Diet

Many of the aye-aye's adaptations, especially its chisel-like front teeth and probelike middle finger, enable it to gain access to structurally defended food resources that are unavailable to most of the vertebrates in Madagascar (Table 1).

Figure 2. Detailed anatomical drawings of the aye-aye's skull and dental characteristics. Drawings by J. Erxleben (Owen, 1866).

The only long-term study of wild aye-ayes to date was undertaken from 1989 to 1991 on the island of Nosy Mangabe, located off the northeastern coast of Madagascar. This study found the aye-aye's diet to consist of items from three main food types: seeds, fungi, and larvae (Sterling, 1994a). Aye-ayes spent over 90% of their feeding time on only four foods: Canarium (Burseraceae) seeds, larvae, cankers from the Intsia bijuga cambial layer, and nectar (Figure 3). In the wild, aye-ayes have also been seen to consume seeds of other fruits such as the palm Orania trispatha and the tropical almond, Terminalia catappa; adult ants;

Table 1. Use of morphological characters for food acquisition by aye-ayes for different food resources (Sterling, 1994a). Used with permission from S. Karger AG, Basel.

Food resource

Incisors

Middle finger

Seeds

Canker

Nectar

Larvae Adult insect Fungus

Superior incisors are set mid-endocarp and inferior incisors gnaw into endocarp Superior incisors serve as point of leverage as the inferior teeth scrape the growth

Pries off cambium on surface of tree or liana or gnaws into seed

Scrapes fungus off stem of inflorescence

Scrapes out cotyledon

Inserts finger into flower and brings nectar to mouth with rapid back-and-forth movements Inserts finger in channel and retrieves larva Raises ant with middle finger and flicks it into open mouth a spongy fungus growing on the stems of Macaranga cuspidate and various cultivated crops, including coconuts, litchis, and mangos.

Two species of Canarium grow on Nosy Mangabe, one found at the island's higher elevations, from 250 m to 331 m above sea level, and the other found

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