Aye-ayes gobble up insects that live under tree bark.
Aye-ayes gobble up insects that live under tree bark.
Photograph by Nature Picture Library, Alamy Stock Photo

Aye-Aye

Crouching on a tree branch, a hairy animal that looks like a cross between a raccoon and a rat lifts a long finger and taps on the trunk. It’s not politely knocking to see who’s home. Instead it’s trying to locate hollow spots beneath the bark where insects live. (It can tell that it’s found a cavity by the sound of the tapping.) Once it detects a hollow, the animal rips away the bark with its teeth and gobbles up the bugs. This curious creature is known as an aye-aye.

Common Name:
Aye-Aye
Scientific Name:
Daubentonia madagascariensis
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Omnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
20 years
Size:
Head and body: 14 to 17 inches; tail: 22 to 24 inches
Weight:
4 pounds

FREAKY FINGERS

Aye-ayes can be found only in the forests of Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa. The animals rarely descend from their treetop digs to the forest floor. Only active at night, they spend the day snoozing on branches in nests made of leaves. When darkness falls the creatures forage for food in the treetops. In addition to bugs, aye-ayes feast on fruit such as mango, scooping pulp from the juicy meal with their bony fingers.

Without its distinct digits, snagging grub would be much harder for the aye-aye. And the animal’s fingers aren’t the only funny feature that helps it survive in the wild. Big, yellow eyes let it see in the dark. Giant, sensitive ears help the animal detect prey. And a long, bushy tail allows the aye-aye to balance as it scampers along tree branches.

IT'S ALL RELATIVE

The aye-aye’s odd traits may be useful to the animal. But they’ve also caused confusion. The animal’s rat-like teeth and squirrel-like tail led scientists to first assume that it was a rodent. But these animals are actually primates—the same group of species that humans belong to! With its weird looks and oddball behavior, the aye-aye is one relative with a serious range of strange.