Aye-Aye

Daubentoniidae: Aye-aye Family

The single species of aye-aye is a nocturnal, arboreal animal, found in the dense forests of Madagascar.

These strange creatures were originally classified as rodents, but now they are recognized as the largest of the nocturnal primates. They are solitary by nature.

This remarkable species is another prosimian found only in Madagascar. Aye-aye live alone. They are exclusively nocturnal and search for food in the trees, moving up to 4 km (2.5 miles) a night within a small home range of around 5 ha (12 acres). Well adapted for life in the trees, the extraordinary aye-aye has specialized ears, teeth and hands. Aye-aye sleep in nests, made from branches and interwoven leaves. The nests are hidden in dense foliage in the forks of trees, and there may be several nests within a single home range.

Aye-ayes have a most unusual way of finding food. All of its digits are long and slender, but the third is particularly elongate. Using a specially adapted finger, which is very long and thin like a probe, they tap the surface of decaying wood in search of tunnels made by insect larvae or ants and termites. Using a combination of a good sense of touch and a sort of echolocation with their sensitive ears - able to pinpoint a hollow sound from tapping - aye-ayes locate the tunnels occupied by their prey. They then use their strong incisor teeth to make small holes in the wood, into which they insert their probe-like finger to extract their insect prey with a hooked claw. These adaptable digits may also be employed to scrape out the pulp of fruits.

The aye-aye uses its specialized third finger not only for locating and catching insects in decaying wood, but also for determining the milk content of coconuts and extracting coconut pulp.

Unfortunately, these fascinating creatures are suffering from the loss of Malagasy forest. Local people also persecute them because they are seen as bad omens.

Every 2 or 3 years, females produce a single young, which is suckled for over a year.

Distribution: Found only on the island of Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa. These primates are quite widely distributed through various wooded areas there.

Habitat: Tropical forests, but seems adaptable to secondary forest, mangroves and even coconut groves.

Weight: About 2.6 kg (1.1 lb).

Length: 74 - 90 cm (29 - 35 in) overall; tail is longer than the body.

Maturity: About 2.5 years.

Gestation Period: 160 - 172 days; young remain in the nest for 2 months.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 5.5 - 7 months.

Diet: Fruit, nuts and plant matter, as well as various wood-boring insects.

Lifespan: Up to 24 years.

Status: Endangered.

Ears

These are very large and have a distinctive triangular shape.

Snout

This is short, with a pink nose.

Digits

The third digits on the aye-aye’s hands are enlarged, so it can extract insect larvae from bark.

Tail

The tail is long and bushy, covered - like the body — in coarse dark hair, with odd white hairs.

The search

These primates are supremely adapted to finding and accessing hidden food.

THE NEST

Aye-ayes build a nest of twigs and leaves up in the treetops, where they sleep during the day.

The third digit on each hand is particularly slender and gnarled.

Gallery of Aye-Aye