Thursday, September 11, 2014

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Situated off the coast of southern Africa in the Indian Ocean almost all its animal and plant species are found nowhere else on the planet. One such island animal is the aye-aye. With its bat ears, feline body, rodent-like teeth, squirrel-like tail, oversized boggle eyes and a wizened, slender middle finger it looks nothing like its relatives. Yet, the aye-aye is related to chimpanzees, apes and humans. In fact, it is the world’s largest nocturnal primate.

Appropriate use of the middle digit

Like humans and other primates they have bony opposable fingers (or toes) with sharp claws on the end. This means they can gather and clutch food as they move nimbly between, and dangle from, tree branches. Aye-ayes live predominantly in the dense forest canopy coverage seldom coming to the ground.

While perched in their natural habitat they use their acutely sensitive ears to listen for grubs beneath tree bark. They also use their famous middle finger on their front feet, much longer than the others, to tap on bark to detect wood-boring grubs moving about underneath it. The aye-aye gnaws through the wood with its ever-growing teeth and uses its middle finger to spoon out the ill-fated snack.

Aye-to-aye encounters

In addition to its odd appearance, the aye-aye has an intriguing and unusual range of calls from grunting and screeching to puffing and whimpering. In the unlikely event of encountering an aye-aye you’re more likely to hear them than see them. Although, there have been accounts of brazen aye-aye scurrying up to naturalists to have a quick sniff. If you do happen to chance on one, you’ll notice they have large, luminous amber eyes that give the appearance of being permanently startled.

Death by finger stabbing

Some locals believe that if an aye-aye points a long spindly finger in someone’s direction, that person will die. If an aye-aye ventures through a village, someone in the village will die. Apparently, the aye-aye has also been known to break into village houses to commit murder by stabbing the occupants hearts with one stab of a lethal finger.

Near threatened conservation status

While the aye-aye has few natural predators, habitat depletion through forest destruction and increasing human settlements are the biggest threats. Superstitious beliefs and the fact that it occasionally forages on plantation crops led to this hapless creature being unceremoniously hunted and killed as an evil pest. Today, laws protect aye-ayes so much so, that there’s an aye-aye reserve, Nosy Mangabe, off the northern coast of Madagascar.

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2 comments :

  1. Hi Hameed. Yes, it does look really sweet. Unfortunately, it tends to get an unfair rap sometimes.

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