Primate of the Week: Aye aye

Daubentonia madagascariensis

Aye-aye copy.jpg


  • Suborder: Strepsirrhini
  • Infraorder: Chirmyiformes
  • Family: Daubentoniidae


The aye aye is the largest nocturnal primate. It has two layers of hair; long and coarse black hair with white tips and another layer of soft off white hair. The faces are paleish pink with dark eye rings and black ears (Mittermeier et al., 1994; Simons, 1995; Sterling, 1995). They have a bushy tail with the longest hairs of any prosimian (9 inches) (Feistner & Sterling, 1995; Simons & Meyers, 2001). However, the aye aye is most known for their elongated middle finger. On each hand they have thin middle finger that can move independently of other digits (Erickson, 1994). This digit is specialized for tapping on wood in order to find insects within its cavities and probing with the finger to find/remove larvae from the wooden cavities (Milliken et al., 1991). Their type of foraging is called percussive foraging (Erickson, 1994). Aye aye also have the largest brain to body size of all the prosimians (Erickson, 1995). They also have a nictitating membrane or a third eyelid that allows the eye to be moistened when it is dry (birds have these) (Sterling, 1993a; Sterling & Feistner, 2000). Sterling (1993a) suggested this might be a layer of protection from wood debris that occurs during the aye aye’s percussive foraging. Their ears are also quite large and moveable and likely occurred to help in locating larvae during percussive foraging (Simons, 1995). Aye aye also have large and continuously growing incisors that allows the gnawing of woods (Simons, 1995). The aye aye also contain a grooming claw, this is an elongated claw located on the foot that is often used for grooming (Sterling, 1993a).


The aye aye generally moves quadrepedally (Ancrenaz et al., 1994). Aye aye like several other prosimians is only found in Madagascar (Swindler, 2002). They are located within Eastern Madagascar in rainforests, deciduous forest, and secondary forests close to the sea and secondary forests that have been turned into cultivation areas (Pollock et al., 1985; Ganzhorn & Rabesoa, 1986; Iwano & Iwakawa, 1988). Tattersall (1982) also suggested it may live in mangrove swamps and dry scrub forests. Aye ayes eat several different types of food including seeds, nectar, fungus and insect larvae (Sterling et al. 1994).


Aye aye are nocturnal. They sleep in arboreal nests during the day and become active just before the sunset (Ancrenaz et al., 1994). Their nests are generally located high up in the crowns and forks of trees (Petter, 1977; Ancrenaz et al., 1994). Sterling (1993a) found nest heights on average to be 17.6 m or 57.74 feet.


Aye ayes are most often found be solitary and only seem to interact with other Aye aye during the mating season (Ancrenaz et al., 1994; Sterling, 1995). However, they have been found to travel, forage and communicate within groups of up to four individuals outside of their mating season (Sterling, 1995). Males tend to range far more than females and often have overlapping ranges with other males and females (Sterling 1993b). Sterling (1993b) suggested this is a reproductive strategy since females enter estrous at different times and for a brief period, thus males may have greater mating success with several females by having large ranges. Females ranges are smaller and do not overlap (Ancrenaz et al., 1994; Sterling, 1995).


The aye aye mating system is polygyny with scramble competition (Kappeler, 1997). This is evident by the lack of territorial defense by males but instead competition for access to a receptive female (Barrows, 2001). Females are polyandrous and will mate with several males. Mating occurs when a female has become receptive. Female advertise they are receptive through repeatedly calling. Up to six males will surround the female and agonistically interact for access to the female (Sterling, 1993a). When males gain access copulation takes up to an hour, this may function as a type of mate guarding (Sterling, 1995; Jolly, 1998). Following this mating the female will move away and begin calling again (Sterling, 1995). Females have a visible estrous with genital swelling (Sterling, 1993b; Winn, 1994a).


Work Cited


Ancrenaz M, Lackman-Ancrenaz I, Mundy N. 1994. Field observations of aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) in Madagascar. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):22-36.


Barrows EM. 2001. Animal behavior desk reference: a dictionary of animal behavior, ecology, and evolution, second edition. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 922 p.


Erickson CJ. 1995. Perspectives on percussive foraging in the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). In: Alterman L, Doyle GA, Izard MK. Creatures of the dark: the nocturnal prosimians. New York: Plenum Pr. p 251-9.


