Dangerous animals in Madagascar range from biting spiders to pre-historic reptiles. However, there’s some good news. There are far fewer harmful creatures on this island nation than you’ll find just over the Indian Ocean strait on mainland Africa. You don’t get prides of man-eating lions. There aren’t poisonous snakes in the form of cobras and pit vipers. Mhmm: It’s relatively calm on the formidable fauna front.
Still, this guide can be your guide to the dangerous animals in Madagascar. It’s got info on the creepy crawlies that could pose some potential problems, along with rare fruit bats that carry disease, and swamp-dwelling crocs that you won’t want to meet in the wild.
Let’s get started…
Of all the large African mammals that you might have expected to see on this list of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar, the Nile crocodile is actually the only one to be found on the island. Known in Latin as the crocodilus niloticus, it has habitats all across the East African Rift Valley, through Kenya, and even as far out west as the Atlantic coast. It’s up there with the most iconic predators of the continent.
The specimens found here are now known as the Malagasy crocodile. They frequent the wetlands and shorelines of the north and west coasts and are often found hiding in muddy mangrove swamps or between half-submerged spiny forests.
That the Nile crocs are dangerous hardly needs to be said. They’ve got a biting force that’s been measured to be in the region of 5,000 lbf (goodbye, arm). Those jagged teeth have evolved to latch deep inside living flesh. Then you’ve got the infamous death roll, when the croc twists and turns to carve up its prey. Attacks on humans are rare but they have happened. So, keep a close eye on where you put your boots if you’re venturing out on this side of Madagascar!
Madagascan black widow
There’s bad news for arachnophobes wanting to delve into the jungles and highland plains of wonderful Madagascar. Yep, the Madagascan black widow has some of the most potent venom of any black widow spider on the planet, and one of the most potent venoms of any spider, anywhere.
Known in scientific circles as the latrodectus menavodi, this small critter can inflict extremely painful bites. It instills a neurotoxin that can lead to seizures, uncontrolled vomiting, chills and shivers, and general nausea. Things can get so bad after a bite that deaths have even been recorded in humans.
You can’t really mistake the Madagascan black widow. It lives up to its name with a pitch-dark body that’s mainly a single, rotund thorax. The eight legs are short in the middle and longer towards the back and front. There’s also that tell-tale, don’t-get-close-to-me, dot of red on the underside.
There are a whopping 60 or more documented scorpion species on the island of Madagascar. They’re especially common in the dry and arid regions of the south and south-west of the island but can be found all over. Most likely encounters are with members of the grosphus genus, which have large, fat, brown bodies, and a tail that curls to a spiked stinger that’s about the same length as the two pincers joined together.
Not much is known about the native scorpions of Madagascar. However, it’s almost certain that they hold some sort of venom like other members in this branch of the scorpion species. Basically, don’t get close enough for them to sting you if you do happen to see them as you’re exploring the Malagasy outback – it probably will be painful!
The strange pelican spider might look like something you’d expect to see in a sci-fi film based on a faraway planet, but it really is one our Earth’s very own terrestrial critters. Also called the assassin spider, they’re known for their elongated and double-bent necks that look more like a mini trombone (or perhaps a pelican beak) than the top of a creepy crawly.
The pelican spider is the formidable cannibal spider, because these guys prey on other members of the same species. They don’t trap and bite like the eight-leggers we know. Instead, they stalk and stab, with a strong arm that’s like a pike. That’s also where the venom hides…
It’s not really that dangerous for humans because there’s hardly ever enough to cause serious harm. Still, we wouldn’t want to be the ones to test that theory out!
Brown widow spider
The less-famous cousin of the well-known black widow spider, the brown widow spider also comes in as one of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar. The reason? It’s got its own version of that potent neurotoxin venom. Thankfully, these guys rarely inject as much when they do bite, so symptoms are often way more manageable and much less likely to result in serious complications and death.
That’s not to say they’re a walk in the park, mind you. Nibbles from these eight-legged crawlies can be intensely painful in the local area of the bite, with severe throbbing and searing sensations in the affected tissue.
