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Marvelous Animals from Madagascar: Aye-Aye

by Dani Johnson

August 30, 2013

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Above Image: Aye-aye ImageCredit: Frank Vassen Source:flickr; Sourced for this blog in 08/2013. Image is available under theAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 GenericLicense.

Aye-aye are weird little creatures that can only be found in the wild in certain parts of Madagascar. They are already a rare species, and they are now "near threatened" and steps are being taken to save them from extinction. Most of what we know about the aye-aye are from the small number that are in captivity. They have a very specialized way of life, so keeping them in captivity is more difficult than other primates, since they need to be in complete darkness for the entire night, and they live in the trees so they need to be completely surrounded to keep them in. They are incredibly inquisitive creatures, and seem to be unafraid of humans - probably because they have almost no natural predators. I'm sure it also has something to do with the advantages of being tree-dwellers, also, since they can quickly gain vertical distance from any ground threat (humans). Check out the little guy in the following video, he is so bravely inquisitive that he walks straight up to the camera and taps on the lens to investigate.

Fun Facts:

  • Order: Primates
    Suborder: Prosimii
    Family: Daubentoniidae
    Genus: Daubentonia
    Species: madagascariensis

  • Aye-ayes are the largest nocturnal primates on the planet.

  • Aye-ayes are one of the few solitary primates.

  • Their nipples, there are two, are located on the bottom of the belly.

  • There is little to no sexual dimorphism exhibited in this species, meaning that the physical characteristics do not differ between the sexes. For example, lions exhibit sexual dimorphism because only the males have manes.

  • The species fills the niche of the woodpecker in Madagascar.

  • They have a third eyelid, which is rarely seen in primates, but very common in other animals.

  • Other names: Aye-Aye; Fingerdyr eller aye-aye (Danish); Vingerdieren (Dutch); Aiai (Finnish); Fingertier (German); ahay, aiay, bekapaky, hay-hay, karakapaky (Malagasy); fingerdjur (Swedish). Source

  • Aye-ayes move quadrupedally, even when walking on the ground.

  • Because of the ever-growing incisors, the Aye-Aye was once classified as a rodent, but it eventually became evident that it is really a separate species of lemur.

  • Other animals that are known to use percussive foraging include the woodpecker and striped possum.

  • It is thought that they're the only primates to use echolocation to find their prey.

  • Other animals that use echolocation include bats, toothed whales, oilbirds, cave swifflets, shrews, and the striped possum.

An adult Aye-aye weighs as much as 6 pounds and is about 1 foot long, excluding the bushy tail which is actually longer than the body. Their fur is usually dark grey or dark brown with white tips on a majority of the hair. The fur on the face is usually a lot shorter and lighter than the rest of the fur on the body, there are dark rings around the striking yellow/orange eyes, and the ears are big and stand erect. The Aye-aye has long, slender fingers with sharp claws that are adapted for climbing. The third finger on each hand is much thinner and longer than the rest, and it is used as a foraging tool. The aye-aye uses its third finger to rapidly tap on trees to find insect tunnels. Once the tunnel is located, the aye-aye uses its incisors, which are slanted out, to chew a hole in the tree. Once the tunnel is accessible, the aye-aye reaches in with its third finger and hooks the grub with its sharp claw and brings the food up to its mouth. The whole process is highly entertaining, because the aye-aye moves its third finger so rapidly and has such an intense look on its face.

Aye-ayes have a highly specialized diet consisting largely on grub and tree nectar, but varies based on climate and availability. They have been seen eating coconuts, ramy nuts, fungus, seeds litchi, and mango. They live only in the forests of Madagascar and are sometimes preyed upon by the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), but are generally safe because they dwell in the tree tops.

Above Image: Aye-aye Credit: Tom Junek Source: flickr; Sourced for this blog in 08/2013. Image is available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Aye-Aye are rare creatures that only exist in the wild in one area, so there is still a lot to learn about these amazing creatures. They are nocturnal, usually staying active between sunset and sunrise. They are generally solitary creatures, but males have occasionally been spotted foraging with as many as 3 other aye-ayes, male or female. Females, however, are aggressive towards other females and do not seem to interact with each other at all.

Aye-aye have no strict mating season, the females have independent reproductive cycles and will go into estrus at different times throughout the year. In captivity, the female's reproductive cycle lasts about 50 days, estrus lasts 3-9 days, and gestation usually lasts a little over 5 months. When a female goes into estrus, she calls out to the males and they gather around her and compete with each other over who gets to mate with her next. She spends about an hour with each male, and when they're done they will groom each other and she will send him off and call for the next in line. The females usually have only 1 baby, and they stay in or close to the nest for about 15 weeks before they start spending most of their time out with the mother. In captivity, young aye-aye are fully independent from their mothers at around 18 months old, but won't gain sexual maturity until 2-4 years old. It isn't known exactly when young aye-aye fully separate from their mothers, but it is likely that it correlates with sexual maturity. Aye-aye have lived well into their 20s in captivity, but their average lifespan in the wild is unknown.

Above Image: Aye-aye Image Credit: amareta kelly Source: flickr; Sourced for this blog in 08/2013. Image is available under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

Since the Aye-aye has such a shocking appearance to humans, it has long been regarded as a bad omen, sort of like a black cat but much worse. Some people even believe that aye-aye can predict their death and will kill them on-sight, contributing to the "near threatened" status that is worsened by the fact that aye-ayes were rare to begin with.

Aye-aye are particularly special because they belong to their own genus and family, they are truly one of the most unusual creatures in the world. If you want to help, The EDGE of Existence programme is currently running twelve key conservation projects for some of the world's most extraordinary and unique amphibians and mammals that are receiving little or no conservation attention.

while doing research on the aye-aye, I found this old episode of The Wild Thornberrys from Nickelodeon. I used to watch this show all the time, and it thrilled me to get to watch an episode that is relevant to my research. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:


by Dani Johnson

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