Fascinating Facts

The primate that uses echo-location

  • The aye-aye is the world’s largest nocturnal primate and the only one to use echolocation to find food.

  • Its strong jaws can even bite through aluminium and concrete and its front (incisor) teeth never stop growing!

The aye-aye's story

The aye-aye is the world’s largest nocturnal primate and, like other lemurs, is found only on the African island of Madagascar. It has evolved a series of adaptations to fit its unusual feeding habits, making it one of the most bizarre-looking animals on the planet!

Among the aye-aye’s peculiar features are its skeletally thin middle finger, with which it taps on branches before using its huge ears to listen for the reverberations of grubs scurrying in the cavities beneath the tree bark. We call this echolocation. If a grub is heard, the aye-aye rips open the cavity with its incredibly strong teeth and hooks out the grub with its highly dexterous fourth finger. This finger has its own ball and socket joint (just like your shoulder), making it especially effective at ‘fishing out’ the grubs.

Sometimes referred to as Madagascar’s version of the woodpecker, the aye-aye lives in a ball-shaped nest made of trees and branches, high up in the trees. Male aye-ayes will mark their territory with their scent. Aye-aye habitats are in protected areas across the country, including 13 national parks and 13 special reserves. Even so, because this shy lemur is so rarely seen, scientists still don’t really know how many aye-ayes there are. For this reason, scientists are trying to find a system that will allow them to count the exact number of aye-ayes across the whole of Madagascar. This aye-aye census would allow scientists to create a conservation plan to protect the future of this very special animal.

Conservationists are also worried because the aye-aye’s odd appearance has led to the rise of local superstitions that say it is an evil omen and a crop pest. In many areas, the aye-aye is killed on sight. Meanwhile, its habitat is becoming smaller and smaller because of farming and land development, putting the aye-aye’s forest home at risk. Together, these twin threats have resulted in a drastic decline in the aye-aye population.

What’s being done?

As of 2010, there were around 50 aye-ayes in zoos around the world, including a captive breeding programme involving various institutions managed under a European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and a Species Survival Plan (SPP). Sadly, no aye-aye born in captivity has bred successfully yet, so conservation projects in Madagascar are vital to this incredible animal’s survival. The local Malagasy organisation ‘Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar’ (GERP) is leading a programme of work that includes population tracking, reforestation projects and working with the community to promote coexistence (living together) with lemurs, including the aye-aye. Monitoring efforts are led by volunteer forest patrols, including community members who are trained in gathering data and patrolling the forests.

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