It creeps in the night. Where it lives, it is considered the harbinger of death and doom. One of the hypotheses for how it obtained its name is from European travelers seeing it and shrieking loudly. Folk legends say it creeps into the houses of unsuspecting locals and digs its elongated finger into the chest to pierce the heart of the slumbering individual. Its fear of humans is almost non-existent, a curious nature that fuels it to come up to humans and examine them further–but is it for the purpose of causing death?
Not if you’re a human. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is far from a violent primate–unless you happen to be an off guard grub; the “claws” it has are not sharp enough to pierce through human flesh, at least, not beyond a superficial wound. The aye-aye, at first sight, may not be considered aesthetically pleasing to some. But what it lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for in unique, useful qualities.
Much like children at Halloween who knock on doors for treats, the aye-aye uses its aforementioned, elongated middle finger to percussive tap on wood cavities. Then, using its large ears and the touch of the percussive foraging, locates the prey. Next, it uses ever-growing incisors to chew through the wood and relies on its elongated middle finger to pierce and dig out the grub (Lhota et al. 2008).
Because of this foraging method, the aye-aye is culturally regarded as a superstitious creature. The only way to remove the bad luck perceived to come from its presence is to kill it, and potentially, consume it (Simons & Meyers 2001). However, there are also certain regions in southeast Madagascar that perceive the aye-aye very differently–because of its status as an origin for the human race, it is considered as a good luck figure (Sterling & Feistner 2000).
Currently, the aye-aye is considered a Near Threatened species according to the IUCN (2008). While this primate is feared in some cultures, revered in others, it also plays a vital role in its habitat. Much like woodpeckers, aye-ayes serve an ecological niche of preventing insect infestation into wood, keeping it healthy.
Although not a pretty primate, more like the rats that you’d expect to find around a witch’s cauldron, the aye-aye plays a very strong ecological role in maintaining the health of the trees of the forest by consuming potential infestations. Even though it is seen as bad luck to one culture and good luck to another, when the aye-aye comes to “trick-or-treat”–it will never be in a human chest, but in a tree trunk.
|Andrainarivo, C., Andriaholinirina, V.N., Feistner, A., Felix, T., Ganzhorn, J., Garbutt, N., Golden, C., Konstant, B., Louis Jr., E., Meyers, D., Mittermeier, R.A., Perieras, A., Princee, F., Rabarivola, J.C., Rakotosamimanana, B., Rasamimanana, H., Ratsimbazafy, J., Raveloarinoro, G., Razafimanantsoa, A., Rumpler, Y., Schwitzer, C., Thalmann, U., Wilmé, L. & Wright, P. 2008. Daubentonia madagascariensis. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 26 October 2011.|
Lhota S, Jůnek T, Bartos L, & Kubĕna AA (2008). Specialized use of two fingers in free-ranging aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis). American journal of primatology, 70 (8), 786-95 PMID: 18473358
Simons, E.L. & Meyers, D.M. (2001). Folklore and beliefs about the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Lemur News, 6: 11-16.
Sterling, E.J. & Feistner, A.T.D. (2000). Aye-aye. In: Reading, R.P., Miller, B. Ed. Endangered animals, a reference guide to conflicting issues.