October 30, 2019
The aye-aye, native to Madagascar, is known for having unusual anatomy, but a new discovery has shown they are even more bizarre than previously thought. Aye-ayes are nocturnal creatures, roughly the size of a house cat, that can echolocate using a combination of their huge ears and long bony middle finger.
These rare creatures have been difficult to study due to their scarcity, but a researcher from North Carolina State University have been in the position to closely examine the hands and wrists of this species. During this investigation the researchers discovered a pseudo-thumb, similar to what pandas have to help them grip bamboo. This small digit is made of cartilage and bone, can move in three directions, and has a unique fingerprint.
At this stage the theory is that this sixth finger may have evolved alongside the five other highly specialized digits. In other primates with opposable thumbs the thumb and fingers can come together to grip things, however, because of their unusual feeding habits the aye-aye has long spindly fingers that are not well suited to this movement. The newly discovered pseudo-thumb may compensate for the five other overspecialized, adding a great deal of gripping ability to the aye-aye’s hand.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
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