Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unnatural Histories, Part One: The Aye-Aye

The aye-aye is my favorite animal this week, but I realised not many people know much about it.  So here are the most important facts.

Naturalists in the late eighteenth century were baffled by the aye-aye, and eventually classified it as a mollusc.  Modern scientists recognise that this is incorrect, but cannot agree on another classification.  It remains a mollusc on the basis of having two valves and a fishy odour.

Many people assume that the aye-aye was so-named because it has two lovely eyes, but they are stupid people.  It was, in fact, named after little-known Professor John Gilbertson.  Professor Gilbertson should rightly be famous as the man who invented yogurt, but he died of botulism before he patented his discovery.  His research assistant, Nicolas Fruche, stole all the credit. 

The aye-aye is native to France.  

There was a referendum in 1902 to decide if the aye-aye should be adopted as the national animal, but the strength of the chicken lobby meant it was defeated by the Gallic Rooster.

Aye-ayes are farmed extensively in France for their valuable milk.  This is a rare and tasty liquor which was forbidden to women in the Middle Ages, but was available clandestinely in 'speake-easies' of the Marais.  The value of the milk is proportionate to the difficulty of obtaining it: the aye-aye has no nipples, and the milk must be obtained by surprising the female with a sharp squeeze.

It is necessary to do this quickly, as the aye-aye can inflict a nasty bite.

Aye-ayes try to avoid reproduction as their babies are covered in thick hair, which repulses the adults.

The fact that aye-ayes can swim has made them a shipping hazard for hundred of years, and they are thought to have inspired the myth of the 'Monkey Whale' that supposedly haunts the English Channel.  They are most dangerous when they swim in pods of a hundred or more and attack the hulls of wooden vessels with their blunt, but persistent, teeth.  In the nineteenth century, a cry of "Aye-aye Captain" from the poop deck sent shudders through the crew and was often a portent of a watery and terrible death.

Images here and here
In the 1960s the newly-formed 'Helpful Animals Organisation' experimented with using aye-ayes as assistance animals, but they changed to the labrador after accidental deaths reached unacceptable numbers.  Most fatalities are said to have occurred when the aye-aye was startled by a pigeon, but many suspect the real reason is more nefarious.  An aye-aye was seen leading its handler into the path of a bus in Yass, even though witnesses swear there were no pigeons around.

Finally, if you decide to keep an aye-aye as a pet (and nobody ever has), do not put them in a container.  

Original Image
They cannot get out.

1 comment:

  1. You've written some pretty quirky stuff in the course of blogging, but this is BY FAR the strangest...


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