Where the weird things are: Meet the finger-lickin' odd aye-aye

If Madagascar is the kingdom of the weird, then the aye-aye surely wears its crown. Just one glimpse of those bulging orange eyes, naked bats' ears and crooked witches' fingers explains why this creature is, for many islanders, the stuff of the heebie-jeebies.

While locals have long feared the aye-aye as a harbinger of evil, visitors have simply been baffled. The first naturalists concluded from the bushy tail and chisel incisors that it must be some bizarre kind of squirrel. In fact this perfectly harmless, cat-sized creature is – like us – a primate. Specifically, it is a nocturnal lemur and, like all Madagascar's lemurs, found nowhere else on earth.

Weirdest of all are those long fingers – especially the skeletally skinny middle ones. And their function is unique in primates. As the aye-aye clambers around the canopy it taps on dead branches. Should a hollow ring reveal a cavity – and, even better, the rustling of juicy grubs within – it rips off the bark with its teeth and uses these freaky digits to winkle out the prize. Thus on Madagascar the aye-aye fills the slot taken by woodpeckers elsewhere.

Aye-ayes live almost entirely in the rainforest canopy, feeding by night and sleeping by day in a tree-fork nest. Males mark their treetop territories with pungent glandular secretions and during the courtship season sometimes come to blows over females. A desperate suitor may even pull apart a mating couple in the hope of some action for himself.

Seeing this peculiar primate is a challenge. Local people have long persecuted aye-ayes, both because of their association with death and their raids on coconut plantations. The good news, however, is that this elusive mammal is now known to be much more widespread than was once feared.

Sightings are easiest on the island of Nosy Mangabe, where aye-ayes have been reintroduced. Elsewhere – with a good torch, an experienced guide and a large slice of luck – you might come across one at several rainforest reserves, including the well-known Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Périnet).

* Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers a two-week tour in search of aye-ayes and other wildlife in Madagsacar's eastern rainforest reserves, including Nosy Mangabe, from £3,880 per person, including flights.

Mike Unwin is the author of '100 Bizarre Animals', published by Bradt Travel Guides (£16.99). Independent readers can purchase the book for only £11.50 including UK p&p via www.bradt-guides.com. Enter coupon code 'mudskipper' at the checkout.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test