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Much can be said about Madagascar’s Aye-Aye lemur. It fills a unique ecological role; it has character; or, it’s simply a gentle creature whose worst sin is having bad hair. The one thing no one says, however, is that it’s good-looking. It is, put frankly, charismatically ugly.
The Aye-Aye is a gangly stalker of the night. Its most prominent features are its beady eyes and skeletal fingers. Perhaps due to its less-than-friendly appearance, the Aye-Aye is feared as an evil omen. Folktales tell of these creatures slipping through thatch roofs and piercing the hearts of defenseless sleepers with their long needle-like fingers. Impelled by these terror-invoking stories, rural farmers in Madagascar kill Aye-Ayes on sight.
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Local conservationists are combatting the Aye Aye’s malicious reputation by educating locals about how these lemurs benefit the environment. In fact, by removing harmful pests from trees they fulfill a role similar to that of woodpeckers and help promote forest health.
At night, Aye-Ayes forage for nectar, seeds, and insects, using echolocation to detect insect larvae by repeatedly tapping trees to find their tasty grub’s location. After locating a meal, they gnaw holes in the wood and fish out the insects with their spindly fingers.
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Aye-Ayes spend their lives in trees and hide during the day in carefully placed nests. They are primarily solitary, and, like all lemurs, live in female-dominated societies. Competition for mates is high, so high that desperate males will literally pry copulating rivals off females to exchange places.
They may not have the looks of the ring-tailed lemur, but the Aye-Aye certainly is unforgettable. True, it may have the kind of face only a mother could love, but with the right perspective, and a respect for nature in all its forms, even the Aye-Aye could be considered a pleasing player on nature’s stage.