The large, nocturnal aye-aye lives only in Madagascar. These primitive primates are 14 to 17 inches long, with bushy tails nearly 2 feet long. They have pale faces and black ears. Aye-ayes have one layer of long, coarse black hair, and a second coat of white hair that's shorter and softer. These animals build elaborate nests in the tops of trees.
Habitat and Home Range
Aye-ayes live in deciduous forests and rain forests that have tall trees to support their nests. Male aye-ayes maintain home ranges of 200 to 500 acres that overlap with those of other males. Females’ ranges are slightly smaller, and they don't overlap with each other's. Aye-ayes are solitary creatures, and several nests exist throughout each animal’s range. As the aye-aye moves about foraging, it will find the closest nest as daylight approaches. These creatures are not possessive or territorial about the nests they build, and they routinely use nests built by others.
An aye-aye builds its nest by intertwining twigs and dead leaves. The meticulous process can take up to 24 hours. The finished nest is a closed, oval-shaped sphere with a single entry hole approximately 6 inches wide. Aye-ayes build their nests in the crowns of the tallest trees, an average of 57 feet off the forest floor. The aye-aye sleeps in its nest all day, emerging as early as half an hour before sunset and not returning until after sunrise.
Although some parts of the world have squirrels or woodpeckers, Madagascar has aye-ayes. They might be the only primates that use echolocation to find prey. They do this by tapping on trees with the claw on their elongated middle finger, then listening for insects moving inside. Once insects are found, the aye-aye uses the same claw to dig them out of the wood. They also eat fruits and nuts. In one night, males travel as far as 5,000 to 7,000 feet from their original nest in search of food.
Many Madagascar natives consider the aye-aye to be a bad omen, and they kill them on sight. This, combined with habitat destruction, has made the aye-aye endangered. In the mid-1900s, aye-ayes were believed to be extinct. It was later determined that they actually have fairly large numbers within their native range, but a very low population density. Artificial populations have been established for conservation. As of 2013, the animal was protected by both national law and international treaty.
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Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.