The Aye-aye It Pays to be Ugly In this paper, the writer will take on the persona of one of the strangest primates in the world – the Aye-aye. Found only in the forest of Madagascar, this unusual creature said to be closely related to chimpanzees as well as humans is a nocturnal primate under the family of lemurs (Daubentonia madagascariensis).
Considered to be giants compared to other lemurs in the island of Madagascar, what makes this primate interesting to talk about is its unique yet strange physical features that in most cases throughout its life in the forest deem very helpful for its biological needs and necessities; however, ironically, as the author will try to discuss, it is these same peculiar features of the aye-aye which seem to be an issue to the local people of Madasgascar, that makes it one of the most endangered primates in captivity today. ———————————————— Taking on the point of view of a wild aye-aye in the Madagascar island, the author will aim to discuss what it is like to live like an aye-aye; in terms of its habitat, diet, social relations and the other aspects of a non-human primate in the wild. Madagascar, considered to be the fourth largest island country in the entire world located in the vast Indian Ocean just several hundred kilometers off the coast of Africa is a country like no other when it comes to biodiversity.
An island roughly the size of Texas or France, Madagascar is home to more than 250,000 species of which 70% are found nowhere else on the globe (Wild Madagascar, 2009). If it’s strange and uncommon creatures you seek, you’ll definitely find some here. Indeed, creatures here are very unique and rare that some are believed to be near extinction. In the mid 1900s aye-ayes like me were believed to have been wiped out until recent years there have been lots of us sighted in more places on Madagascar.
So, here I am today aiming to explain a night in the life of an aye-aye. It’s only in the dead of the night that a creature like me can get to wander around the jungle just as my cousin the mouse lemur would do during the day. Only difference between us is that I prefer not to go down the forest floor and I sleep on mornings. High above the trees is where I like to stay, because everything I need such as my shelter and my stash of food is all up here above the forest canopies.
Since we’re talking about shelter, I would like to describe what my pad looks like; aye-ayes unlike other primates are solitary creatures living on individual nests that are made of leaves and branches curled up into a ball large enough to fit an averaged sized me roughly about 36 inches long including my tail which is actually longer than my body. Aye-ayes like me construct their nests in a way that they appear to be closed spheres with a single entrance hole, we usually place our nests between forks of large trees or branches (National Geographic Society, 2010).
Another great feature about living on top of trees is that I have easy access to food and munchies. Being classified as an omnivore, my diet consists of fruits, fungi, seeds and wood-boring larvae all of which I obtain up here in comfort of my habitat, in the canopies of the Madagascar forest. The abundance of food is really pointless if you don’t have the right tools to get them. Luckily for me, unique set of features fits well with the environment I am living in. Author Jeffrey Cohn said in his article that the best way to describe my physical features is to compare them with better-known animals.
In terms of size, I am as big as your average house cat; my fur is coarse dark like that of an opossum, which helps me keep hidden in the night when I wander from tree to tree. As compared to other animals, my head may seem too big for my body; I have large ears like a bat that are highly sensitive and are used to listen to the inside of trees where wood-boring larvae are normally located. I have huge beaver-like teeth that I use for gnawing hard wood to access my food, and a bushy tail similar to the squirrel’s (p. 668). I also have opposable toes that help me dangle from branches.
Of all my great features, perhaps the most intriguing and marked trait of mine that gets a lot of primatologists and scientists researching about me is my thin and elongated middle finger on both my hands. Unlike any other primate in the planet, my middle finger is very versatile in a sense that I can move it independently from my other fingers. This third digit of mine serves two main purposes, tapping to find insects within cavities of wood and probing to find and remove larvae from those cavities (Milliken et al. 1991).
A recent study which I am very happy about because someone finally noticed, is that I also have special uses for my fourth finger. On a study by Lhota et al. they observed free-ranging aye-ayes on a 14 ha island on Mananara River, eastern Madagascar. Recording the aye-ayes eating habits and finger utilization in gathering food and eating, the researchers were able to find out that the thin third finger was used exclusively or preferably for tapping, inserting into the mouth and probing for nectar, kernels and insects in bamboo, twigs and live wood while my fourth finger was mainly used for eating fruits (Lhota et al. 008, p. 786). In the end, and I may actually agree; the researchers concluded that my third finger appeared to be specialized for use in tasks requiring high mobility, sensitivity and precision, whereas my fourth digit appeared to be specialized for tasks requiring strength, scooping action and deep access. My fingers may look weird to most but it has always served me well in times of need and despite my peculiar looks, I can still work my way on the ladies. Though we are predominantly found alone, there are some cases that researchers get to see us with other aye-ayes especially during the mating period.
