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Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics


Head & Body Length

70-80 cm (2.3-2.6 ft)

Tail Length

65-70 cm (2.1-2.3 ft)

Total Length         

c.   140 cm (4.6 ft)

Body Weight 6.2-8.6 kg (13.7-19.0 lb)

5.5-6.8 kg (12.1-15.0 lb)

 Body measurements from Goodman 2009; Hawkins 1998.

General Appearance

Body shape

  • Mid-sized animal (from Goodman 2009 unless otherwise noted)
      • Largest mammalian carnivore in Madagascar (Dollar et al. 2007)
      • Resembles a small puma (Puma concolor)
    • Body slender, muscular (Hawkins 2003)
    • Torso long
  • Limbs (from Hawkins 2003 unless otherwise noted)
    • Muscular
  • Feet
    • Soles nearly naked (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
    • Paw pads extend almost to the heel
    • Claws semi-retractile
      • 5 “cat-like” claws on each foot (Bennett 1835)
    • Ankle on each hindfoot “reversible”
      • Enables species to ascend and descend trunks head first (see description of locomotion)
  • Tail
    • Slender though muscular (Albignac 1984; Hawkins 2003)
    • Length nearly equal to body length
    • Not prehensile (Hawkins 2003)

Facial characteristics (from Hawkins 2003 unless otherwise noted)

  • Head
    • Similar in appearance to a mongoose
  • Ears
    • Rounded
  • Eyes
    • Wide set
    • Iris a rich, medium brown color
    • Pupil contracts to form a vertical slit
    • Reflected light appears as orange circles
      • Unlike the eyes of a domestic dog, which reflect a greenish-blue light
  • Muzzle
    • Short and broad (Goodman 2009; Hawkins 2003)
    • Nose large and prominent (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
    • Facial vibrissae (whiskers) long (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
      • Some longer than the length of the head
      • Black at their base becoming whiter towards the tips (Bennett 1835)
  • Mouth
    • Carnassial teeth resemble those of a cat (Albignac 1984; Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)

Adult pelage (from Goodman 2009 unless otherwise noted)

  • Overall appearance pale
    • Upperparts sepia brown or reddish-brown (Hawkins 2003)
      • Lacks spots or stripes (Albignac 1984)
      • Melanistic (all black) forms reported but not confirmed (Albignac 1984)
    • Underparts a dirty cream
      • Secretions from ventral glands give an orange appearance in males and juveniles
        • Most pronounced in adult males (Hawkins 2003)
        • Particularly prevalent in the pectoral and pelvic regions (Hawkins 2003)
  • Hair
    • Dense, fine, and coarse (Albignac 1984)

Sexual Dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism (from Lührs et al. 2013a unless otherwise noted)

  • Males hunting cooperatively are heavier and larger than females
    • Body mass of male may reach nearly 11 kg (24 lbs)
    • Size of male is greatly affected by social factors (see Social Groups)
  • Solitary males are of a similar size to females

Male characteristics

  • Genitals (from Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986 unless otherwise noted)
    • Penis and baculum extremely long
      • Erect penis extends forward between the forefeet
    • Glans spiny, except at its tip
      • Accounts for nearly half the length of the penis

Female characteristics

  • Genitals and reproductive organs (from Hawkins 2003 unless otherwise noted
    • Clitoris of juveniles similar to male penis
      • Partially covered with spines and supported by a bone
      • Size diminished in adult females
    • Uterus paired throughout its length, as with other Malagasy carnivores (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
      • Each side has a separate cervix (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
  • Mammae
    • 3 functional pairs of nipples (Goodman 2009)

Other Characteristics

Chromosome number

  • 21 pairs of chromosomes (2n=42) (Ewer 1973)

Scent glands (from Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986 unless otherwise noted)

  • Sexually dimorphic
    • Less developed in females, in general
  • Perianal skin glands
    • Placed dorsal to and around the anus
    • As with mongoose
  • Sternal glands
    • Placed on the chest
    • Secrete a reddish-orange substance in males and juveniles
  • Other glands
    • Located near the genitals and on the neck
    • A strong odor emanates from glands near the genitals

Animal tracks (from Kerridge et al. 2003)

  • Print size
    • Similar to a domestic dog
  • Pad arrangement
    • Central pad surrounded by 5 evenly spaced outer pads
    • Distinguishable from those of the dog, which has 4 outer pads and 2 more closely set in the center

Scat (from Kerridge et al. 2003)

  • Distinctive appearance
    • Gray
    • Cylindrical with twisted ends
    • Dimensions: 10-14 cm x 1.5-2.5 cm (3.9-5.5 in x 0.6-1.0 in)
  • Other characteristics
    • Often contain large quantities or bone fragments from prey
    • Strong, musky scent


A Fossa and tree

Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox). 

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Albignac (1984)
Bennett (1835)
Dollar et al. (2007)
Ewer (1973)
Goodman (2009)
Hawkins (1998)
Hawkins (2003)
Kerridge et al. (2003)
Kohncke and Leonhardt (1986)
Lührs et al. (2013a)

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