The Aye-Aye, World’s Largest Nocturnal Primate

Stefan Wolfe

What is the Aye-Aye?

Deeply immersed on the island of Madagascar, a bizarre creature with bat-like ears, striking yellow eyes, gangly fingers, and a dark bushy tail roams a moonlit canopy. The Aye-aye is an elusive lemur species that is recognized as the largest nocturnal primate on earth. Based on their appearance and behavior, these solitary mammals are as well adapted to their tropical homes as they are peculiar.

What makes them so wonderful?

Aye-ayes can grow up to 40 inches long from end to end, with tails accounting for 22 to 24 inches of their body length. They range from about four to six pounds as adults and are covered in thick dark brown or black fur. Aye-ayes also have white hairs dispersed in their coats referred to as guard hairs. These guard hairs are unique in that the animal can raise them to appear larger in size in response to threats from predators or other excitement.

Plenty of insects, nuts, seeds, and fruits are most appealing to the hungry Aye-aye. They spend up to 80% of nighttime hours scaling trees and the forest floor for food, and males specifically will forage and mate within a 250 to 500-acre home range. The Aye-aye’s primary eating utensil—a thin and strangely long middle finger—has provoked intrigue among animal lovers and scientists alike.

As the animal treks along tree branches, it continually taps its middle fingers on the surface of the tree bark, utilizing its large ears to listen for echoes that indicate hollow spaces. From here, the Aye-aye will remove the bark with its teeth and insert the specialized digit to hook and remove insects and insect larvae.

Their large, agile hands also serve to construct comfortable spaces for the Aye-aye to rest each day. Aye-ayes build spherical shaped nests in treetops using branches and vegetation. One animal will tend to inhabit a nest for a few days at a time before moving to a new area, and several animals may use the same nest at different times. Nests also provide much needed protection to mothers and infants.

Where most lemurs exhibit breeding patterns based on seasons, Aye-ayes have more unpredictable breeding patterns which occur throughout the year. Females are pregnant for about five months before giving birth to one infant which she will nurse for close to seven months. The young Aye-aye will remain with its mother for up to two years before leaving and establishing its own way in the wild.

Aye-ayes are truly fascinating animals which have yet to be fully understood. Their biggest threats stem from a loss of natural habitats and societal superstition around the animals themselves, as some interpret their presence as a sign of evil and misfortune.

Through the protection of forest ecosystems and a better understanding of the Aye-aye, a great deal of hope remains for these unique animals. Their contributions to fruit seed dispersal and to the equilibrium of wood-boring beetle populations make them invaluable critters to the forests of Madagascar—and we don’t want them gone.

You can relax, unwind, and continue learning about the mysterious Aye-aye on the Relax With Animal Facts podcast by clicking here.


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