Most mammals I blog about are fairly cute, and even the ones that are just strange looking have a certain charm. But the aye-aye is nothing of the sort. It is probably one of the creepiest, ugliest mammals around. It looks like something someone made up for a sci-fi movie. See:

Image by Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The aye-aye lives in Madagascar, which is a pretty unique island. I guess because of its size and distance from the mainland, the flora and fauna have evolved very differently from everywhere else, so there’s a lot of strange animals living there (think tenrecs!). The aye-aye is no exception, and is probably one of the strangest of the bunch. The aye-aye is a type of lemur, although it is the only extant member of its family, Daubentoniidae.

Aye-ayes are primarily active at night, spending about eighty percent of the night foraging. Which would explain its giant eyes and huge ears – big eyes let in more light which presumably is helpful in the dark when you’re climbing through trees searching for food. Sound is important for most nocturnal animals, and the aye-aye uses its ears in a very special way.

One of the most prominent features of the aye-aye is its long, thin fingers. Personally I find this the creepiest part of the animal, probably because they look a bit like spider’s legs. Here is a picture to show you:

Creepy, right? Well there’s a reason aye-aye’s hands look like that, and it has to do with the way these animals find food. The aye-ayes tap trees repeatedly with their fingers, using those big ears to listen for the sound of hollow cavities in the trees. When they find one, the aye-aye gnaws a hole in the tree with specially modified incisors. Then it uses its elongated middle fingers to scoop grubs from the tree. In an ecological sense, the aye-aye replaces the niche occupied in other areas by woodpeckers. Though obviously less attractive, more terrifying ones.

Image by Dr. Mirko Junge, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And I’m not the only person who thinks these animals are weird looking. In madagascar the aye-aye is often seen as a bringer of bad fortune, or simply as plain evil. Many superstitions surround this unfortunate animal, and often they are killed on sight, then hung up to get rid of the evil spirit inside of it. Another superstition holds that if an aye-aye points its narrowest finger at you, then you will soon die. Some people take this a little further, saying that aye-ayes sneak into houses and murder people by using their long fingers to puncture the aorta. While I’m not a particularly superstitious person, and don’t think any animal should be killed because of them, I can see where these come from. The aye-aye definitely needs a better PR rep.

Maybe that starts right here. Instead of thinking of these strange lemurs as creepy, terrifying and weird, maybe we should change those adjectives. Aye-ayes are interesting, unique, and well-adapted to their life style. While this is clearly true, I’m going to stick with the descriptions I’ve been using. Because quite frankly, they are creepy, terrifying and weird. There’s just no way around it.

Cover Image by nomis-simon, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons