Aye, aye for the Aye-aye!

Everybody loves lemurs. They have a much higher fluffiness factor than other primates that coupled with their large eyes makes them almost too cute to stand. However, not all lemurs fit into this mold. One species, the aye-aye, is bizarre even by the standards of this unusual primate group.

Where do aye-ayes live?

As with all lemurs, aye-ayes only exist on the island of Madagascar. They are arboreal animals and live in forested areas, especially on the eastern side of the island. Aye-ayes can be found in both rainforest and deciduous forest, and they can also be found in agriculturally developed areas. They climb trees via vertical leaping and almost never descend down from the canopy. Nocturnal, aye-ayes spend the daylight hours hidden away in sphere-shaped nests in tree forks constructed of branches, leaves, and vines.

What do aye-ayes eat?

The aye-aye is classified as an omnivore. It will readily feed on a variety of seeds, fruits, nectar, and fungi but a large portion of its diet is made of of insect larvae. In fact, the aye-aye has a number of specialization that aid it in the hunting of its insect prey. Aye-ayes are the only primate in the world and one of the few non-bat animals to use echolocation. Their most distinguishing characteristic is their middle finger, which is greatly elongated and bony. This finger is used to tap on the trunks of trees while the aye-aye uses its highly developed hearing to listen for the echos bouncing off hidden grubs. Once a grub is located, the aye-aye gnaws into the bark using its incisors. Interestingly, these are continuously growing much like those of rodents. The middle finger is also used as a probe to dig out larvae and is unique is possess a ball-and-socket joint to aid in mobility. Thanks to these traits, the aye-aye serves the primate version of a woodpecker. The only other mammal to use finger-tapping echolocation is the striped possum, an example of convergent evolution.

Are aye-ayes endangered?

Sadly, the rainforests of Madagascar have been heavily logged making the aye-aye an endangered species. As it runs out of suitable habitat, it comes into increasing conflict with humans. Aye-ayes are the subject of a number of local superstitions. Many people believe that the aye-aye is an evil spirit and that seeing one can be an omen of death. The only way to protect oneself from its black magic is to kill it. Some even claim that the aye-aye will break into homes and stab sleeping villagers through the heart with its middle finger. There is zero evidence to show that aye-ayes are harmful or dangerous to humans in any way, nor is their any to support the notion that they raid crops.