Aye-ayes have a mating system which was described by a researcher named Kappler as a scramble competition polygyny. To describe what this researcher is defining, when mating season comes, and the female is in heat, she will call repeatedly to attract male aye-ayes. Upon hearing this call, me and a few other males will group around a female aye-aye and agonistically interact with each other to gain access to the female. When a male finally reaches the female and the female allows it, mating occurs and lasts for about two minutes (Gron, 2007).
After copulation, the male and female will part ways. When birth finally arrives, the newly born aye-aye during its first two months, remains at its sleeping site with its mother, never straying further than 50 m (164. 04 ft) from the nest (Andriamasimanana, 1994). Evidently, it is clear that despite my not so good looks and agonistic social behavior, they still serve as efficient tools for my survival. However, not all see me as just living my life this way, some see my physical creatures as something else and giving it a different meaning, and bad ones too.
Though Madagascar will always be my home, I fear that it will not be long that I would have to move to another island. Humans local in Madagascar tend to have bad vibes about animals like me for it is their native superstition that creatures like me will bring upon death and famine to whoever sees me. In effect and due to this belief, aye-ayes are killed on sight. However I am still glad that other people such as conservation biologist Eleanor Sterling is taking necessary actions to preserve animals like me in captivity.
Because of her continuous research about aye-ayes in Madagascar she was able to discover a lot of aye-ayes scattered around different parts of the country. What was once thought to be near extinction is now growing in number. “People thought they were only restricted to subsections of the eastern rainforest but they’re found everywhere except for the spiny forest in the south. What we don’t know is how many individuals are in any one place, so it’s hard to know what their endangered status is. (Cordray, 2010)” This is really great news for me and my features saved me once again.
I think that my ugliness caused conversation among people and ultimately is leading to conservation of my kind… In the meantime, I feast on some grub and slumber when sun shines. References Cohn, J. P. (1993). Madagascar’s mysterious aye-ayes. BioScience, 43(10), 668-671. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Lhota, S. , Junek, T. , Bartos, L. , ; Kubena, A. (2008). Specialized use of two fingers in free-ranging aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis). American Journal Of Primatology, 70(8), 786-795. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Andriamasimanana M. 1994.
Ecoethological study of free-ranging aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) in Madagascar. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):37-45. Milliken GW, Ward JP, Erickson CJ. 1991. Independent digit control in foraging by the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Folia Primatol 56(4):219-24. Cordray, M. (2010, May 17). A conversation with Eleanor Sterling, conservation biologist. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from Under the Microscope: http://www. underthemicroscope. com/q-a/a-conversation-with-eleanor-sterling-director-of-the-center-for-biodiversity-and-conservation Duke Lemur Center. (2011).
Social Behavior. Retrieved July 29, 2011, from Duke LEMUR CENTER: http://lemur. duke. edu/aye-aye-lemur-social-behavior/ Gron, K. (2007, July 27). Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Retrieved July 27, 2011, from Primate Info Net: http://pin. primate. wisc. edu/factsheets/entry/aye-aye National Geographic Society. (2010, March 14). Aye-aye. Retrieved July 29, 2011, from National Geographic: http://animals. nationalgeographic. com/animals/mammals/aye-aye. html Swift, S. (2008, January 31). Don’t call them ugly: The not-so-cute critters that are facing extinction.
Retrieved July 28, 2011, from The Independent: http://www. independent. co. uk/environment/nature/dont-call-them-ugly-the-notsocute-critters-that-are-facing-extinction-776060. html Wild Madagascar. (2009). Overview. Retrieved July 29, 2011, from WildMadagascar. org: http://www. wildmadagascar. org/home. html ——————————————– [ 2 ]. One of the world’s smallest primates only found in Madagascar. [ 3 ]. Aye-ayes are nocturnal animals who spend up to 80% of the night feeding and traveling through the forest canopy (Duke Lemur Center, 2011). 4 ]. The average size of an aye-aye is 14 to 17 inches (head to body length) and 22 to 24 inches (tail length). [ (National Geographic Society, 2010) ] [ 5 ]. The Aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the planet [ (Swift, 2008) ]. [ 6 ]. The Aye-aye aye-aye possesses the largest brain among the prosimians (Gron, 2007). [ 7 ]. Aye-ayes are the only primates whose incisors continue to grow throughout their lifetime (Cohn, J. P, 1993). [ 8 ]. The aye-aye’s tail has the longest hairs of any prosimian at over 9 in. (Simons and Meyers, 2001).