The Aye-aye’s Evil Middle Finger

Aye-aye1Photo: Tom Junek

The cute lemurs of Madagascar usually get all the attention. How about a little love for a different member of the lemur family: the Aye-aye? It isn’t as cute and is even despised by locals because of a superstition that it is thought to be a symbol of death.

The Aye-aye’s legal middle finger
Aye-aye middle fingerPhoto: Dr. Mirko Junge

The Aye-aye does have one extremely creepy characteristic: a long, thin middle finger. It uses its middle finger to dig out larvae and grubs from trees. It creates a hole by biting through the bark and then sticks in its middle finger to pull out juicy pieces of protein. Check out the awesome Youtube video of an Aye-aye feeding.

Aye-ayes live on the east coast of Madagascar in relatively low numbers due to habitat destruction and their reputation as a nuisance species. Additionally, they are thought to be an incarnation of evil and so are often killed immediately. One group of native people even believes that the Aye-aye kills people in their sleep by using its middle finger to puncture their heart. It doesn’t help that Aye-ayes will just wander into villages in search of food and have been known to saunter right up to the feet of naturalists.

It has a mini-mouth
Aye-ayePhoto: Tom Junek

How the Aye-aye got its name is a mystery but it may be a derivation of the Malagasy phrase “heh heh”, which means “I don’t know.” Aye-ayes are nocturnal and primarily solitary creatures. Today the Aye-aye is protected by law and is classified as an endangered species. If you don’t have the opportunity to travel to Madagascar, but still want to see an Aye-aye, head to the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC, US, where they have a major breeding population of about 20 Aye-ayes.