Aye-Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

Few mammals are as weird looking as the Aye-Aye (vingerdier), a lemur found only on the island of Madagascar. Spending most of the night travelling through the canopy like a squirrel, this unique primate fills the same ecological niche as a woodpecker by using its elongated thin middle-finger and rodent-like teeth.

ayeaye aye aye Aye Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

Adult aye-ayes are not exactly the cutest looking animals on our planet!

Characteristic for the Aye-Aye is its unusual method of finding food. By tapping the bark of trees using their long middle finger (up to 8 times per second!), the aye-aye listens for insect larvae moving under the bark. Once their lovely meal is located, aye-ayes gnaw through the wood with their rodent-like, ever-growing front teeth, after which they remove the food by moving their middle finger at more than 3 times per second!

Since woodpeckers are lacking on Madagascar, this unique method of foraging enables the Aye-Aye to find insects other animals can not feed on. But next to tasty larvae, aye-ayes also eat fruits, nuts, nectar, seeds and fungi. Leaping through the canopy like a squirrel, up to 80% of the night is spent in search for food.

aye aye face Aye Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

A close-up of the face of an aye-aye

Aye-Ayes are dark brown or black and have a bushy tail that is larger than their body. They also have bright, luminous eyes and large sensitive eyes. These rare animals may not look like primates at first glance, but they are. They are even the world’s largest nocturnal primate, spending the day curled up in a ball-like nest of leaves and branches. The aye-aye is so unusual, it is, together with the platypus, one of the most distinctive mammals on earth.

Aye aye weird looking monkey Aye Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

Like so many animals, the Aye-aye is endangered because its habitat is being destroyed. Large areas of Madagascar are cleared for sugar cane and coconut plantations. Because this species is predominantly solitary, it exists at low densities and therefore requires large areas of suitable forests for populations to be able to exist. Furthermore, most people of Madagascar believe that aye-ayes are bad omen and a symbol of death and must be killed on sight. This unique primate needs priority for conservation, not only because of its unusual appearance and behaviour but because it is the only surviving member of a unique evolutionary history.

aye aye aye aye Aye Aye: The woodpecker primate of Madagascar

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Jolle Jolles

Written by Jolle Jolles

Jolle Jolles is a zoologist working at the University of Cambridge with a love for natural history and animal behaviour and enjoys fascinating others about our weird and wonderful natural world. Follow Jolle on Twitter or sent him a personal message.