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A strange squirrel-like primate of Madagascar, the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is the only extant member of the family Daubentoniidae. Nocturnal, solitary, and arboreal, the aye-aye is distinct for its rare hand formation, specifically for its unusually long third digit.
See the fact file below for more information on the aye-aye or alternatively, you can download our 21-page Aye-Aye worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- In 1795, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire proposed the genus Daubentonia to honor his adviser, French naturalist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton. Initially, Geoffroy thought of using the Greek name Scolecophagus (“worm eater”) according to its eating behavior. However, he decided against it since he was unsure about its habits and other related species that would soon be discovered.
- In 1863, British zoologist John Edward Gray suggested the family name Daubentoniidae.
- In 1872, French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat was the first person to use the vernacular term “aye-aye” when he portrayed the lemur.
- Sonnerat mentioned that the name “aye-aye” suggests “cri d’exclamation & d’etonnement” (cry of exclamation and astonishment).
- In 1982, American paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall disagreed and stated that the name denotes the Malagasy name “hai hai” or “hay hay”, which refers to the animal and is used on the island.
- Dunkel et al. mentioned in 2012 that the widespread use of the Malagasy name means that it could have not originated from Sonnerat.
- Simons and Meyers in 2001 assumed that it was derived from “heh heh”, which is a Malagasy term for “I don’t know”. If their hypothesis is true, then the name could have come from the Malagasy people saying “heh heh” to avoid mentioning the name of a feared, magical animal.
EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY AND TAXONOMY
- Based on its derived morphological appearance, the aye-aye’s categorization was questioned after its discovery. Its constantly growing front teeth resembles those of rodents, causing early naturalists to mistakenly place the aye-aye under the mammalian order Rodentia and as a squirrel because of its toes, pelage color, and tail. However, this species is also identical to felines due to its head shape, eyes, and nostrils.
- Its classification with the order Primates has been debatable, as well. It has been viewed as a highly derived representative of the family Indridae, a basal branch of the strepsirrhine suborder and of uncertain link to all extant primates.
- In 1931, Anthony and Coupin grouped the aye-aye under infraorder Chiromyiformes, a sister branch to the other strepsirrhines. Colin Groves supported this claim in 2005 because he was not completely convinced the aye-aye established a clade with the other Malagasy lemurs.
- However, molecular analyses have constantly classified Daubentonia as the most basal among the lemurs. The shortest explanation for this is that all lemurs came from a single ancestor that underwent oceanic dispersal from Africa to Madagascar during the Paleogene era.
- Likeness in dentition between the aye-aye and other African primate fossils, such as the Piesiopithecus and Propotto, gave way to the alternate assumption that the ancestors of the aye-aye seized Madagascar separately from other lemurs.
- In 2008, Russell Mittermeir, Colin Groves, and others disregarded other calls for a higher-level taxonomy by defining lemurs as monophyletic – a group of taxa that shares one common ancestry – and having five extant families, including Daubentoniidae.
- Further studies suggesting that the aye-aye falls under the superfamily Lemuroidea can be concluded from the presence of petrosal bullae (temporal bone) housing the ossicles of the ear.
- The aye-aye also resembles the lemurs in terms of its shorter hind legs.
ANATOMY AND MORPHOLOGY
- A mature aye-aye usually reaches three feet long, with a tail that is longer than its body. It has an average head and body length of 14 to 17 inches and a tail of 22 to 24 inches, and it weighs roughly 4 pounds.
- Juvenile aye-ayes sport silver fur on their front and have a stripe that outlines their back. As they start to mature, their bodies will be entirely covered in thick fur that is usually not one solid color. On the head and back, the ends of the hair are generally tipped with white, and the remaining parts of the body will be naturally yellow and/or brown in color.
- The aye-aye is known for its unique fingers. The middle finger, which is much thinner than the rest, is used for tapping, while the ring finger, which is the longest, is used for grabbing grubs and insects out of trees with the help of its hooked nail. The skinny third finger is uncommon in the animal kingdom since it has a ball-and-socket metacarpophalangeal joint. This species has also evolved a sixth finger, a pseudo-thumb, that helps in gripping.
- The complex structure of ridges found in the inner surface of its ears aids in sharply focusing echolocation signals from the tapping of its finger and in passively listening for any sound made by the prey.
- Female aye-ayes have two nipples in the area of the groin.
BEHAVIOR AND LIFESTYLE
- The aye-aye is active at night and spends its life high in the trees – sleeping, eating, transferring, and mating. It is usually spotted close to the canopy where there is enough cover from the dense foliage.
- During the daytime, it sleeps in spherical nests made of leaves, branches, and vines in the forks of tree branches before hunting for food at night.
- The aye-aye eats and survives on both animal and plant matter. It commonly feeds on seeds, fruits, nectar, fungi, insect larvae, and honey.
- It is a solitary animal that uses scent marking with their cheeks and neck. The smaller territories of females sometimes overlap those of a number of males. A male aye-aye shares its territory with other males and are often noted to share the same nest. They can apparently withstand other males until they hear the female producing mating calls.
- It taps on the tree trunks and branches at a speed of up to eight times per second and listens to the echoes to search for hollow chambers. Once a chamber is spotted, it eats a hole in the wood and digs out grubs from the hole with their highly adapted skinny and bony middle fingers.
- The aye-aye starts searching for wild food resources between 30 minutes before sunset and 3 hours after sunset. Though it is a solitary animal, the aye-aye occasionally forages in clusters.
- It climbs trees through successive vertical leaps, resembling that of a squirrel. Horizontal movement is a bit complex, but the aye-aye seldom descends to jump to another tree and can sometimes travel up to four kilometers a night.
- Just like other prosimians, a female aye-aye is more dominant than a male. They are not naturally monogamous and will often challenge each other for mates.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
- The aye-aye is native to the east coast of Madagascar. It usually inhabits rainforests or deciduous forests, but the majority can be found in cultivated areas due to habitat loss.
- Rainforest aye-ayes live in canopy areas and are commonly seen above 70 meters in altitude. They sleep during the daytime in nests built from interwoven twigs and dead leaves mounted in the canopy among the vines and branches.
- The aye-aye was assumed to be extinct in 1933, but it was rediscovered 24 years later, in 1957.
- In 1966, nine aye-ayes were brought to Nosy Mangabe, an island close to Maroantsetra in eastern Madagascar.
- Recent studies show the aye-aye is more widespread than before, but it has been considered an endangered species since 2014. Its decline in population was because of three reasons: (1) it was thought of as an evil creature, (2) the forests of Madagascar are destroyed, and (3) farmers get rid of the aye-aye to guard their crops and for poaching. However, there is no direct proof claiming the aye-aye’s threat to crops. Therefore, this animal is killed based on superstition.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the aye-aye across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Aye-Aye worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about a strange squirrel-like primate of Madagascar, the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) which is the only extant member of the family Daubentoniidae. Nocturnal, solitary, and arboreal, the aye-aye is distinct for its rare hand formation, specifically for its unusually long third digit.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Aye-Aye Facts
- (Aye-)Aye There
- Describing Heh Heh
- Things You Need To Know
- Heh Heh Wiki
- Aye-Aye’s Life
- Adorable Relatives
- As a Lemur
- Tell Me More
- Aye-Aye Recap
- Folkloric Belief
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Link will appear as Aye-Aye Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, September 23, 2020
Use With Any Curriculum
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