In my quest for ever-more charming and unusual creatures, I came across the shy, nocturnal Aye-Aye, a rare primate found only on the island of Madagascar.
My first thought upon seeing this small, slightly deranged-looking creature was “Julien”! Yes, Julien the “king” from Madagascar I and II, the animated films, portrayed memorably by Sacha Baron Cohen (otherwise known as Borat).
However, Julien is not supposed to be an Aye-Aye. Technically, Julien is supposed to be a ringtailed lemur, and his small partner Maurice is the Aye-Aye.
Aye-Ayes, in addition to their somewhat Gollum-like looks, have very long, flexible middle fingers on their already long-fingered hands. These fingers are used to retrieve insects from trees, which are their primary food. The Aye-Aye is adapted to seeking insects at night underneath the bark of the forest trees that they live in. Perhaps because of their odd, large, vaguely insane-looking eyes, the Aye-Aye was considered bad luck by the natives of Madagascar, and was hunted to endangerment until more recent years and efforts to protect and renew the species.
Here are Maurice and Julien. Aye-Ayes might have gotten some help by being featured in such a popular cartoon. I think that they should be protected, no matter what.
It’s hard to tell from the real Aye-Aye picture, but the Aye-Aye’s tail is long, thick and bigger than its body. Here is an interesting older link to a brief commentary and good picture of an Aye-Aye. The Aye-Aye branched off from the primate line about 60 million years ago, and is highly specialized for its nocturnal, insect-eating lifestyle.
More in-depth information on the Aye-Aye is available at the National Primate Research Center’s Info Net at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.