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aye-aye

aye-aye (ī´ī´), name for an aberrant primate, Daubentonia madagascariensis, related to the lemurs but distinguished by its specialized teeth and fingers. A large nocturnal and arboreal primate, it is found in dense bamboo forests in two isolated regions of Madagascar. The aye-aye is about the size of a house cat. It has silver and black fur with reddish underparts, a long, bushy tail, and a small, round head with large eyes and rounded, naked ears. Its fingers and toes are extremely long and end in claws; the thumb and big toes are opposable. The aye-aye uses its exceedingly slender third finger to dig into bark for wood-boring insect larvae, which it detects by means of its acute hearing. It feeds on larvae, other small animals, eggs, and fruit, as well as on bamboo and sugarcane. Its teeth are adapted for gnawing and it was formerly thought to be a rodent because of its large, chisel-shaped, continuously growing incisors. The aye-aye has no fear of humans and will strike at them if annoyed. It has been the object of superstitious fear. It is now almost extinct. It is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Daubentoniidae.

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aye-aye

aye-aye (aare) Primitive, squirrel-like lemur of Madagascar. Nocturnal and tree-dwelling, it has dark shaggy fur and an elongated third finger with which it scrapes insects and pulp from bamboo canes. Length: 40cm (16in) excluding tail. Species Daubentonia madagascariensis.

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aye-aye

aye-aye / ˈī ˈī/ • n. a rare nocturnal Madagascan primate (Daubentonia madagascariensis) allied to the lemurs.

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aye-aye

aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) See DAUBENTONIIDAE.

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aye-aye

aye-aye •aye-aye

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Aye-aye

Aye-aye

Daubentonia madagascariensis

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Primates

family: Daubentoniidae

status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: Madagascar

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.

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