Did You Know?The middle digit of the bizarre aye-aye can be up to three times longer than its other fingers, much like the ET in the 1982 movie 'ET, the Extra Terrestrial'!
The aye-aye (pronounced as eye-eye) is indigenous to the island country of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa. It has a weird appearance, with long ears, an over-sized tail, popping eyes, and a skeleton-like middle finger. This creature is a type of lemur that has the face of a weasel, body of a small monkey, claws like that of a sloth, and incisors like a rodent. In fact, it looks so strange that sometimes it doesn't even seem like a real animal.
The aye-aye was first discovered in the 18th century in Madagascar by Pierre Sonnerat. It was initially classified as a squirrel and also a kangaroo due to its close resemblance with them. Later, when zoologists found out that they were actually primates, they gave it a scientific name Daubentonia Madagascariensis
. It is the only living member of the Daubentoniidae family.
Aye-ayes have a black or dark brown coarse shaggy coat with a few white hair that blend into the foliage in the dark. Their most distinguishing features include the long bushy tail that is longer than the body, large sensitive ears, slender and long fingers, and big beady eyes. All the toes and fingers are equipped with pointed claws, apart from the opposable big toes, which help them to hang from branches. Although at first glance they don't seem anything like primates, they are actually related to us humans, as well as apes and chimpanzees. As a matter of fact, aye-ayes, along with other types of lemurs, are a part of a group of primates known as prosimians, which means primitive primates characterized by being nocturnal and having large eyes and ears, such as lorises, galagos and pottos.
The aye-aye lives in the tallest of the trees which are found in the deciduous and rainforests of Madagascar. They sleep during the day (as they are nocturnal animals), and they spend most of their time up on the branches of the trees. They rarely venture down on the forest ground. During the day, they curl up in their nest made of leaves and branches, that are quite complex structures, spherical in shape, containing a single hole as an entrance.
The aye-aye is the only primate that uses echolocation to hunt their prey. They use their middle digit as a primary sensory organ. This finger is very peculiar, as it is extremely thin and bony. It is almost like skin and bone. The aye-aye uses it to tap on the trunks and branches, and listen for any movement of the larvae of wood-boring insects and grubs. When they detect any sound, they bite through the exterior layers of the bark and use the fourth finger to scoop it out. They also use this finger to scoop out the flesh from coconuts as well as other fruits which augment their diet.
(Echolocation is the process used by some animals and birds, where high-pitched sound is emitted resulting in the echoes bouncing back when it hits any surface or object. This enables them to determine the direction and distance of the object.)
Aye-ayes are generally thought to be fairly solitary creatures. However, some scientists who have studied the animal in their forest habitat in Madagascar think that the aye-aye sometimes moves in pairs. Each pair has the habit of feeding on trees next to each other. When one finishes on a tree, it calls out to its pair before moving to another tree, and then the second one soon follows. Scientists think that this behavior proves that the primate sometimes forages for food by cooperating in pairs while following a pattern for this kind of searching. Also, there is some social interaction when the male tries to court the female, since amongst aye-ayes, the female is dominant as compared to the male. A fair amount of social interaction is also seen when the female rears its young.
The aye-aye has a bad reputation because of its eerie looks. It is often called the death lemur and is considered the harbinger of death by the Malagasy people. They believe that if the long pointed finger is pointed to any person, death befalls him/her. This leads people to kill aye-ayes on sight. They are also treated as pests, as the aye-ayes often stray into agricultural fields in the villages, looking for food.
- They are found only on the northeastern coast of Madagascar.
- This rodent-like creature has incisor teeth that grows continuously till the day they die.
- They tend to build new nests with twigs and leaves, and shift every few days. They sometimes construct up to 20 nests in their territory.
- The strange aye-aye feeds on animal matter, nuts, insect larvae, nectar, seeds, fungi, and fruits such as coconuts, mangoes, lychees and even sugar cane!
- They are mostly found at an altitude of above 700 meters in the deciduous forests.
- The ancient legends of Malagasy considered it the symbol of death due to its scary looks and eerie call.
- Their lifespan in natural habitat is unknown, but if bred in captivity, they are known to live up to 20 - 23 years.
- The aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the world. They are highly active during the night, moving over large distances, hardly ever stopping to rest.
- They weigh around 6 to 7 pounds, and can grow up to 2 feet tall. Their extra-long bushy tail can sometimes seem like it is twice the length of their bodies.
- Their predators are mostly humans, the cat-like fossa (another inhabitant of Madagascar), and some birds of prey.
- They are gentle and curious primates, and are quite harmless, though they are aggressive towards each other.
The aye-aye has been categorized as 'Near Threatened'
by IUCN red list, as it is estimated that there are only about 1,000 to 2,000 left in the forest of Madagascar. Today, it is a protected animal, and efforts are on to try to revive their numbers.