Top 10 Aye-Aye Facts !
With their dark fur, large golden eyes that glow in the dark and unusual looking claws which resemble the overgrown nails of a witch, the aye-aye is considered one of the world’s ugliest creatures. Some even find it terrifying. The aye-aye, however, is actually one fascinating animal. Let’s get to know it better.
1. The aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the world.
The aye-aye is a primate, which means it is related to apes and monkeys and to us, humans. Furthermore, it is the largest nocturnal primate. You see, most primates are actually diurnal or active during the day but there are some that are nocturnal or active at night and of them, the aye-aye grows the largest. Its body grows over a foot long and if you include its bushy tail, the aye-aye can measure more than two feet long. Fully-grown males are slightly heavier at 5.9 pounds, females at 5.5 pounds. Other than this, females and males look exactly the same and are hard to tell apart without a closer inspection.
2. Scientists aren’t sure why it’s called ‘aye-aye’.
Why is it called aye-aye? Scientists aren’t sure but there are two theories. One is that the name was coined by French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat who said it was a ‘cry of exclamation and astonishment’, which the locals gave upon seeing the creature. The second is that ‘aye-aye’ is derived from the Malagasy phrase heh heh which means ‘I don’t know’. When the locals were asked what the creature was, they would answer ‘heh heh’, either because they really didn’t know what it was or they were afraid to speak its name.
The scientific name of the aye-aye is Daubentonia madagascariensis. The first name, Daubentonia, comes from the name of a French naturalist, Louise-Jean-Marie Daubenton, the teacher of Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the scientist who discovered the aye-aye. The second name comes from Madagascar, the only place in the world where aye-ayes are naturally found.
3. The aye-aye is the only primate that uses echolocation.
You probably already know that bats use echolocation – the process of locating something by producing sounds and then listening to their echoes – to find their way in the dark and to find food. Dolphins and whales use this, too. And guess what? Aye-ayes do, too.
Aye-ayes mostly feed on seeds, fruits, nuts, including the hard-shelled ramy nuts, nectar and fungi that grows on tree bark but sometimes, they also feed on insect larvae. How do they find the insect larvae? They tap the trunk or branch of a tree, listening to the echo produced by the tapping sound. Based on this, they can tell if the inside of the wood is hollow and if it is, it is likely to contain insect larvae for them to eat. This unique method of finding food is known as percussive foraging and the only other animal to use this is the striped possum.
4. The aye-aye can move its third finger independently.
Aye-ayes, like other primates, have five fingers on their hands, but these fingers do not all look the same. The third or middle finger is the thinnest and can be moved independently, used by the aye-aye to tap the trees, to groom and also to drink, moving water to the aye-aye’s mouth at a speed of 3 strokes per second. The fourth finger is the longest and is used by the aye-aye for feeding, particularly to scoop out the insect larvae from inside the tree.
Like its eyes and ears, the aye-aye has large hands for gripping tree branches, as well as functional claws on all its toes and fingers except its big toes, a unique quality among Old World primates.
5. Aye-ayes have a third eyelid.
Aye-ayes have another quality that makes them special among primates and that is a third eyelid or a nictitating membrane, which camels, dogs, lizards and owls also have. This third eyelid keeps the large eyes of the aye-aye moist and also protects them from debris while the aye-aye is chewing holes in the wood.
6. The aye-aye’s teeth grow throughout its lifetime.
In the past, aye-ayes have been mistaken as large rats. Why? That is because their front teeth are sharp and grow continuously, just like the teeth of rodents. Because of this, aye-ayes need to chew on wood to keep their teeth short and in captivity, they are given pieces of wood with which they can file their teeth.
7. Female aye-ayes can reproduce until they die.
In many mammals, the females are capable of reproducing for only a certain time. Female aye-ayes, however, are capable of what is called persistent oogenesis or the ability to produce eggs throughout their lifetime. Breeding occurs throughout the year, during which females become vocal, making repeated high-pitched calls, and males become aggressive as they compete for the right to mate. The females are polyandrous, meaning they can mate with several males during a breeding period.
8. Female aye-ayes sometimes carry their infants in their mouths.
Once successfully mated, the female aye-aye carries her young in her womb for about five months. She only gives birth to one, which she nurses with her nipples that are located between her hind legs. Newborn aye-ayes are helpless and remain in their nest for up to 60 days, relying solely on their mother’s care. In the wild, the mother leaves her infant in the nest while she looks for food at night but in captivity, mothers sometimes carry their infants in their mouths, especially when they sense danger. Once the infant is able to get out of the nest, the mother plays with it often, chasing it among the tree branches, jumping around with it and tapping trees just for fun. Between 18 and 24 months, the infant goes its own way.
9. Aye-ayes are considered bad omen.
Because of their startling appearance and the fact that they fearlessly wander around in human villages at night, aye-ayes are considered a symbol of bad luck by the locals in Madagascar. Some even consider them bringers of death which sneak into human houses at night to puncture the arteries of people using their claws. Of course, this isn’t true but the locals believe these superstitions so much so that the aye-ayes are killed on sight and hung upside down.
10. Aye-ayes were once thought to be extinct and are currently endangered.
Because of their negative reputation, aye-ayes have been hunted down and are now considered an endangered species. The destruction of the forests in Madagascar has also contributed to the decrease of their population, making them one of the most endangered lemurs. Fortunately, captive breeding programs have been put in place and nature reserves have been designated in hopes of saving this uniquely eerie but fascinating creature.
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