April 20 - May 16, 2023
Intro Anjozorobe Andasibe Akanin'ny Nofy Ranomafana Anja Isalo Arboretum d'Antsokay Ifaty

Our first stop after leaving Tana was the Anjozorobe-Angavo protected area, near the village of Anjozorobe. The village is about 90km north-northeast of Tana, in Madagascar's large central plateau. The terrible road from Tana is mostly paved until you reach the village. (By "mostly paved" I mean that on average, at any spot along those 90km, often at least half of the road surface is still technically intact.) After that there's another 10km or so of even more terrible clay/mud road that leads to the protected area and adjacent lodge. Fortunately we had learned to entrust our driver Joshua with our lives for three hours on the "paved" part of the road, so the final hour on the clay/mud road, which would have terrified novice passengers, barely raised our eyebrows. We had arrived at a Madagascar forest, and we were ready to find us some wildlife.

Rainer crossing the bridge leading to the lodge

I'll start my account of this site and most subsequent sites with some insects and other invertebrates, which should annoy José. I know this because every time he saw me photographing an invertebrate he would mutter some variation of "John, John, John" in descending tones, while dramatically slumping his shoulders and adopting a severely disappointed expression. Sometimes he would accompany this with a heavy sigh. Obviously, this just made me want to photograph more invertebrates. Here are a handful of my favorite invertebrates from Anjozorobe.

Madagascar Commodore, Precis andremiaja, male and female

Cream-lined Swallowtail, Papilio delalandei

Grey Swallowtail Moth, Micronia aculeata
This moth is almost colorless, but its shape and subtle patterning make it a beautiful one anyway.

Cyligramma disturbans
We saw many of these large and attractive moths in the forest at night, here and in other locations. They had strong orange eye shine when a flashlight was aimed in their direction, which made them easy to find. Sometimes the light would disturb them into flying rapidly and clumsily around, often bonking into us repeatedly.

In the lodge's dining area, the curtains and wooden balcony collected an assortment of interesting moths and other critters overnight.

Euphyciodes albotessulalis

Achaea euryplaga

Maltagorea fusicolor

Unidentified rhinoceros beetle, subfamily Dynastinae

Unidentified fungus weevil, family Anthribidae

Somewhat intimidating katydid, Paralistroscelis listrosceloides

Phasmid (stick insect), Parectatosoma sp

Phasmid (stick insect), Paronogastris sp

Mantis, Liturgusella malagassa

Isopod, Calmanesia sp
Just like the pillbugs/woodlice/roly-polies that you would find under a decaying log in temperate parts of the world. Except covered with huge spikes!

Unidentified jumping spider, family Salticidae

Bark spider, Caerostris extrusa

Giant velvet mite, Dinothrombium sp
These mites were much bigger than your average mites, about the size of an adult American dog tick. Still quite small, in the grand scheme of things.

Arrowbreasted scorpion, Grosphus madagascariensis

We saw a few birds at Anjozorobe-Angavo, but not many. And the ones I saw all did that bird thing of perching in plain sight until a camera was aimed at them, then flitting off and landing somewhere obscured by vegetation. This is one of the reasons that herps are better than birds.

Red-fronted Coua, Coua reynaudii

Malagasy Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone mutata

Madagascar Pygmy-Kingfisher, Corythornis madagascariensis

Anjozorobe-Angavo is home to many lemur species, but I saw only one of them, the itty-bittyest one.

Goodman's Mouse Lemur, Microcebus lehilahytsara

We saw fewer frogs here than at our other rainforest destinations, but even so we saw a pretty good number of frogs.

Gephyromantis luteus
Most frogs here (and in most other places worldwide) are nocturnal, but we saw a few of these well-disguised leaf litter frogs during the day.

Eastern Madagascar Frog, Mantidactylus melanopleura
I think this was the only other species we saw in daylight, also hopping about on the forest floor.

Mascarene Ridged Frog, Ptychadena mascareniensis
This extremely jumpy species is active day and night, and can be found nearly anywhere in Madagascar.

Malagasy Climbing Rain Frog, Plethodontohyla mihanika

Blommersia blommersae

Betsileo Reed Frog, Heterixalus betsileo

Tschenk's Madagascar Frog, Gephyromantis tschenki

Madagascar Bright-eyed Frog, Boophis madagascariensis
This is one of the most widespread and common frogs throughout Madagascar's eastern rainforests. It's not the only species with pointy elbows and heels, but is definitely the most common such frog.

Goudot's Bright-eyed Frog, Boophis goudotii
This is a big, beefy frog. Beware, frog prey.

