Image: Aye-aye
Nick Garbutt / Discovery Channel / BBC
Some of the locals in Madagascar believe the aye-aye uses its long middle finger to pierce the hearts of sleeping humans, but it actually is used to harvest insect larvae.
updated 3/26/2010 1:22:26 PM ET 2010-03-26T17:22:26

Although the aye-aye weighs a mere 4 pounds in the wild, this tiny animal is viewed as the harbinger of death by locals in Madagascar, the only place on Earth where you'll find these creatures in nature.

According to legend, the aye-aye, with its dark eyes, long fingers and ghoulish appearance, is thought to sneak into the dwellings of nearby villagers and use its middle finger — considerably longer than its other fingers — to pierce the hearts of sleeping humans.

In fact, the animal uses its middle finger to find and harvest insect larvae in trees. It prowls at night, tapping its finger rapidly against tree branches to listen for hollowed-out pockets in the wood that hold grubs.

The aye-aye then chews an opening in the wood and claws out the grub with its long middle finger.

Superstitions around the aye-aye may have developed because it is apparently unafraid of humans. It will even walk right up to human passersby to take a closer look. The aye-aye's reputation is, of course, entirely unfounded. However, because of the way the aye-aye is perceived, this perfectly harmless creature is often killed on sight.

The combination of these attacks and the fact that its habitat is dwindling has taken a toll on the animal. The aye-aye is now listed as "near threatened" by IUCN Red List.

If you think you've never seen an animal quite like the aye-aye before, you're right. The aye-aye is one of the most unique creatures you'll ever find in nature.

This unusual animal belongs not only to its own genus (Daubentonia), but also its own family (Daubentoniidae). The debate has long raged over how to classify the curious animal. Is it a rodent? A primate?

Find out more about this unique animal on the "Mammals" LIFE episode, airing on Discovery Sunday, March 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments