Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Really Weird Animals: The Aye Aye

A few times in 2014 I will expand my “Really Weird Birds” blog entries to include all weird and unusual animals!  The World Bird Sanctuary even has some strange non-bird animals in its nature center and visitor center. 

There are so many bizarre and unique creatures in the world that people don’t know about, and they may be a threatened or endangered species!  There may be one day when humans will never see that animal again.  I can only hope to help raise awareness about some of these creatures.  But endangered or not, I will be researching and presenting to you some of the most wacky animals you have never seen!

One of my favorite mammals that I have done research on in the past is called the Aye-aye (pronounced just like you would say, “aye aye Captain!”).   They are native only to the island of Madagascar and are in the same suborder as lemurs.  Much like the pug, the Aye-aye walks the delicate tightrope of being either considerably ugly or kind of cute!

To me, the Aye-aye looks like a cross between a cat, an opossum, and a raccoon with rodent-like teeth and large bat-like ears.  Scientists once thought the Aye-aye was a rodent because its incisors keep growing and must constantly be worn down.  Currently, they are considered to be in the order of primates.  They are nocturnal and spend their nights foraging in the rain forest trees.  They have very slender fingers and sharp claws to help them dangle from branches.

An Aye Aye hand

The Aye-aye’s most unusual adaptation is its middle finger.  It is extra long and has a ball and socket joint much like the human shoulder.  They use it to tap on branches and then listen with their large sensitive ears to the noises or echoes produced to find chambers with grubs inside.  The aye-aye can detect grubs that are two centimeters below the surface of the branch.  It uses its teeth to tear away some of the wood.  Then its long middle fingers come in handy again and are used as picks to stab the grubs.  Aye-ayes also eat fruits, adult insects, and other small invertebrates.

The aye-aye is classified as near threatened on the IUCN list, mainly because of destruction of its habitat.  However, also contributing to its decline is the superstition of the local people.  Some view the aye-aye as a bad omen and it is killed on sight.  Others believe that if the Aye-aye points its middle finger at you then you are doomed to die early.  Some even say if an Aye-aye ventures into a village then a villager will die.  They believe the only way to prevent this is to kill the Aye-aye.

Locals will kill the aye-aye and hang it up so its evil spirit can be carried away by travelers.
Captive breeding of Aye-ayes has aided in the conservation of this species, primarily at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina.  They were responsible for the first Aye-aye born into captivity and studied how he and the other Aye-aye infants born at the center develop through infancy.

Watch this interesting video of an Aye Aye procuring a meal.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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