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Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common names

  • Fossa or fosa (from Hawkins and Dollar 2008; ITIS 2015)
    • Multiple pronunciations
      • Fah-sah
      • Foosa
      • Foosh
  • Other common names
    • French common name
      • Foussa or cryptoprocte féroce
    • Spanish common name
      • Gato fossa de Madagascar
    •  Malagasy common name
      • Kava’hy and Kintsa’laViro (Richardson 1885)
      • Fosa varika (Jones et al. 2008)
  • Etymology
    • Fossa from a Malagasy name for the animal (Gotch 1995)

Scientific name

  • Etymology (from Gotch 1995 unless otherwise noted) 
    • Genus Cryptoprocta
      • From two Greek words krypto meaning “to hide or to conceal” and proktos meaning “anus”
        • Name refers to the obscuring of the animal’s anus which is hidden by an anal pouch (Kohncke and Leonhardt 1986)
    • Specific epithet ferox from the Latin word ferox meaning “brave or fierce”
  • Synonyms
    • Cryptoprocta typicus (Goodman 2009)

Evolutionary History


  • Family Eupleridae
    • Malagasy endemic carnivores
    • Diversity (Goodman et al. 2003; Yoder and Flynn 2003)
      •   8 extant (living) species (from Yoder and Flynn 2003)
        • Divided into 7 genera
        • 3 morphological and ecological types
          • Mongoose-like form includes the genera Galidia, Galidictis, Mungotictis, and Salanoia
          • Cat-like form includes the genus Cryptoprocta
          • Civet-like form includes the genera Fossa and Eupleres
      • Extinct species (from Goodman et al. 2003 unless otherwise noted)
        • Cryptoprocta spelea
          • Only extinct carnivore known from fossil remains on Madagascar
          • Remains, from Ankazoabo Cave, date to the Holocene
          • Represents a larger version of C. ferox (Goodman 2009)
    • Origins and diversification (from Koepfli et al. 2006; Yoder et al. 2003 unless otherwise noted)
      • Most closely allied with herpestids (mongoose)
        • Arose within the feliform (cat-like) lineage of carnivores
    • All euplerids share a single common ancestor
      • African herpestid believed to have colonized the island of Madagascar
        • c. 24-18 million years ago (Mya) (Yoder et al. 2003)
        • Colonization likely occurred 14-67 million years after the arrival of the lemur ancestor
  • Historical classification (from Veron and Catzeflis 1993; Yoder et al. 2003)
    • Formerly placed within the family Viverridae
    • Molecular study resulted in assigning all Malagasy carnivores to their own family (Eupleridae)

Genus Cryptoprocta

  • Origin and divergence
    • Among the earliest Malagasy carnivore groups to evolve (Yoder et al. 2003)
    • Limited fossil record (Goodman et al. 2003)

Cultural History

Mythology and folklore

  • Considered "fady" (taboo) by many Malagasy people (from Jones et al. 2008)
    • Although cultural taboo against eating the meat of the fossa exists, there is reported hunting and consumption in some villages.(Golden 2009, Jenkins, Keane et al. 2011, Golden and Comaroff 2015)
      • May be killed if they threaten domestic fowl or other livestock
    • Believed to scavenge on the bodies of dead ancestors buried in the forest

Popular culture resources

  • ZOONOOZ (now San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Journal)
    • The Fossa: Ghost Animal of Madagascar; Sep 1968
      • General description of fossa; arrival at the San Diego Zoo
    • Fooled by Fossa; Oct 2009
      • Story of fossa at the San Diego Zoo; history of animal ambassador “Isa”


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Feliformia

Family: Eupleridae

Genus: Cryptoprocta

Species: Cryprocta ferox (Bennet, 1833) - Fossa

(Bennett 1835; ITIS 2015)

Early Illustration

a painting of a Fossa

Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox). Plate XXI; by Edward Lear, in: Bennett E. 1835. Notice of a mammiferous animal from Madagascar, constituting a new form among the Viveridous Carnivora. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London. 1:137-140 + p. 121.

Page Citations

Bennet (1835)
Golden and Comaroff (2015)
Golden (2009)
Goodman (2009)
Goodman et al. (2003)
Gotch (1995)
Hawkins and Dollar (2008)
ITIS (2015)
Jenkins et al. (2011)
Jones et al. (2008)
Kohncke and Leonhardt (1986)
Richardson (1885)
Veron and Catzeflis (1993)
Yoder and Flynn (2003)
Yoder et al. (2003)

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