Amongst the best known stars of Madagascan wildlife, the Aye-Aye Lemur (Daubentonia madagascariensis) must be in the top five. Most star creatures tend to achieve their status by looking cute. The Aye-Aye manages to endear itself to some; but this, the world's largest nocturnal primate, is more famous for its somewhat creepy face and disturbingly extended forefingers.
Aye-Ayes have two extended fingers on each hand. One of these is much thinner than the others and unlike the rest, turns on ball and socket joint. The Aye-Aye uses this finger to echo locate edible bugs, which it hears by tapping on the bark of trees. Taking the ecological niche of a woodpecker, the Aye-Aye taps at a targeted location 8 times per second.
Once the Aye Aye has located its prey, it uses its extended bottom front teeth to dig; and then an even longer, but thicker claw-ended central finger to pluck out insects and larvae. To add to the Aye-Aye's unusual hands, it has a sixth finger, a pseudo-thumb, which it uses for gripping.
To many Madagascans, seeing an Aye-Aye condemns you to alarmingly bad luck. Luck is worse for the Aye-Aye, since many Malagasy will try to kill it on sight, then hang it up dead, displayed to passers-by to transfer the bad omens to them! For this reason and simple habitat loss, the Aye-Aye is an Endangered species. In 1933 is was thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in 1957. A second species, Daubentonia robusta, is thought to have disappeared around 1,000 years ago.
Aye-Ayes are distributed throughout Madagascar's Eastern rainforests above 70m altitude, as well as some of the country's tropical dry forest in the west and north. Whilst woodpecking for insects and larvae can occupy between 5% to 45% of their waking day, they are omnivores, also feeding on seeds, fruit, honey and nectar directly from flowers.
Aye-Ayes's feed by night and sleep during the day in nests made in the trees from stick and leaves.
Trying to see an Aye-Aye in the true wild is tricky, not just in locating one, but local guides will avoid bringing the threat of bad luck onto their families by helping you. With camera traps, we hope to spot one on our Lemurs, Golden Frogs & New Rainforest Reserve trips, without risking the sight of one on our local team.