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Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Daily activity patterns

  • Active in daylight and at night (from Gerber et al. 2012a)
    • Most active at night
      • Onset of afternoon activity begins near dusk
      • Daytime activity declines in the hours after dawn
    • Less active at midday
    • Patterns may be highly variable (Goodman 2009)

Home Range

Home range size (from (Lührs and Kappeler 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Males
    • Hold larger ranges than females (Hawkins 1998; Lührs and Kappeler 2013)
      • Range size may increase during the reproductive season
      • Solitary males hold smaller ranges than those of associating males (Lührs and Kappeler 2013)
    • Up to 89 km2
      • Mean 53.08 km2, in Kirindy Forest
  • Females
    • Up to 25 km2
      • Mean 17.75 km2, in Kirindy Forest

Range boundaries

  • Borders not fixed, fluctuate seasonally (Hawkins 1998)

Range overlap (from Hawkins and Racey 2005; Lührs and Kappeler 2013)

  • Male ranges overlap
    • A male may share his range with one or more females and other males (Hawkins 1998)
  • Females hold exclusive ranges
    • A mother may share large portions of her range with her daughter (Lührs and Kappeler 2013)

Social Groups

Males

  • Live alone or in small groups (Lührs et al. 2013a, b)
  • Associating males (from Lührs et al. 2013a)
    • Group size: 2-3 males
      • Individuals are not necessarily related to one another, though many are littermates
    • Hunt jointly for large prey (Lührs et al. 2013a ; Lührs and Dammhalhn 2010)
      • Hunters track arboreal lemurs for long periods; three males hunted together for 45 minutes in one study (Lührs and Dammhalhn 2010)
      • Predatory partners cooperate to track, chase, and attack prey (Lührs and Dammhalhn 2010)
      • Hunters may exchange roles and share prey food (Lührs and Dammhalhn 2010)
      • Solitary hunters consume proportionally fewer large lemurs
    • Benefits of association
      • Able to obtain greater size and body mass than solitary males
        • Solitary adult males are similar in size to adult females
      • Social males may experience reproductive benefits as larger males have greater access to mating

Females

  • Typically solitary (Lührs et al. 2013a)
    • Except when caring for young

Territorial Behavior

No evidence of territorial defense (Lührs and Kappeler 2013)

Social Interactions

Affiliative behaviors

  • Females: none reported
  • Males: few instances reported
    • Males seen resting together following a cooperative hunt (Lührs and Dammhahn 2010; Lührs et al. 2013a)
    • Male associates may groom one another (Lührs et al. 2013a)

Play

  • Infants and mother frequently play (from Albignac 1975)
    • Infants mount “attacks” against their mother and she will bite at them

Communication

No formal studies of communication (Goodman 2009)

Vocalization

  • Limited vocal repertoire (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
    • Rarely heard outside of the mating season (Hawkins 2003)
  • Calls (from Hawkins 2003 unless otherwise noted)
    • Hoarse inhalation and gasps of breath
      • Loud, repeated sounds made when the animal is captured
    • Yelp
      • High-pitched, extended sound
      • Possible signal to draw in other fossa
    • Purr
      • Produced by young or by adults during the mating season
      • Young purr when nursing or when in contact with their mother
    • Sigh
      • Loud, trembling, “haunting” call
      • Given when a male has located a female
    • Meow (Albignac 1970)
      • Given by females prior to copulation (Goodman 2009)
    • Brief audio clips
      • Click here for a San Diego Zoo audio clip of individuals being introduced to one another; audio link in the middle of the page
      • Click here for a BBC audio clip
  • Olfaction / scent marking
    • Mark flat surfaces (from Hawkins 2003)
      • Rub the anal region onto substrates to deposit anal gland secretions
      • Males, in particular, mark vertical tree trunks
    • During the breeding season, both sexes will mark more frequently, and also use the neck and chest (M. Krebs, personal communication; Reiter 2013)

Locomotion

 Quadrupedal

  • Equally comfortable on the ground and in the trees (Albignac 1970)

Arboreal movement (from Laborde 1986a unless otherwise noted)

  • Climb vertical trunks
    • Ascend headfirst
      • Scale thick trunks by jumping up, off the hind limbs
        • Hind legs push off with small jumps onto the forelegs
          • Forelegs hug the trunk
          • The tail is held nearly straight down
      • Scale small trunks by alternating one foot after the other (Albignac 1970)
        • Similar to a human climbing a rope ladder (Albignac 1970)
        • Always maintains three points of support (Albignac 1970)
    • Descend head first
      • The forelegs and hind legs alternate (Albignac 1970)
  • Leap from branch to branch
    • Begin in a crouch
      • Hindfeet just behind the forefeet, spine in an upward “bell” curve
    • The hind legs push off and the body extends
    • The forefeet land first
    • The tail acts to balance the body through the air
      • Tail serves as a pendulum, a non-slip device, and even a brake (Albignac 1970)
  • Walk along horizontal limbs

Terrestrial movement

  • Walk and run
    • Plantigrade (walk on the soles of the feet) and digitigrade (run on the toes) (Hawkins 2003)
  • Cover long distances on the ground (personal communication with L. Dollar 2005, as cited in AZA Small Carnivore TAG 2011)
    • May cover 12 km (7.5 mi) in a 48-hour period

Hunting Behavior

  • Hunt on the ground and in trees (Dollar et al. 2007)
    • Capture and pin prey to the ground with the forefeet (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
    • Target a variety of prey
      • Consume small shrew tenerecs to large lemurs
      • May take down Propithecus (sifaka) nearly as large as the fossa (Goodman 2009)

Interspecies Interactions

Predators

  • Humans

Prey Species

  • Various lemurs
    • List of lemur prey (compiled from Dollar et al. 2007; Hawkins and Racey 2008; Irwin et al. 2009; Wright et al. 1997)
      • Milne-Edward’s, Coquerel’s, diademed, golden-crowned, silky, Perrier’s, and Verreaux’s sifakas
      • Red brown, brown, red-fronted, greater bamboo, fork-marked, western woolly, and mongoose lemurs
      • Red-tailed and Milne-Edward’s sportive lemurs
      • Coquerel’s and fat-tailed dwarf lemurs
      • Pygmy, gray, and golden-brown mouse lemurs
    • Target reproductive-aged individuals, one study (Wright et al. 1997)
  • Other prey sources
    • Rodents, birds, snakes, lizards, and turtles (Hawkins and Racey 2008)

Introduced Animals and Disease

  • Domestic dogs and cats may transmit diseases
    • Anthrax, canine distemper, canine parvovirus, feline calicivirus, and Toxoplasma gondi have been found in wild fossa (Goodman 2009)
  • Dogs, cats and other non-native carnivores compete for prey species
    • Native carnivores may also shift their activity patterns in areas of overlapping territories (Gerber et al. 2012; Farris et al. 2015)

Scent Marking

a Fossa Scent marking a tree

Fossa scent-marking with the neck.   Males and females both display marking behavior during breeding season.

Image credit: Ken Bohn, © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Albignac (1970)
Albignac (1975)
AZA Small Carnivore TAG (2011)
Dollar et al. (2007)
Farris et al. (2015)
Gerber et al. (2012a)
Goodman (2009)
Hawkins (1998)
Hawkins (2003)
Hawkins and Racey (2005)
Hawkins and Racey (2008)
Irwin et al. (2009)
Kohncke and Leonhardt (1986)
Laborde (1986a)
Lührs and Dammhalhn (2010)
Lührs and Kappeler (2013)
Lührs et al. (2013a)
Reiter (2013)
Wright et al. (1997)

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