You can tell a brown widow apart from a black widow on account of its coloring – the clue’s in the name, huh? They also tend to be much smaller and with longer legs, which are picked out with light beige stripes. Brown widows still carry that trademark smudge of scarlet red on their underside.
Malagasy fruit bat
The Malagasy fruit bat is an endangered flier that lives endemically in the drier, western half of the island. Growing up to 20cm in length and weighing a max of 300g, they feed mainly – as the name implies – on fresh forest fruit and eucalyptus sap. They’re quite rare these days because they’ve bee hunted for bushmeat by the local tribes for centuries.
In fact, that’s precisely where the danger comes from! Malagasy fruit bats are known to be major reservoirs for viral diseases, some of which could potentially mutate to make the jump into humans. It’s happened before with other mammals, in the case of Ebola, SARS, and, more recently, COVID-19.
Obviously, the threat here is negligible if you’re going to be traveling Madagascar. Just steer clear of bushmeat – what’s that? You were going to anyway?
Madagascar hissing cockroach
Last but not least we’ve got the shudder-inducing Madagascan hissing cockroach. With a name like that you shouldn’t be expecting anything pretty. Sure enough, these endemic insects have all the traits of a bona fide creepy crawly – the slatted carapace, the slightly furry legs (insect Veet, anyone?), the antennae that wiggle this way and that.
Disgusting though they are, the hissing cockroach only gets onto this list of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar by the skin of its thorax. They hardly pose a threat to humans at all. In fact, they’re often kept as pets and used as exhibits in science lessons.
The strange onomatopoeia of their name comes from their habit to create a hissing sound when they feel threatened, not some elaborate attack mode. However, some scientists do believe that there are potential dangers in the spores that are disbursed when hissing cockroaches defecate. Mmm. Nice.
What is the most dangerous animal in Madagascar?
The most dangerous animal in Madagascar is the Nile crocodile. It’s by far the biggest and most terrifying beast on the island. Typically residing in the warm waters of lowland ravines and riverside woodlands, it’s quite common across the western half of the island. The worrying truth is that Nile crocs are estimated to kill over 100 people each year in tandem with other freshwater crocodiles. Most of those incidents result from hunting expeditions. It’s certainly not a pleasant way to go – think viscous bites and death rolls to rip up living tissue.
Are there poisonous snakes in Madagascar?
There are poisonous snakes in Madagascar, but none are terribly potent. In fact, Madagascar has around 90 species of snakes and only a few of those are armed with venom. Most of the others are constrictors and harmless types of grass snakes. That’s all quite unusual really, when you think of how close the mainland coast of Africa is, where oodles of dangerous serpents can be found.
Are there any dangerous spiders in Madagascar?
Arachnophobes won’t be happy to hear that Madagascar hosts arguably the most feared of all spiders on the planet: The black widow. Pitch dark except for a spot of scarlet on the underside of their thorax, they posses a strong neurotoxin venom that can lead to convulsions and death in humans. The island is also home to the smaller brown widow. It’s related to the black widow and also has its own red spot. However, its venom is often dealt out in smaller quantities, so the bites from these guys are rarely as strong.
The most dangerous animals in Madagascar: A summary
So, you’re traveling to Madagascar. Awesome. You can start looking forward to sightings of bulbous baobab trees and tastes of spice-filled Malagasy curries. It’s time to start planning your nocturnal lemur safaris and jaunts to the stunning beaches of Nosy Be. But first…
This guide will put some of the most dangerous animals in Madagascar on the radar. It includes feared spiders and hissing cockroaches and even muscular crocodiles. Some are pretty scary, while others only pose a small threat to humans. Thankfully, there’s nothing quite as fearsome as the big beasts and uber-venomous snakes that reside over the water in mainland Africa.
Still, we think these are worth being wary of. That’s especially true if you’re planning to head to the Malagasy countryside during your stay. Most of the bugs and biters on this list reside outside of major cities and resort towns like Antananarivo. They prefer the arid plains of the south (that’s the scorpions) or the river-carved western provinces (Nile crocs, we’re looking at you).