The Aye Aye: “Madagascar’s Woodpecker”
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
A mature Aye-Aye at the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany. Find the original here. ©e.neideck.
The mysterious Aye-Aye has long been a curiosity to people outside of Madagascar. It’s unusually long middle fingers and unsettling features have long caused many myths to form around the Aye-Aye. For instance, many believed the they were a strange species of nocturnal squirrel before being officially declared a species of lemur in the mid 1800s. Like many species of lemurs, the Aye-Aye is endangered and wild populations are rapidly decreasing to the massive deforestation taking place in Madagascar in recent years.
Unique to the Aye-Aye, local tradition has labelled it bad luck to see an Aye-Aye and has caused massive killing of any Aye-Aye that happen to wander into civilization. Even if an Aye-Aye just points it’s middle finger at you it is generally accepted that you will die. This is part of a cultural attitude known as Fady, wherein certain objects, things, places, or people are labelled as bad luck or prohibited. Fady is also not a set in stone group of beliefs but are constantly being changed and created.
Shifting to specific features of the Aye-Aye, the Aye-Aye actually fill the niche of woodpeckers in Madagascar. They are one of two species (striped possum) that use percussive foraging to find food. Similar to a woodpecker’s beak, they gently tap on the outside of tree trunks to find various invertebrates, such as insects and grubs, then chew a hole into the wood and pull the grubs out using it’s middle finger (shown below).
Written by — Joe Sweeney
How you can help
With the widest range of any lemur and small nocturnal populations, the Aye-Aye is difficult to study for researchers in Madagascar. With populations decreasing across Madagascar, captive breeding efforts have been made globally to ensure this species does not go extinct. Below you can donate to two captive breeding programs in the U.S. and the U.K. to ensure the species’ survival. Your money will go towards the research, maintenance, and conservation of Aye-Ayes. For specifics, click on the links below.
Duke Lemur Center’s Adopt an Aye-Aye
Durrell Conservation Captive Breeding
Primate Fact Sheet: The Aye-Aye
The Aye-Aye at Duke Lemur Center
Percussive Foraging in the Aye-Aye