World of Wonder: Aye-Aye -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

This week gives us a little tough dear from the island of Madagascar. I say tough because zoologists thought it was extinct back in 1937, due in part to the unfortunate folklore surrounding these little guys. Legend has it that the aye-aye were/are harbingers of death, and if you saw one, you were supposed to kill it on the spot. But sure enough, after regrouping and laying low (or in their case, laying waaay high in their spherical nests, way up in the tree crowns of forests), the aye-aye were found again in 1957 — and they are still doing their best to shed their “endangered” status.

Image via Flickr Image via Flickr

The Daubentonia madagascariensis is not actually a rodent, though I know it’s tempting to call it one if you’re just looking at the crazy-long bottom teeth and the squirrel-pouf of a tail. The aye-aye is actually the largest nocturnal primate in the world at about five pounds and just a little over a foot long. Think of the aye-aye as a very, very specialized form of lemur. And like the lemur, the aye-aye has a surprisingly solid vertical jump as it moves from tree to tree, searching for its favorite dinner: fruit, insects, and various fungi.

My favorite description of the aye-aye is “it looks like a cat was bitten by a vampire, and then halfway through the transformation just said, Screw it!” But perhaps what makes people shudder the most is the aye-aye’s ‘finger-tool’:

Image via Wiki Image via Wiki

If you look carefully, its middle finger is actually stick-like, long and pointy, and part of its sad place in folklore is that if you came across an aye-aye and it pointed its finger tool at someone in your village, that person was supposed to be cursed or even die very soon. That, coupled with the wild marble eyes — unknowingly giving everything and everyone it sees during the day a rather horrifying glare — contributed to the myth of the aye-aye being a cursed animal, when all along it was probably just pointing out a tasty beetle on the wall behind the person who assumed the aye-aye had just cursed them. Poor aye-aye!

The aye-aye’s finger can almost spin 360 degrees and is pretty powerful as it knocks on trees and branches, searching for hidden chambers of juicy bugs. It’s the only primate to use echolocation in this way, and the finger then becomes a chopstick of sorts as the aye-aye dines on his discovery.

Dear Readers— What animals make you feel awe for their adaptability and moxie—they keep going, like the aye-aye, even though all the odds are against them? Any animals make you feel lazy with how much they get done in a day? Share below which animals make you want to raise your hand in a fist at the mere mention of their name!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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