Madagascar Spiny Thicket | WWF

Madagascar Spiny Thicket

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of these terrestrial ecoregions: Madagascar succulent woodlands; Madagascar spiny thickets.
The Madagascar Spiny Thicket is such an unusual habitat that experts cannot agree on whether to call it a forest or a desert and hence call it a thicket.

Its trees are either tall and branchless, often with long, sharp spines (thus, the "spiny" thicket) or short, densely branched, with swollen trunks.

There is even a palm that has a triangular trunk. All of these unusual characteristics are thought to be adaptations to survive the long, dry periods of up to seven months without rain.

Local Species

The Spiny Thicket is particularly known for its endemic family of spiny Dideraceae trees, including the octopus tree, and Pachypodium, commonly referred to as elephant foot because of its huge bulbous base.

The ecoregion contains a large variety of spiny and succulent plants, including the songo be, which can reach up to 50 feet (15 meters), aloes, baobabs, and Euphorbia, which resembles links of sausage.

Endemic birds include Verreaux's coua (Coua verreauxi), Running coua (C. cursor), Lefresnaye's vanga (Xenopirostris xenopirostris), and Long-tailed ground roller (Uratelornis chimaera). Spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides), Radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata), and Charlarodon madagascariensis are a few of the endemic reptiles.

Characteristic mammals include ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), White-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus), Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi), and the recently described Grandidier's mongoose (Galidictis grandidiensis).

The principle threats to Madagascar's biodiversity come from the small-scale, but widespread clearance of habitats, primarily for firewood and charcoal production. Secondary threats are posed by subsistence agriculture, livestock grazing, and invasive species. Despite some recent improvements, Madagascar's protected area system does not yet encompass all of the country's critical sites.


124,000 sq. km (48,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Deserts and Xeric Shrublands

Geographic Location:
Southern and southwestern Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa

Conservation Status:

Quiz Time!

Eggs from the extinct elephant bird found?

Amazingly enough people are still finding eggs in this ecoregion from the endemic elephant bird, which went extinct in Madagascar around 1700. This giant bird reached 10 feet (3 m) tall and weighed closed to a ton. Its eggs, able to hold 7.5 litres of liquid, were larger than the largest dinosaur eggs.

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