Erickson CJ. 1994. Tap-scanning and extractive foraging in aye-ayes, Daubentonia madagascariensis. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):125-35.


Feistner A, Sterling E. 1995. Body mass and sexual dimorphism in the aye-aye. Dodo, J Wildl Preserv Trusts 31:73-6.


Feistner ATC, Carroll JB. 1993. Breeding aye-ayes: an aid to preserving biodiversity. Biodivers Conserv 2(3):283-9.


Feistner ATC, Ashbourne CJ. 1994. Infant development in a captive-bred aye-aye (Daubentonia madagasacariensis) over the first year of life. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):74-92.


Ganzhorn J, Rabesoa J. 1986. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) found in the eastern rainforest of Madagascar. Folia Primatol 46(3):125-6.


Iwano T, Iwakawa C. 1988. Feeding behaviour of the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) on nuts of ramy (Canarium madagascariensis). Folia Primatol 50(1-2):136-42.


Iwano T. 1991. The usage of the digits of a captive aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Afr Stud Mono 12(2):87-98.


Jolly A. 1998. Pair-bonding, female aggression and the evolution of lemur societies. Folia Primatol 69(suppl 1):1-13.


Mittermeier RA, Tattersall I, Konstant W, Meyers D, Mast R. 1994. Lemurs of Madagascar. Washington DC: Conserv Int. 356 p.


Mittermeier RA, Konstant WR, Hawkins F, Louis EE, Langrand O, Ratsimbazafy J, Rasoloarison R, Ganzhorn JU, Rajaobelina S, Tattersall I, Meyers DM. 2006. Lemurs of Madagascar, second edition. Washington DC: Conserv Int. 520p.


Pollock JI, Constable ID, Mittermeier RA, Ratsirarson J, Simons H. 1985. A note on the diet and feeding behavior of the aye-aye Daubentonia madagascariensis. Int J Primatol 6(4):435-47.


Simons EL, Meyers DM. 2001. Folklore and beliefs about the aye aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Lemur News 6:11-6.


Simons EL. 1994. The giant aye-aye Daubentonia robusta. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):14-21.


Simons EL. 1995. History, anatomy, subfossil record and management of Daubentonia Madagascariensis. In: Alterman L, Doyle GA, Izard MK. Creatures of the dark: the nocturnal prosimians. New York: Plenum Pr. p133-40.


Sterling EJ, Feistner ATC. 2000. Aye-aye. In: Reading RP, Miller B, editors. Endangered animals, a reference guide to conflicting issues. Westport (CT): Greenwood Pr. p45-8.

Sterling EJ. 1993a. Behavioral ecology of the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) on Nosy Mangabe, Madagascar. PhD dissertation, Yale University. 232p.


Sterling E. 2003. Daubentonia madagascariensis, aye-aye, aye-aye. In: Goodman SM, Benstead JP, editors. The natural history of Madagascar. Chicago: Univ Chicago Pr. p 1348-51.

Sterling EJ, Dierenfeld ES, Ashbourne CJ, Feistner ATC. 1994. Dietary intake, food composition and nutrient intake in wild and captive populations of Daubentonia madagascariensis. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):115-



Sterling EJ. 1993b. Patterns of range use and social organization in aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) on Nosy Mangabe. In: Kappeler PM & Ganzhorn JU, editors. Lemur social systems and their ecological basis. New York: Plenum Pr. p 1-10.


Sterling EJ. 1995. Social organization in the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) and the perceived distinctiveness of nocturnal primates. In: Alterman L, Doyle GA, Izard MK, editors. Creatures of the dark: the nocturnal prosimians. New York: Plenum Pr. p 439-51.


Sterling E. 1994a. Taxonomy and distribution of Daubentonia: a historical perspective. Folia Primatol 62(1-3):8-13.


Sterling, E. 1994b. Ayes-ayes: Specialists on structurally defended resources. Folia Primatologica 62:142-154.


Sterling, E.J. 1994c. Evidence for non-seasonal reproduction in aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) in the wild. Folia Primatologica 62:46-53.


Tattersall I. 1982. The primates of Madagascar. New York: Columbia Univ Pr. 3Aye-aye copy.jpg


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