Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Variety of Life

Cut off from mainland Africa for millions of years, Madagascar's flora and fauna have evolved into unique species including 10 000 endemic plants, 316 reptiles, 109 birds and 101 species and subspecies of lemurs!  As well as the variety of life, there is also a lot of variety in Madagascar's geography, from mountain runs to coastal plains, and dense rainforest to savannah.

Called an "evolutionary playground", Madagascar's estensive biodiversity hinges on two important factors: it is near to the equator and it contains an astonishing array of habitats.  The tropical climate has allowed more things to survive (much more than a cold environment would) and the variety has allowed for even more variation in the plants and in animals as well.  Perhaps the most interesting plant and animal from Madagascar are the baobab tree and the lemur.

The baobab tree is one of the main attractions in Madagascar because of its extraordinary size and beauty.  It is considered the "mother of the forest".  Members of Scouts Canada who visited Madagascar in 2008 commented that they look like they were planted upside down, with their roots at the top, as their branches don't normally reach upwards, but outwards.  Even so, they are well respected in Madagascar because they provide food and support and are home to various animals from ants and moths to lemurs and eagles.

Popularized in the movie: Madagscar, lemurs are related to monkeys, but split from the evolutionary tree about 40-50 million years ago.  Now, Madagascar is home to all 101 varieties, which live no where else in the world.  The 101 sub-species range from the ring-tailed lemur to the Aye-Aye.  The ring-tailed lemur is certainly the livliest of the lemurs.  The aye-aye however is the strangest, and it actually took scientists years to decide that it was actually a lemur at all!

It is said that they aye-aye has all the "leftovers" from other animals: the teeth of a rodent, the ears of a bat, tail of a fox, but the hands of no living creature, since the middle finger is like that of a skeleton, which it uses to tap on hollow trees and fish out grubs from under the bark.  To learn more about this animal, why not take part in our Cub Jumpstart, where you can learn about a bunch of different lemurs in the "Endangered Animals" activity!

Unfortunately, there aren't any penguins in Madagascar, even though they seem to keep escaping from zoos in New York City.

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