Owl in a tree at night
Animals,  Happy Place Happy Space,  Madagascar,  Monday walks

Night walks in Madagascar

Many of the fascinating and endemic creatures of Madagascar are nocturnal. Frogs, geckos, chameleons and lemurs all include some species that prefer the cover of darkness. So to see them you have to get out at night too, of course.

For night walks a torch is recommended (we managed fine with our phones). Your guide will carry one too, powerful enough to illuminate the animals. While they look out for interesting wildlife, your focus, and thus your torch, needs to be on the path. Even the easiest walks will, I soon found, have tree roots, stones and other tripping hazards.

So equipped with our torches, please join me on the three different night walks we went on, compiled here for Jo’s Monday Walks.

Andasibe / Mantadia area

Rather than visit the national park here, we were taken to the small rainforest parcel of VOIMMA, which is protected by a local guides association. The path there was good in places, less so elsewhere, with lots of tree roots.

Our guide William found quite a few creatures to show us, using his head torch to illuminate them. We saw a leaf-tailed gecko, Eastern woolly lemur (very hard to photograph), mouse lemur (impossible to photograph!), two tree frogs, a ground frog, and two tenrecs, an animal new to me.

Small mammal up a tree at night
Eastern woolly lemur
Small reptile well camouflaged on a branch
Leaf-tailed gecko
Small spiny animal on fallen leaves
Tenrec

There were also a few insects such as a caterpillar and a stick insect. They weren’t easy to photograph but one of the tree frogs posed particularly beautifully and I managed to shoot a little video of him too (although not to keep the camera steady!)

Small frog with big eyes on a branch
Tree frog
Tree frog

Montagne d’Ambre

Here we took a walk in a private park belonging to a rather rundown lodge, Domain de Fontenay. Our guide there, Laurent, told us it had belonged to a German man who divorced his also German wife to marry one of the local women who worked in the hotel. When he died a few years ago she inherited it, but had little idea how to run a hotel, hence its poor condition.

We set off along the lodge’s nature trail. The path followed the side of a hill, surrounded by trees and clumps of bamboo. Our first sighting was a very large spider, a golden web spider.

Large spider in a web at night
Golden web spider

We saw several chameleons, one of them quite young. Laurent said they were phontus chameleons but I haven’t been able to track that name so I may have misheard. Going down the internet search rabbit hole I’ve concluded they were possibly Amber Mountain chameleons, but I could well be wrong!

Reptile with coiled tail on a twig at night
Chameleon (possibly Amber Mountain chameleon)
Reptile on broad green leaves at night
Chameleon (possibly Amber Mountain chameleon)

Laurent also pointed out a brooksia tuberculata , otherwise known as an Amber Mountain leaf chameleon. It was somewhat larger than the brooksia minima we had seen earlier in the day, but still tiny.

Small reptile on a twig at night
Amber Mountain leaf chameleon

Towards the end we found a boophis frog, also known as a bright-eyed or skeleton frog, and a zebu spider, named for its horns. Zebu are the ubiquitous horned cattle of Madagascar.

Small frog with bulging eyes on a large green leaf
Boophis frog
Large grey spider on a tree trunk at night
Zebu spider

Baobab Beach

Finishing our trip with a relaxing break at the wonderful Eden Lodge (more on that in a later post), we nevertheless wanted to do a bit of exploring, so we signed up for a night walk with the lodge’s guide, whose name I failed to note.

Before setting out on the path our guide took us to look up into one of the palm trees on the beach, where some fruit bats were just waking up.

Bat on a palm tree trunk
Fruit bat

In the mango trees behind the property we saw a troop of fork-marked lemurs, a nocturnal lemur species. They too had just woken up and were calling to each other and leaping around in the trees. I found it impossible to take any photos of them as they were high up and partly hidden by foliage. But after pointing the camera at a tree for two minutes with video recording running I was able to catch one leaping from one tree to another. But blink and you’ll miss it!

Fork-marked lemur jumping

We also saw several scops owls, one of which features in my header. Here’s the other:

Owl perched on a branch at night
Scops owl

Elsewhere we came across land crabs, frogs (which I spotted before the guide!), spiders and a giant snail. From later research I reckon the crabs were Madagascar hairy legged land crabs and the snail a species of African giant land snails. Meanwhile a lot of digging around on the internet leads me to believe that the spider might have been a thunberga greta, a relatively recently (2020) discovered species of huntsman spider, named of course for the Swedish environmental activist. This spider has a unique pattern of dots on its back which matches those on my example. Check out this BBC article and see if you agree with my ID!

Unfortunately our guide wasn’t as knowledgeable as others we’d had. He couldn’t, for instance, tell us the species of the spiders we saw and didn’t share any facts about the various animals. Nevertheless it was an interesting glimpse into the nightlife in this remote part of the country.

