Jun 27
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ARKive Geographic: Indian Ocean islands

Fed up of the lack of sun? In need of a holiday? Let ARKive transport you off to the wonderful islands of the Indian Ocean with our new topic page.  From the coral reefs of the Maldives to the unique wildlife of Madagascar, the islands of the Indian Ocean boast a wide range of beautiful habitats and fascinating species.  To get you started, here is a taster of a few of the unusual endemic species which call the islands of the Indian Ocean home.

The Maldives is just one of the island nations featured on the Indian Ocean islands topic page

A hedgehog? A shrew?

Madagascar, made popular by the hit DreamWorks film of the same name, is the fourth biggest island in the world and boasts a wide range of endemic species. The ring-tailed lemur, the fossa and the aye-aye are among the more well-known species which inhabit this island, but there are also many other less well known but interesting critters. An example of such a species is the lowland streaked tenrec, an insectivore which looks like a cross between a shrew and a hedgehog. It is not just the appearance of tenrecs which is unusual – they are also the only mammal to communicate using a technique called stridulation. Stridulation is when animals communicate by rubbing two body parts together. In the case of the tenrec, it produces a high-pitched ultrasound by rubbing together specialised quills on its back.

Tenrecs only exist in Madagascar

A tree that bleeds?

The most distinctive plant on Socotra, an island located in the north-western Indian Ocean, is probably the dragon’s blood tree.  This species gets its name from the dark red resin it naturally exudes, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, a substance which has been highly prized since ancient times. This resin has been used to colour wool, decorate houses and pottery, and for many medicinal purposes.

The bizarre shape of the dragon’s blood tree helps it to survive in often arid conditions

From the brink of extinction

A bird from Mauritius which seemed to be following the same fate as the dodo was the Mauritius kestrel. However, a world-renowned conservation programme rescued it from the brink of extinction. Once widespread across Mauritius, by 1974 the population of this species only numbered six individuals, two of which were in captivity. An extremely successful reintroduction programme, supported by the Government of Mauritius, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust International (now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Peregrine Fund, led to a spectacular recovery, with the bird being downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Released Mauritius kestrel individuals show a greater tolerance for degraded habitats and open areas

Pollinating bat

Endemic to the islands of Anjouan and Moheli in the Comoros archipelago, Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the largest bats in existence, with an average wingspan of 1.4 m! This species does not use echolocation, but instead locates fruit with its well-developed vision and sense of smell. Due to the Livingstone’s flying fox’s diet of fruit and flowers, it plays an important role as a pollinator and seed dispersal agent.

The Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the most threatened bat species

Minute marvel

From one of the largest to one of the smallest, the Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the tiniest frogs in the world, growing to a maximum length of only 11 mm. Endemic to the Seychelles, the nocturnal Gardiner’s tree frog forages for small invertebrates at night. Unlike most frogs, which lay their eggs in water, this frog lays its eggs in small clumps on moist ground. The young then hatch from these eggs as fully formed froglets, not tadpoles.

The Seychelles has the highest number of endemic amphibians in the world

If you want to find out more about the different islands these species inhabit, or if you just fancy a quick trip to paradise, don’t forget to check out our Indian Ocean islands page.

The Seychelles are composed of 115 islands

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

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