Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Creature Feature #36: Aye-Aye

This rather creepy looking mammal is characterised by his wide, pale  and ghostly eyes; the great ears of a bat; the blunt front incisors of a rat; the plume of a fox; the fur of a microwaved cat (as described by John Cleese) and amazingly dextrous fingers - sort of a biological Swiss Army knife. Together, these give a fearful appearance and It is no wonder that the natives find him somewhat frightening and consider him an omen of death.

When he was first discovered, the naturalists did not know what to make of this weird chimerical beastie. Was it a rodent? A bat? A nightmare come to life? Now, with increased taxonomy knowledge, we know that what he is, in fact, is a nocturnal lemur. A sort of mammalian woodpecker - his main diet is insects, particularly grubs, and fruit. To find the grubs buried in bark, he taps the tree with his knuckles, listening for movement, when he finds it, he uses his blunt teeth to gnaw at the wood, peeling back the bark and then probs within the cavity, using his specialised middle digit which is thinner than its fellows. In this manner, he can also crack through the hard skin of a coconut.

He has a pretty rough life - not only does he have a face only a mother or a biased zoological geek like myself could love but his reputation for bringing death does not make him any friends amongst the Malagasy people. Indeed, when an aye-aye is sighted, it is frequently killed on sight, the corpse then moved from one family’s yard to another, like a macabre pass the parcel.

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