It was wonderful during our trip to be able to see so many nocturnal species, even if I couldn’t capture them all on camera. So I’m sharing too with Ju-Lyn’s Happy Place, Happy Space challenge.

I visited Madagascar in October / November 2023

43 Comments

  • grandmisadventures

    It is like an entirely different world seeing the creatures of the night. Great pictures (loved by me and Tessa who added a lot of what she knows about nocturnal animals to the discussion 🙂 )

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Night wildlife hikes are so good, there’s something special about a good guide who knows just how to unearth those creatures which are hiding from view behind branches or under leaves, etc. Shame your guide wasn’t 10/10 but I’m sure it didn’t ruin the sense of adventure!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Well two out of three guides were excellent, especially the first one, William (who also led the lemur walk I posted about recently, and another that will doubt feature soon). He was a trained naturalist whereas the others were all-rounders.

  • sustainabilitea

    We learned when visiting the rain forest in Puerto Rico (during the day, mind you), that having a guide means you’ll see many more things than you would by yourself. A spotting scope is a big help as well. You got some wonderful photos. I especially like the owl sightings even if not the best photos. Night photography is tricky, isn’t it? What an excellent trip!!

    janet

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Janet 🙂 I agree, for wildlife having a good local guide is a real bonus! We’d probably not have seen any of these without one – apart from the frog at Baobab Beach which I actually spotted at my feet after the guide had passed it without noticing. But then, I don’t think he was a great guide for wildlife!

  • margaret21

    I’m going to pull rank here because I HAD heard of a tenrec. It was in a great natural history book I had (b/w naturally) as a child. The other one I remember from this was a fennec fox. I digress. Great post. I always love a night walk, but this was about 1000% more interesting than most. I bet they’ll be the most unforgettable part of this memorable holiday.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, well done! I’ve heard of a fennec fox but if ever I’d come across mention of tenrecs then I’ve completely forgotten about it. I’m sure if ever I saw an image of one it would have stuck in my mind 😀
      The night walks were memorable, yes, but on the whole I enjoyed the day ones more – easier to see things (including tree roots!) and much easier to photograph them 🙂

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Bravo, Sarah! You did an amazing job of photographing these wonderful nocturnal creatures. The chameleons are so cute, and so are the tree frogs. Not too keen on the spiders, but you did a great job of capturing the golden web spider and its web. I had to laugh at the wooly lemur as he/she looked very unhappy about being photographed. Loved the videos too. Wonderful post!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Kellye 😊 I agree the chameleons and frogs are cute, though I don’t know if everyone would see that way! I don’t mind spiders out of doors, just stay out of my house 😉 As for the lemur, I guess he didn’t like the light shining in his face even though it was from some distance.

  • restlessjo

    Who’s ever heard of a tenrec? Cute face! Not easy to see these creatures in the dark, let alone take photographs. I love your header owl shot, Sarah. So fierce! Thanks for the share.

  • Anita

    Thank you for sharing your exciting night walk in Madagascar Sarah. Amazing pictures, the tree Frog is absolutely lovely and the Chameleon, wow!!
    Very skillful to take such excellent pictures in the dark. I have hiked in the rainforest at night in Borneo and never succeeded in taking photos. But the most important thing is the experience and all the memories it brings.
    Haha.. love the Fork-marked lemur jumping. It was a witty one 😅

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Anita 😊 I loved the frog too, and the chameleons were fascinating. As I said to Anne below, for the most part the guides made photography easier for us by keeping their torches on the animals.

  • Anne Sandler

    Thanks for sharing your night walks with us Sarah! Those were some good adventures. And kudos to you for your night photography talents. I did see the lemur leap, enjoyed the tiny frogs, and chameleon. Actually, I enjoyed the entire post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Anne, good to hear you enjoyed this 🙂 The guides did make photography easier for us by keeping their torches on the animals (apart from the last one who didn’t really allow enough time, hence the land crab being half in shadow!)

  • Alli Templeton

    An excellent idea to show us these superb shots of nocturnal animals, Sarah. Looking into the dark lets us enter another world, one that we wouldn’t normally see or engage with. Love the videos too, because not only do they bring the animals even more to vivid life, we get to see how they move and behave, and we even get to hear what’s going on around them in their nocturnal environment. Their night is far from silent – it’s humming with activity! Wonderful. You’ve shown us a great array of creatures, all adorable in their own ways – except perhaps the spiders, as I’m an arachnophobe!. Having said that, I heard the most fantastic Irish folk story last week that’s given me a new respect for these multi-legged creatures, and I do admire their silken weaves. Really enjoyed this, and it’s so good to see into another realm of our fragile, awesome planet. 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Alli, I’m glad you enjoyed seeing these creatures and especially the videos 😊 You’re right, the night is far from quiet in those rainforests! I’m not fond of spiders myself, in the house, but I don’t mind them so much out of doors. Thankfully I never found one in any of our accommodation (only geckos, stick insects and once a frog, but that was fun!)

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

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