Shrunken Life: Discourses of the Cryptic and the Miniature in Madagascar




extinction, cryptic species, miniature species, climate change, island rule, DNA barcoding, Madagascar


As scientists scour remnant habitats and “unmask” cryptic species with DNA barcoding, a boom of species discovery has enchanted the world.  In Madagascar, recent discoveries of previously unknown miniature frogs, chameleons, and lemurs often photographed on human fingers or cradled in hands, have captured the public imagination. In this imagery of scale, the giant finger conveys the outsized impact of humanity on Earth, or points to what Susan Stewart (1996, p. 74) calls “a physical world of disorder and disproportion.” Although the phenomenon of insular gigantism and dwarfism has shaped scientific discourses of evolution and extinction since the nineteenth century, recent reportage on “new” miniature and cryptic species reflects a sensibility beyond wistful nostalgia for creatures past. Species miniaturism evolves out of habitat loss, and living minifauna encapsulate the contraction of existential time, all the more pronounced by the effects of climate change. Photographs of cryptic minifauna therefore compel us to reflect on the whole of our losses, while they fuel the impulse to restock the “library of life” at micro-scale.  

Author Biography

Genese Marie Sodikoff, Rutgers University, Newark, USA

Dr Genese Marie Sodikoff is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University–Newark. Since 1994, her research has examined Madagascar’s political ecology, including the labor relations of biodiversity conservation, cultural and biotic extinction events, and the cultural life of zoonoses. Her recent work, supported by a Mellon New Directions Fellowship, is tentatively called “Dwelling with Plague: House, Tomb, and Reservoir in Madagascar.” It explores the impacts of endemic bubonic plague on Malagasy kinship and funerary practices. She is the author of Forest and Labor in Madagascar: From Colonial Concession to Global Biosphere and the editor of The Anthropology of Extinction: Essays on Culture and Species Death.


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How to Cite

Sodikoff, G. M. (2021). Shrunken Life: Discourses of the Cryptic and the Miniature in Madagascar . ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20(2), 55–73.