Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world but 600 million years ago it was part of a super continent called Gondwana!
Today the island is only 250 miles from the east coast of Africa and is very special because of its biodiversity with approximately 90% of its plants and animals being endemic - not naturally found anywhere else in the world.
The island of Madagascar is now 250 miles off the east coast of Africa
The island is probably best known for its lemurs - these prosimians are primates that evolved before monkeys and apes. They range from the tiny mouse lemur, to the bouncy sifaka to the strange nocturnal aye-aye.
Lemurs - along with other animals and plants are thought to have reached the island after it broke away from Africa. Some may have used a land bridge that is thought to have sunk into the Mozambique Channel 40 million years ago, while others may have crossed on natural rafts such as hollowed out tree trunks.
The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur. Illustration by Jenny Czerwonka.
The island had many different habitats and as they spread out, over time they slowly adapted to their new environment and developed into new species. In evolutionary biology this is called adaptive radiation - just like with Darwin's Galapagos finches.
An estimated 2,000 years ago the first humans arrived on Madagascar. The island was very different to today and was mainly forest. Those early settlers would have seen dwarf hippopotamus, giant tortoise, huge 'elephant birds' and 16 species of giant lemur all which are sadly now extinct.
The giant lemurs including one that was as big as a gorilla that browsed the ground for food and another similiar to a huge koala as well as the giant sloth lemur that hung from tree branches!
Evidence of these 'megafauna' is known because of found fossilised bones. But in 2020 an international team of scientists including Dr David Burney and Dr Julian Hume made a very exciting discovery in Western Madagascar - a cave painting which seems to include an image of a giant sloth lemur!
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