Spiders and Ants

By Rainer Dolch

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Although both are arthropods, only the ants are insects, whereas spiders belong to their own class, the Arachnida. In collaboration with Mitsinjo, researchers of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) have focused on both taxa in Madagascar.

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Brian Fisher and his team have discovered more than 900 species of ants from Madagascar

The daring Brian Fisher (http://www.calacademy.org/science/heroes/bfisher) of CAS and his team of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center have taken on the herculean task of inventorying Madagascar’s ant fauna. Their ground-(and back-)-breaking work in Madagascar is indeed one of the largest insect inventories ever endeavored.

So far, they have collected one million specimens at 200 sites, including Andasibe on various occasions. Over the years, the team has thus identified and named 900 ant species from Madagascar, which will help reveal evolutionary origins and radiations.

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The stunning diversity of Andasibe’s ants. Clockwise from top left: Cataulacus oberthueri, Cerapachys lividus, Technomyrmex madecassus, Strumigenys dicomas

Arachnologist Charles Griswold and his team, also of CAS, focus on spider phylogeny and especially on the peculiar goblin spiders (Oonopidae). Collecting these spiders as well as collecting ants requires sieving through enormous quantities of leaf litter, making research of these tiny animals a tiring enterprise.

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Daniela Andriamalala and Alma Saucedo of CAS searching for goblin spiders at Mitsinjo’s Anamalazaotra forest

Discover the amazing work of Brian Fisher’s team (https://sites.google.com/site/madabiodiversity/home)

Search thousands of ant specimens from Madagascar and pick your favourite

(http://www.antweb.org/madagascar.jsp)

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A Brief History of Andasibe

By Rainer Dolch

In both scientific and travel literature the names Périnet, Andasibe and Analamazaotra are often unmindfully used in synonymy.

Analamazaotra

The name Analamazaotra is derived from the forest and the small river that flows close to Association Mitsinjo’s office today. With the expansion of the Merina kingdom towards the coast in the 19th century under King Radama I., a small village existed here that was named Analamazaotra after the river. It served both as a small military post and lodging stop on the major route linking Antananarivo with the coastal cities of Andevoranto and Toamasina (colonial name of Tamatave).

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo's office today.

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo’s office today.

Travel was difficult and mainly on foot on this small and winding unpaved trail. Only wealthy people of the Merina aristocracy or foreigners used it, usually carried in palanquins (filanjana), whereas goods were transported by zebu (local cattle) pack.

After the end of the Merina monarchy, brought about by the French occupation of Madagascar in 1896, the new colonial rulers immediately aimed at converting the old trail into a workable road and simultaneously building a parallel railway line between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

Périnet

In the early 1900s, the French had established a train station close to Analamazaotra village that was named after the principal engineer of this section, Henri Périnet. From Périnet station, logging camps along the railway were established in order to make way for the rails and to produce wood fuel for the steam engines. The biggest logging camp was established close to Périnet station itself and simply called Andasibe (meaning at the place of the big camp).

La Gare of Périnet

La Gare of Périnet

Thanks to its geographical position along the railway, Andasibe/Périnet attracted migrant workers from various regions of Madagascar and soon developed into a village of its own. After the construction of the fashionable Buffet de la Gare, starting in the late 1930s, the village became a popular lunch stop for the daily trains between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

Starting in the 1940s, exploitation of the nearby graphite mines by companies Louys and Izouard contributed to another influx of workers. Both mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Andasibe

Whereas Périnet was used as the common name of the village, people preferred to use the Malagasy instead of the French name and again called it Andasibe after independence.

Parallel to the decline of the last sawmill (the Complexe Industriel de Bois d’Andasibe or C.I.B.A.) whose ruins can still be seen across the river from village today, tourism began to emerge as a new source of income. Parts of the venerable Analamazaotra Forest Station were set aside as a special reserve in 1970 to protect the Indri, the emblematic lemur of the region.

Villagers, who had formerly used their acquaintance with the forest for the purpose of fishing or hunting, now offered their services to tourists to work as wildlife guides. The Buffet de la Gare, which for a long time was the only hotel of Andasibe, soon faced competition by other hotels springing up. Tourism started to boom after the creation of Mantadia National Park in 1989. At the turn of the millennium, tourism had itself established as a major source of income for Andasibe.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Unfortunately, this wealth is not equally distributed among its inhabitants. Many remain woefully poor, subsisting on meager forms of agriculture such as slash-and-burn, charcoal production, logging and gold panning. All these activities are not only detrimental to the environment, but they are ill-suited to help break the vicious cycle of poverty and the degradation of natural resources.

We would like to encourage visitors to take a stroll through the village with this history in mind. Anything you purchase on the local market or spend in any of the small hotelys, will help the local economy. Today, Andasibe Commune has roughly 12,000 inhabitants that are distributed among 6 fokontany.