Anjozorobe provided an excellent (re-)introduction to the rainforest lizards of Madagascar, starting with the abundant chameleon Calumma gastrotaenia. Though all of Madagascar's chameleons are diurnal, they are much easier to find at night, because their bodies reflect light very distinctively compared to the surrounding vegetation. We were in this forest for two nights and one day. I think we saw two Calumma gastrotaenia during the day, and dozens at night. I of course felt compelled to photograph every chameleon I saw, which earned me some grief from José, but I won't force you to look at all of them here. Just a dozen or so!

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
These are small chameleons. A full-grown adult like this is only about three inches long, not counting the tail.

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
This is a particularly brightly-colored individual, very easy to spot with a flashlight at night.

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
Most of the individuals we saw were youngsters like these, between one and two inches long, not counting the tail.

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
This is the teeny-tiniest of all the ones I saw, definitely less than an inch long, not counting the tail.

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
A couple more adults to prove that they weren't all babies. The first one here has a scar on its face but seems no worse for the wear.

Perinet Chameleon, Calumma gastrotaenia
Though typically green, and sometimes yellowish, an occasional individual sported a reddish/tan style. I didn't see any reddish/tan ones at night, so maybe they change back to green at night as a rule?

After Calumma gastrotaenia, the chameleon in this area that we most frequently found was the Cryptic Chameleon, Calumma crypticum. I saw about twenty of these in our limited time at Anjozorobe. This species is sometimes called the Blue-legged Chameleon because adult males often have at least a trace of bluishness on, you guessed it, their legs. This species is very similar to the Short-horned Chameleon Calumma brevicorne, and was once considered part of that species; the bluish legs are one of the few clues that distinguish them.

Cryptic Chameleon, Calumma crypticum
As usual, we saw most of these chameleons at night while they were sleeping. This adult male was an exception that we found moving around in daylight. Its legs show a hint of the tell-tale blue.

Cryptic Chameleon, Calumma crypticum
Leaves provided some amount of cover, but not enough to hide these chameleons from our flashlight beams.

Cryptic Chameleon, Calumma crypticum
Some of the resting chameleons didn't bother trying to hide behind leaves. I thank them for that.

Calumma nasutum is a small species with a silly-looking rostral appendage (i.e. "soft nose horn") that was one of the first chameleons to be described in Madagascar, way back in 1836. Since then, many other small species with silly-looking rostral appendages have made their way into the herpetological literature. This trend has accelerated sharply in recent years, with several new species in this group described since 2020. So nowadays when you find a small chameleon with a silly-looking rostral appendage, it can take a lot of research to figure out which species it is, and sometimes a photograph isn't enough to make things clear even to the experts. This is all preamble to me telling you that I saw exactly one such chameleon at Anjozorobe, and its species is still a mystery. (Not to worry though, we saw many many more chameleons in this group elsewhere.)

Calumma nasutum? Calumma fallax? Some other lookalike?

While most chameleons spend nearly all of their time in bushes, shrubs, and small trees, the very small chameleons in the genus Brookesia spend most of their days slowly crawling around on the ground looking for tiny bugs upon which to snack. They generally have incredibly good camouflage in the leaf litter, and are extremely hard to find by day. Fortunately for those of us who want to see them, most of them climb up into low vegetation at night to sleep, where they are much easier to find. We saw two species of Brookesia at Anjozorobe.

Domergue's Leaf Chameleon, Brookesia thieli
This is the rare example of a Brookesia spotted during the day and not on the ground. One of the local guides noticed it, which was quite an impressive feat.

Domergue's Leaf Chameleon, Brookesia thieli

Ramanantsoa's Leaf Chameleon, Brookesia ramanantsoai

I saw only a few skinks at Anjorozobe, all of them the same species, and all of them hanging out on or around the lodge. Skinks are not really a strong point of Madagascar's lizard fauna, though we did see some excellent ones later on. If my goal was to see a lot of different skinks, I would have gone back to Australia instead of going back to Madagascar.

Gravenhorst's Mabuya, Trachylepis gravenhorstii

We didn't see too many geckos at Anjozorobe compared to some of our other destinations, but we did see several individuals of one of the very best gecko species.

Guibe's Dwarf Day Gecko, Lygodactylus guibei
No, not this one. Lygodactylus are interesting and widespread, but not particularly exciting.

Lined Day Gecko, Phelsuma lineata
Not this one either. Phelsuma lineata are beautiful, but too widespread and common to rank among the very best geckos. These particular individuals enjoyed a little fruit jam that José had smooshed onto the dining area railing for their benefit.

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko, Uroplatus phantasticus
This one! The amazing dead-leaf camouflage! The scary red eyes! The demonic "eyebrows"! And that name — phantasticus!

Next: Andasibe