Aye-Aye — The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a strepsirrhine native to Madagascar that combines rodent-like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and is characterized by its unique method of finding food; it taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out.
Daubentonia is the only genus in the family Daubentoniidae and infraorder Chiromyiformes. The Aye-aye is the only extant member of the genus (although it is currently an endangered species); a second species (Daubentonia robusta) was exterminated over the last few centuries.
The Aye-aye is the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and dwells predominantly in forest canopies. It weighs about 2.5 kilograms, with the female weighing in slightly less (by an average of 100 grams) than males. Other than weight and sex organs, aye-ayes exhibit no sexual dimorphism of any kind. They all grow from 30-37 cm from head to body, with a 44-53 cm tail.
The adult Aye-aye has black or dark brown fur covered by white guard hairs at the neck. The tail is bushy and shaped like that of a squirrel. The Aye-aye’s face is also rodent-like, the shape of a raccoon’s, and houses bright, beady, luminous eyes. Its incisors are very large, and grow continuously throughout its lifespan. These features contrast its monkey-like body, and are the likely cause of why scientists originally deemed it to be a rodent.
The Aye-aye’s hands are arguably its most unusual feature. Much like other primates, it possesses opposable thumbs, but both the hallux and the fingers are long and thin, and appear to be in a curved position somewhat similar to that of a fairy-tale witch when the muscles are relaxed. The middle finger can be up to three times longer than the others.
Gestation for the Aye-aye lasts from 5 to 5 1/3 months. Births can occur at any time during the year, and females often wait 2-3 years between births. The infant takes about 7 months to be weaned, and stays with its mother for two years. The Aye-aye matures quickly; males rarely take more than 1 1/2 years to mature, and females take about an extra year. Lifespan is not known, but the world record is 23 years in captivity.
The Aye-aye is classically considered ‘solitary’, but recent research suggests that they are more social than once thought. It usually sticks to foraging in its own personal home range, or territory. The home ranges of males often overlap and the males can be very social with each other. Female home ranges never overlap, though a male’s home range often overlaps that of several females. The male Aye-Aye live in large areas that are up to eighty acres while female have smaller living space that goes up to twenty acres. Regular scent marking with their cheeks, neck and genitals is a way that aye-ayes let others know of their presence and repel intruders from their territory. Like many other prosimians, the female Aye-aye is dominant to the male. The Aye-aye is not monogamous by any means, and often competes with each other for mates. Males are very aggressive in this regard, and sometimes even pull other males off a female during sex. Outside of mating, males and females interact only occasionally, usually while foraging.
After impregnating a female, the male usually stays in close proximity until the infant is born and has matured a bit. The father will sometimes share food with the infant, but otherwise infants’ primary source of social interaction is with their mothers. Mothers and infants often wrestle, chase, and play “peek-a-boo” for entertainment. After 13 weeks, infants are usually ready to interact with other young Aye-ayes, usually by play-fighting.
The Aye-aye commonly eats nuts, and also grubs, fruits, nectar, seeds, and fungi, classifying it as an omnivore. It often picks fruit off trees as it moves through the canopy, often barely stopping to do so. An Aye-aye not lucky enough to live in its natural habitat will often steal coconuts, mangoes, sugar cane, lychees and eggs from villages and plantations. Aye-ayes chew a hole into wood and get grubs out of that hole with their elongated and bony middle fingers.