Where the Wild Things Aren’t

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Where the Wild Things Aren’t

Daubentonia madagascariensis

Coded message or not, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why the aye-aye has a middle finger that is so much longer, thinner and gnarlier than any of the others: It’s a percussive forager.

The aye-aye, a lemur from Madagascar, taps out a little rhythm on a wooden surface to determine where cavities are inside. Then, listening with its large disk-shaped ears and probably using echolocation, it decides exactly where the grubs are for grub time. It uses its incisors to make a small hole in the surface, and then it inserts its especially extended digit into said hole and presto — it pulls its dinner out of the opening, thus giving the invertebrates inside it the actual finger. And this finger is articulated by sitting on a ball-and-socket joint, allowing it to move and swivel a full 360 degrees. So watch out, the aye-aye can get ahold of you wherever you are.

Dexterity aside, hunting and superstition have left it endangered. This odd lemur is considered evil: Dead aye-ayes are often hung upside down outside a village to ward off evil spirits. Several ongoing captive breeding programs have not proved successful with second-generation creatures, and the work continues. Solutions need to be found — otherwise, we may have to say bye-bye to the aye-aye.

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