Where do they live?
- Aye-ayes can only be found on the island of Madagascar. They live high up in the trees of the rainforest and rarely make their way to the ground.
- The aye-aye is a lemur species that grows to be about 14-17 inches (36-43 cm) long, with a tail that is longer than its body. On average, they weigh 4-6 pounds (1.8-2.7 kgs). This makes them the largest of the nocturnal primates.
- Their body is covered in coarse black coat with a white face.
- They have large eyes that are specially adapted for night vision, large ears to hear what cannot be seen, and super long fingers that allow them to have a strong grip.
- The middle finger is something that is out of the ordinary. It is longer than the others, but also much skinnier and skeletal looking. It is super flexible and is specially adapted for getting at hard-to-reach food.
- Their incisors (first four front teeth) never stop growing, so that they are able to bite through trees to get to food sources.
- Aye-ayes have a rather diverse diet depending upon what it available for them. Most of their diet consists of insect larvae living in trees. They also eat nectar from palm trees, insects, nuts, and fungi.
Behavior and lifestyle
- Aye-ayes are nocturnal primates, so they forage for food at night and sleep during the day. They are solitary hunters meaning they forage for food alone. During the day they sleep in uniquely circular tree nests that are built in between tree branches with leaves and other matter from the rainforest. They usually do not spend more than two nights in one tree nest before moving on.
- Aye-ayes use echolocation to find their prey. Echolocation is when they make a sound and detect the distance and nature of objects from how the sounds echoes back to them. They tap on tree trunks with their long middle finger and, using echolocation, determine excactly where a grub or larva is hidden. Then they bite into the tree with their unique teeth and use their long middle finger to reach in and pull out the grub or larva.
- When aye-ayes were first discovered, they were thought to be a large species of squirrel. But in the 1800’s they were classified as lemurs.
- In 1782 the French naturalist, Pierre Sonnerat, was the first to use the name "aye-aye". He thought the name was derived from the cry of astonishment uttered upon seeing this unusual creature. However, in the 1980's, American paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall noted that the name closely resembled the Malagasy name "hai hai" or "hay hay".
Conservation Status and Threats
- Aye-ayes were thought to be extinct in 1933, but they were rediscovered in 1957.
- Among Malagasy people, folklore holds the aye-aye as an omen of bad luck. As a result, some people kill them upon sight
- Farmers kill aye-ayes to protect their crops, although there is no hard evidence that aye-ayes are threatening crop raiders. This may be further superstition.
- Forest loss and habitat destruction are significant threats to the aye-aye.
- Laws now protect aye-ayes because they are listed as Endangered by the IUCN (2014).
Video and some photos courtesy of ARKive.org
Written by Heidi Giancola, March 2016