Don’t judge this lemur by its cover.

The Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a misunderstood lemur. A funny looking Strepsirrhine, it invites the disgust and wrath of many. In fact, in some parts of Madagascar, Malagasys believe that seeing an Aye-Aye means someone will die in their family, and Aye-Ayes are killed to remove this ominous threat.

 

Instead, Aye-Aye’s are a spectacular nocturnal lemur species that feed similarly to woodpeckers in  Madagascar’s rainforests and deciduous forests. With ever-growing rodent-like incisors and a modified middle finger, it is an effective extractive forager (as seen in the former picture as it feeds on an egg). An ominovore, the Aye-Aye eats animal matter, nuts, insect larvae, fruits, nectar, seeds, and fungi. To find invertebrates living under tree bark, Aye-Ayes tap on the bark up to eight times per second, and listen to the echo produced to find hollow chambers inside. Once a chamber is found, they chew a hole into the wood and reach in with their modified middle finger to get get grubs out.Their middle fingers are a lot longer than the others, and are opposable with a double-jointed tip and hooked claw on the end!

In recent work by Farris et al. (2011), surveys of Aye-Aye food trees and Aye-Aye

Canarium fruit after being fed on by an Aye-Aye.

 

secondary signs (marks left by Aye-Ayes) were used to detect differences in Aye-Aye activity levels between degraded and non-degraded forest sites in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. They showed that secondary signs and the presence of Canarium trees (an important Aye-Aye food resource) indicated higher Aye-Aye abundance within non-degraded forest. Differences between non-degraded and degraded forest were not significant however, and both forest types showed a positive correlation of feeding sites to high activity sites. Although this was only a preliminary study it shows how the study of secondary signs of Aye-Aye activity can provide useful information about Aye-Aye behaviour, and such research may in the future help explain why this species is often considered the most widespread in Madagascar.

As the largest nocturnal primate in the world, and the most encephalized lemur species, the Aye-Aye is a bad-ass (and pretty handy with a light sabre).

Despite its bad-assery, the Aye-Aye is listed as Near Threatened on the 2011 IUCN Red List because “although the species is now known to be widespread and adaptable, it is thought to have undergone a reduction of 20-25% over the past 24 years (assuming a generation length of 8 years) due primarily to a decline in area and quality of habitat and ongoing levels of exploitation/persecution.” So no more judging and a whole lot more conserving needs to be our motto in the future, as we recognize the awesome uniqueness of this primate species.

Farris ZJ, Morelli TL, Sefczek T and PC Wright. 2011. Comparing Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) Presence and Distribution between Degraded and Non-Degraded Forest within Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar.  Folia Primatologica. 82:94–106.

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