children, the elderly, and the infirm.
There’s no mistaking this jungle killer that’s no match for its insect prey, with its pitch-black body, a bulbous thorax, eight short legs, and red dotted underside. Male black widows are around one-quarter the size of females but are seldom seen as they’re usually eaten after mating. Yum.
The island’s largest carnivorous predator, the fossa, is as big as a medium-sized dog but has more feline features with a slender body, long tail, retractable claws, and fearsome catlike teeth. The fossa is native to the forests of Madagascar and can reach six feet tall when their legs are extended. The solitary animal spends time in trees and on the ground, and they’re hunted themselves by Madagascan crocodiles. But fossas are known to attack anything they come across and can easily take down an ox in one fell swoop.
The fossa has been called the deadliest carnivore on the planet by some, pound for pound, and so it deserved the title of one of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar. This creature frequents local folklore and fables. These tales are the stuff of bedtime stories, where fossa have snatched babies from cribs, killed entire chicken coops, and extinguished campfires; “be good, or the fossa will get you.”
Still, they’re not often sighted unless it is rummaging through bins in the Kirindy Reserve, and lemurs make up most of their diet.
Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko
This native Madagascan lizard has earned a place on our list with a name like this. Although not as terrifying as it sounds, the fascinating satanic leaf-tailed gecko is known to bite humans when provoked or handled, resulting in nasty swelling and possible infection.
These bizarre lizards blend in everywhere, despite their large flat tails that resemble a leaf. The Latin scientific name for this gecko, phantasticus, translates as “imaginary” and was given upon discovery in 1888 due to what natural George Albert Boulenger described as their “mythical” appearance. The “satanic” portion of the name allegedly came from how the creature later looked at its discoverer—a bit harsh, George. We think the spikey head, curious grin, and devil-red color of its eyes and body of one of its many camouflage disguises has something to do with it.
The animals only hunt at night, so you’re unlikely to come across one yourself, although little else is known about their diet. Still, locals fear the creature, and it stands its ground when encountering humans, unlike most lizard species. One herpetologist of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology claims it will “suddenly open [its] mouth, emit loud cries, show the reddish tongue and try to bite.” The name makes slightly more sense now.
Indris have been thought to bear a remarkable resemblance to humans, with their upright postures, snub tails, round beady eyes, and defined mouths. They’re part of the lemur family and the largest of all, reaching up to four feet in height when fully extended.
Their haunting tree tops cries are distinctive and can be heard throughout the dense Madagascan jungle. Starting with a high pitch screech that goes into a siren-like whale, this would send shivers down anyone’s spine. They’re deemed sacred by the Malagasy people and feature in many local legends.
Lemurs are often highly aggressive toward humans, especially if they feel threatened. Yet, in the treetops, indris generally pose a minor threat to Malagasy and jungle visitors. But they do have predatory urges and are known to bite and scratch.
Madagascar has one of the most diverse snake faunas globally, home to over 90 identified species. The rainforests and rivers make the perfect habitat for snakes to hide, waiting for amphibians to prey on. But thankfully, only a handful of poisonous species exists on land, none of which are very potent. Without any adders, cobras, mambas, pythons, or vipers to contend with, you’ll have little to worry about when walking the Malagasy bush.
Still, the Indian Ocean off the island’s east coast is home to two highly venomous sea serpents, the hook-nosed sea snake and the yellow-bellied sea snake. Although non-aggressive and with no natural prey, both snakes carry venom with fatal potency making them some of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar, and the world. One recent death in Australia due to a yellow-bellied sea snake caused widespread fear about migrating sea snakes.
Sea snakes spread across the globe, riding the waves and ocean currents, so no shores are safe from chance appearances. Yet, the recent sea snake fatality was the first of its kind, and Madagascar’s snakes need not be feared but instead given a wide berth if they are sighted, as is the normal reaction to any snake.
What is the strongest animal in Madagascar?
The strongest animal in Madagascar is by far the Nile crocodile. One of the largest and notoriously African reptiles, crocodiles have a bite that is three times as strong as a lion or tiger’s, and they have unselective prey. Still, the fossa is the island’s strongest animal in relation to its size, and some believe it to be the most dangerous animal in Madagascar for this reason.
Somewhere between a cat, dog, and mongoose, but ten times as strong, the fossa is capable of taking down an ox in one fell swoop. Malagasy people tell campfire tales about fossa snatching children from beds and devouring livestock. You’re unlikely to encounter a fossa as they stick to treetops and dense jungle. However, you might see it rummaging through trash, and if you do, keep your distance. The fossa is known to be aggressive by nature and attack anything they encounter.
Does Madagascar have any poisonous snakes?
Madagascar has vastly diverse snake fauna, but most are not venomous. Most native species are “rear-fanged,” meaning they could inflict a painful bite, but that would not do much harm unless the snake could chew. This would put the victim at risk of infection, or if the snake did carry poison, it would allow the venom to be injected, causing swelling and even paralysis or cardiac arrest.
These bites are rare, and despite being home to 80 species, snakes are not to be feared in Madagascar. However, two species of highly venomous snakes live in the seas off Madagascar. These include the yellow-bellied sea snakes responsible for recorded human deaths. Though they only weigh 200 grams, their venom is fatal. But they’re mainly non-aggressive and shouldn’t attack unless provoked.
Are there rhinos in Madagascar?
Madagascar has an unusual and diverse mix of wildlife unique to the island. Despite being part of Africa, and often associated with the same safari scene, no thanks to the infamous animated movie of the same name, Madagascar does not have many of the well-known land African land mammals of the surrounding mainland nations.
There are no rhinos in Madagascar, nor are there apes, elephants, giraffes, lions, hyenas, zebras, antelopes, buffalo, and camels. But Madagascar is home to crocodiles, snakes, spiders, lemurs, iguanas, scorpions, and geckos, among other creatures, which are fascinating to observe and can be very dangerous.