status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
Description and biology
The unusual-looking aye-aye is covered with a coat of coarse blackish-brown hair, which overlays a denser coat of short white hair. The animal has very large, sensitive ears that stick out from its small, rounded head. It has sharp, rodent-like incisor (front) teeth and long, claw-like fingers and toes. An average aye-aye is 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 centimeters) long from the top of its head to the end of its body. Its bushy tail measures 16 to 22 inches (41 to 56 centimeters) long. The animal weighs between 4.4 and 6.6 pounds (2 and 3 kilograms).
While an aye-aye eats bamboo shoots, sugarcane, and some small animals, most of its diet consists of fruit (especially coconuts) and wood-boring insect larvae. Using its powerful
incisors, the aye-aye breaks into coconuts, then scoops out the pulp with its very long, thin middle finger. The ayeaye's large ears allow it to hear insect larvae moving beneath the bark of trees. The animal strips off the bark with its teeth, then crushes and eats the larvae with its middle finger.
The aye-aye is a nocturnal (active at night) creature. It builds a complex nest in the fork of a large tree for shelter during the day. When active, the animal spends most of its time in trees, often hanging by its hind legs. Biologists (people who study living organisms) know little about the ayeaye's social structure or mating habits. The animal's range is estimated to be 12 acres (5 hectares). A female aye-aye usually gives birth to a single infant every two to three years, and nurses the young aye-aye for up to a year.
Habitat and current distribution
Aye-ayes are found in eastern, northern, and northwestern Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. The animals are able to survive in a variety of forest types: deciduous (shedding plants and trees), secondary-growth, and dry scrub (stunted trees and shrubs). They have also been found in coconut groves and mangrove swamps. Although aye-aye are found over a large area of the island, their population numbers are low. Only a few thousand are believed to be alive today.
History and conservation measures
Even though its only natural predator is the fossa, a slender mammal that resembles a cat, the aye-aye was once considered one of the most endangered mammals in Madagascar. The main threat to the aye-aye is habitat destruction. Because it needs large, old trees in which to build its nest, the aye-aye cannot exist in areas that have been cleared of trees. The animal is also at risk because of superstitious fear. Many people on Madagascar believe the aye-aye brings misfortune, even death, to those it meets. For this reason, many local people kill the animal on sight and sometimes eat it. The aye-aye is also killed by local farmers, who believe the animal is a threat to crops.
Even though a number of reserves have been set up for the aye-aye in Madagascar, the protection of these areas has not been enforced. However, under a conservation program begun in 1966, nine aye-aye were released on Nosy Mangabe, a 1,300-acre (520-hectare) island off the east coast of Madagascar. These animals have received special protection, and investigations into the results of the program are ongoing.
aye-aye / ˈī ˈī/ • n. a rare nocturnal Madagascan primate (Daubentonia madagascariensis) allied to the lemurs.