Madagascar is the size of Kenya – a massive island that could easily have supported populations of elephant-like creatures, rhinos, bovines like Cape Buffalos or felines, but none of these families of animals even evolved on the island at all. That’s one reason RAS adventures in Madagascar are all healthy walking and trekking – there is no fear of encountering dangerous animals or snakes. And we get to examine nature up close in minute detail in the numerous diverse Madagascar environments.
Instead of big African fauna, Madagascar evolved its own unique life forms and even today, scientists are finding new species. Now the exciting news in January 2021: that the world’s tiniest reptile, a chameleon the size of a sunflower seed has been discovered in a remote mountain massif in Northern Madagascar.
Brookesia Nana is a member of an extensive brown colored family of chameleons found only in Madagascar that mainly dwell amongst leaf litter in rainforests. What does Nana eat? How does he or she dodge ferocious insect predators like spiders, praying mantis and certain ants, all of whom are larger, some many times so? Imagine the size of the Nana’s eggs and hatchlings? All this demands further research and study.
The Brookesia family are not the only weird and wondrous reptiles on Madagascar. We all know the ubiquitous Geckos that defy gravity, scooting around walls, walls even upside down, to catch insects. Meet Europlatus, one of the Geckos unique to Madagascar. Not only can the Europlatus family change color like chameleons, it can also mimic complex natural patterns like wood bark. When they close their eyelids they literally melt into the shape and pattern of their environment in some of the world’s most astonishing natural camouflage acts. Special Forces would be envious!
Geckos use the mysterious Van der Waals forces to achieve their feats of walking upside down, for example, on glass. Billions of special tiny hairs in the cracks of their footpads create an electromagnetic interaction between things that are not metallic, so glass actually “sticks” the gecko on the otherwise impossible surface. And the gecko has to switch this effect on and off as he scurries around catching insects every time he moves one of his feet.
Whilst the world slowly gears up to the freedom to travel and as the pandemic wanes, Madagascar has had a very low COVID infection rate and is preparing to welcome visitors once again – reminding us that sometimes the most amazing and spectacular forms of nature we can find there are not just the big spectacular mammals – but a host of unique and special species our rainforest treks can uncover that tell new and amazing stories of the wonders of nature.