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The Wilds of Madagascar
The King of Carnivores

Lesson Objectives
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
  • know the characteristics and niche of the fossa.

  • understand the adaptations of the fossa that make it a successful carnivore.

  • describe and compare the fossa to several different carnivores that have adapted to hunt successfully in very different environments.

  • specify the mouth structures of several carnivores and understand their adaptations.

Related National Standards
National Science Education Standards (National Research Council)

  • Grades 5-8
    Science Standard C: Life Science
    Diversity and adaptations of organisms

    Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. Species acquire many of their unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.

  • Grades 9-12
    Science Standard C: Life Science
    Biological evolution

    Species evolve over time. Evolution is the consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.

Materials needed for each group
  • copy of the Carnivore Kings activity sheet for each student
  • access to library and Internet for reference materials
  • soft molding clay

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
The activity should take two class periods: one period for the students to do the research and make the model of their animal's teeth and a second period for class presentations.

Teaching Strategy
Background Information
The fossa (pronounced "FOO-sa"), scientific name Cryptoprocta ferox, is found only on Madagascar and is the largest mammalian carnivore there. It lives in forests and has been referred to as the most efficient killer for its size in the animal kingdom.

The fossa is like a mix between a mongoose and a panther. Its many adaptations make it the island's dominant mammalian carnivore. While chasing its prey, the fossa can charge like a panther and quickly follow its prey up trees, jumping from tree to tree like a monkey. The fossa has large paws and an extremely muscular, agile body that allows for endurance in the hunt for food. Its long and sharp teeth facilitate the tearing of flesh. It also has a keen sense of smell and sight to detect its prey. Lemurs, reptiles, birds, and insects make up its diet.

The male fossa may reach five feet from its nose to its tail (the tail comprises about half its length) and weigh up to 45 pounds. The female is smaller. There are two to four offspring in a litter, which are born in a den or tree hole. Weaned at four months, the infants stay with their mothers to learn to hunt. They become independent at two years or less.

  1. Organize the class into six groups and give each group a copy of the Carnivore Kings activity sheet.

  2. Assign each group one of the following carnivores listed on the sheet:

    • fossa
    • lion
    • eagle
    • crocodile
    • shark
    • killer whale

  3. Have each group research the animal and complete the information requested in the chart. Be sure that students not only describe the features of the animal but also have them explain how each feature allows the animal to best compete in its environment. The group should include a description of the animal's niche.

  4. Have students use the soft clay to create a model of the animal's mouth (teeth or beak) and use it in their verbal presentations to show how the mouth structure and shape are especially adapted for its attacking its prey.

  5. Reconvene the class and have each group present its analysis of its animal's adaptations and the mouth model. The rest of the class should take notes during their peers' presentations so that at the end of the exercise every student has a completed chart of information for each of the six carnivores.

Assessment Recommendations
Students may be assessed through:
  • their participation in the activity.
  • the level of detail and accuracy in their activity sheets.
  • the depth and breadth of detail, organization, and clarity of their verbal presentations.
  • the quality of their clay models.

  1. Write a paper about the adaptations of mankind that made humans successful in cave-dwelling times. How have humans changed since then? What adaptations are selected for today, or is natural selection something that does not occur among the human population anymore? For example, 100 years ago people with asthma often did not reach reproductive age. Today with modern medicine there is no natural selection against this disease in industrialized societies. What are the implications for future generations?

  2. Pick a domestic animal and list its adaptations. Have students think about animals from different kinds of environments, such as birds, fish, turtles, and hamsters.

  3. Design a carnivore that could be successful in a mountainous desert at high altitude. Divide students into groups and have them consider the conditions in that kind of environment: There is little water, the days are hot and the nights are cold, and there is little vegetation. What special adaptations would the animal have that would allow it to survive in this environment (body features, senses, behaviors, etc.). Describe the adaptations and how they would be beneficial to the animal.

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