Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered ENDANGERED

Top facts

  • The aye-aye's appearance is so unusual that it was initially classified as a rodent rather than a primate
  • Endemic to Madagascar, the aye-aye is the world's largest nocturnal primate
  • Unlike other primates, the aye-aye's incisors are ever-growing which prevents the teeth wearing down from gnawing on wood and nuts
  • The aye-aye's fingers are thin and elongated and it has an extended third digit to locate and extract insect larvae from wood cavities
Loading more images and videos...

Aye-aye fact file

Aye-aye description

GenusDaubentonia (1)

The bizarre mammals (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is one of the most unusual primates on the planet, so much so that it was originally classified as a rodent (2). The thick coat of the aye-aye is slate grey to brown with white flecks from the long guard hairs, which are lighter at the tip (2). The face is paler than the rest of the body with large, leathery ears and striking, yellowish-orange eyes (2). The hands of the aye-aye are also highly distinctive, having elongated, thin fingers, which bear curved, claw-like nails (4). In particular, the third digit is so extremely thin that it appears to be little more than skin and bone (2). The aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate and has a long, bushy tail (4).

Tail length: 44 - 53 cm (2)
Head-body length: 30 - 37 cm (2)
2 - 3 kg (2)

Aye-aye biology

The mammals is a nocturnal and solitary creature (5). The day is spent within a nest constructed from twigs, often located high in the crown of tall trees. Different nests are utilized on consecutive days and by different individuals (5). Male aye-ayes have large overlapping home ranges, of between 100 and 200 hectares, which encompass those of several females. Individuals scent mark their home range by rubbing parts of their neck, cheeks and rump regions onto branches (2). There is no fixed breeding season and female aye-ayes advertise their readiness to mate through distinctive calls (2). A single offspring is born after a gestation period of 160 to 170 days (2) (6) and remains within the nest for around two months before emerging (5). It is thought that females may have intervals of up to three years between births (2).

The extraordinary morphology of the aye-aye's hands are adaptations for foraging. The extended middle digit is used for a number of purposes, such as scooping the pulp out of fruits such as coconuts and ramy nuts (Canarium madagascariensis) (2). However, the aye-aye is probably best known for its technique of finding the insects and larvae that make up the majority of its diet. The middle finger is used to tap at branches and the sound produced reveals cavities where insects might be found (5). In this respect, this primate occupies a niche that is filled by woodpeckers elsewhere (4). Once prey is located, the aye-aye tears through the wood with its strong upper incisors and then removes the prize with its long finger (5).


Aye-aye range

Endemic to Madagascar, the aye-aye is now known to be more wide-ranging than was previously thought, occurring in dry forests in the northwest and west of the island as well as the rainforest of the east coast (4). Introduced populations also occur on the islands of Nosy Mangabe and Aye-Aye, which is located above Mananara Nord (1). However, in all localities this species appears only at very low densities (8).


Aye-aye habitat

The aye-aye is found in a range of habitats from primary rainforest to dry deciduous forest (5).


Aye-aye status

The aye-aye is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Aye-aye threats

The mammals is at risk from the widespread deforestation that is threatening all of Madagascar's primates, as forests are cleared to make way for agriculture and development (2). This species exists at low densities and therefore requires large areas of suitable habitat for a viable population to exist (2). This bizarre-looking animal is the subject of many beliefs in Madagascar and in some regions is seen as an ill omen and is persecuted as a result (2). The aye-aye will feed on plantation crops such as coconuts and lychees and may therefore be treated as pests in some areas (2).


Aye-aye conservation

A number of protected areas within Madagascar are known to hold populations of the mammals (6), including Ankarana Reserve, Ranomafana National Park, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve (8). Captive breeding colonies exist at the Duke Primate Centre, North Carolina (6), at Jersey Zoo (7) and at London Zoo (8). Due to the elusive nature of the aye-aye, population estimates are extremely difficult, but the species is believed to be in decline (2). These concerted conservation efforts will be vital in securing the future of this intriguing and unique mammal.


Find out more

To learn more about the conservation of the aye-aye visit: 



Authenticated (02/07/03) by Nick Garbutt.



A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Guard hairs
In some mammals, long, coarse hairs that protect the softer layer of fur below.
Stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Active at night.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2018)
  2. Garbutt, N. (1999) Mammals of Madagascar. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. CITES (August, 2009)
  4. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, UK.
  5. Primate Info Net – Aye-aye (August, 2009)
  6. Duke Lemur Centre – Aye-aye (August, 2009) 
  7. Durrell  – Aye-aye (January, 2018)  
  8. Garbutt, N. (July, 2003) Pers. comm.

Image credit


© Nick Garbutt / naturepl.com

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is featured in Arkive’s islands profile.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top