The Aye-aye is a type of lemur that inhabits the rainforests in Madagascar. It is the world’s largest nocturnal primate and has a unique appearance. When first discovered, it was thought to be a type of large squirrel. The aye-aye was finally recognized in the mid 1800s as being a member of the lemur family but was classified in its own group by itself, as its closest lemur relatives are a mystery even today. These incredibly special animals are, however, under severe threat throughout a good part of their natural habitat. By 1980 it was thought they were nearly extinct, mainly because they were killed on sight by local people who believed that it is very bad luck to encounter an aye-aye.
The aye-aye is native to Madagascar. It inhabits a wide variety of habitats such as deciduous forest, primary and secondary rainforest, cultivated plantations, and sometimes mangrove forest and dry scrub.
Habits and lifestyle
The aye-aye is an arboreal and nocturnal animal, spending most of its time up in trees. Although they descend to the ground now and again, aye-ayes eat, sleep, travel and mate high in the trees and usually are found near to the canopy where the dense foliage provides plenty of cover. During the day the aye-ayes sleeps in a spherical nest built from leaves, vines and branches and situated in the fork of tree branches. They come out after dark to hunt for food. Aye-ayes are solitary animals that mark their large home territory with scent. The smaller territory of females often overlaps those of at least two males. A male will generally share his territory with other males and sometimes they can forage in tandem and share a nest (although at different times). They seem to tolerate one another until they hear a female calling, looking for a mate.
Diet and nutrition
Aye-ayes are omnivorous and eat other animals and vegetation, including a variety of fruits, nectar, seeds, larvae, insects and eggs.
Aye-ayes are polygynandrous (promiscuous) animals, with both males and females having multiple mates. A female ready to mate calls to males, which gather around her and fight aggressively amongst themselves for the right to breed with her. Contrary to a previous belief about a strict breeding season, the aye-aye seems to mate at any time of the year, dependent on when the female is in season. Gestation lasts about five months and one offspring is born. It stays safely in the nest for the first 2 months and is weaned at about 7 months old. It will remain with its mother until the age of two years, when it leaves to establish its own territory. It is thought that female aye-ayes are sexually mature at the age of 3 to 3.5 years, and males from the age of 2.5 years.
The biggest threat to the aye-aye is habitat loss through deforestation and the increasing number of human settlements that impact on its natural habitat. Aye-Ayes are also hunted or killed outright by native Malagasy, as they are regarded both as crop pests and bad omens.
The Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) resource states that the current number of aye-ayes is unknown. However, an estimate would be 1,000-10,000 animals. Today aye-aye numbers are decreasing and it is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.
Aye-ayes may help in the dispersal of the fruiting tree seeds which they consume. In addition, they are important predators of the larvae of the wood-boring beetle and may control its populations.
Fun facts for kids
- Aye-ayes often hang upside down from branches and are able to rest horizontally or vertically.
- Aye-ayes are specially adapted for hunting in a unique way. They tap a branch with their finger and listen for the sound of larvae or moving insects. If they hear something, they make a hole using their sharp teeth and scoop out the prey with their middle digit.
- It is thought that the aye-aye is the only primate to search for food using echolocation.
- When travelling on the ground, an aye-aye raises its delicate clawed digits to avoid damaging them, resulting in a clumsy, strange gait.
- The name “aye-aye” may come from the “hai-hai” sound they make when fleeing danger.
- Aye-ayes originally were classified as rodents, due to their incisors, which grow continuously.