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Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

Daily activity cycle

  • Nocturnal
    • Active at night and rest alone in daytime (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
      • Onset of activity variable from one night to another; from 30 minutes before sunset to 3 hours after sunset (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
      • Decrease activity/rest 4-6 hours after emerging (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
      • End activity shortly before dawn, though sometime after sunrise (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
    • Sleep in nests, tree forks, or vine tangles; >9 m from the ground (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Mittermeier et al. 2010; Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
      • Provides protective cover from predators and temperature variation (Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
      • Nests are quickly constructed (c.1 hr) from small tree branches and vines; each is maintained or added to over time (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
        • Bowl-shaped nests (Petter and Peyrieras 1970; Schwitzer et al. 2013)
        • Often placed at a branch fork (Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
      • Frequently move from one location to another and may construct many nests (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Petter and Peyrieras 1970)

Nighttime activity profile (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994 unless otherwise noted)

  • Move about during much of the night
    • Movement accounts for 1/2 of all observations (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Andriamasimanana 1994)
  • Rest c.19% of the night
    • Remain high in the canopy during longer periods of rest, though shorter breaks occur at lower levels
    • Wrap tail around the body
  • Feed (c. 14%) and self-groom (c. 12%)

Home Range

Home Range Size (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994 unless otherwise noted)

  • Males inhabit larger ranges than females (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Dixson 2012)
    • Food availability likely influences female range use
    • Socio-sexual activity likely influences male range use

Range overlap (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994)

  • Gender specific differences in overlap
    • Male ranges overlap; no overlap in female ranges
  • Males regularly visit the ranges of females

Social Groups

Solitary most often (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Sterling and Richard 1995)

  • Groups of 3-4 may forage and travel together
  • Aggregations may occur at some feeding sites
    • Male-male interactions account for the majority of encounters between aye-ayes
      • Brief encounters are often agonistic resulting in chases, fights, or displacement of one individual by the other
      • Tandem foraging not uncommon; 20% of all encounters
    • Female-female interactions infrequent and aggressive in nature
    • Male-female pairs forage in tandem, on occasion
        • Most frequent form of interaction
        • Accounts for 30% of heterosexual interaction time

Territorial Behavior

None known (Andriamasimanana 1994)

Social Interactions

Aggression (from Sterling and Richard 1995)

  • Chase and fight
  • Physical contact uncommon
    • In the wild, females never observed to touch conspecifics outside of mating

Affiliative behaviors

  • Few observed in the wild (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
    • Mutual grooming (from Sterling and Richard 1995)
      • Adult males observed grooming one another when one entered the nest of the other
  • In managed care, mothers and infants allo-groom (from Winn 1989)
    • Mother and young hang from a limb close to one another
    • Each clasps the other with its hands and licks the partner's face

Play (from Feistner and Ashbourne 1994; Winn 1994b)

  • Infants play alone and with their mothers
    • Begin play c. 2.5-3 months of age
  • Jump on branches
  • Run along the ground or over branches
  • Wrestle
    • Embrace one another and roll on the ground
    • Nibble on one another's necks
  • Chase



  • Gender specific variation
    • Males vocalize more frequently than females, one study (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
  • Limited vocal repertoire, for a primate (Stranger and Macedonia 1994)
    • Screech (from Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Affiliative call; audible in close proximity and over longer distances (Sterling and Richard 1995)
      • Highly variable call
      • Heard when individuals feed in close proximity together or prior to movement (Sterling and Richard 1995)
    • Scream/'Creee' (from Andriamasimanana 1994; Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Tonal, high-amplitude calls
        • High-pitched, long-range call
      • Emitted during capture and aggressive interactions, and as communication between mothers and infants (Stranger and Macedonia 1994)
        • Typically given when individuals are > 10 m apart
      • Female may scream to resist sexual advances by a male
    • Plea (from Petter and Peyrieras 1970; Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Structurally variable tonal call; lower-arousal, closed-mouth version of the scream
      • Distress call; emitted during struggle to escape restraint or when encountering another individual at close proximity (Sterling and Richard 1995)
    • Whimper (from Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Brief, tonal call with descending frequency sweeps
      • Emitted during feeding or by females seeking to terminate copulation
    • Sneeze/'Ron-tsit' (from Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Distress call; similar to the ground disturbance alarm given by the sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli and P. verreauxi)
      • Emitted when encountering humans, conspecifics, or other lemur species
      • Given in alarm or agonism
    • Snort (from Stranger and Macedonia 1994 unless otherwise noted)
      • Broad, atonal call; possibly produced as air is forced through the nostrils
      • Distress call; emitted when pacing and exploring arboreal pathways; particularly when approached by conspecifics
    • 'Ggnnoff' - lower pitch, close range call (Andriamasimanana 1994)
      • Given when individuals are < 10 m apart
    • 'Hai-hai' - loud, two-part call (Stranger and Macedonia 1994)
      • Emitted while fleeing the nest; heard during capture attempts

Olfaction/Scent Marking

  • Urine mark
    • Deposit urine around the nest either on the ground or on oblique branches (Andriamasimanana 1994; Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
    • Glands along the distal urogenital tract likely contribute to the chemical signal within urine (Delbarco-Trillo et al. 2013)
  • Possible scent marking behaviors
    • Rub neck, cheeks, and anogenital region against branches (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Sterling and Richard 1995; Winn 1994a)
  • Able to discriminate scents of conspecifics (Price and Feistner 1994)



  • Travel quadrupedally (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994 unless otherwise noted)
    • Along branches to move within and between trees; may move along the ground at times
      • Move slowly on the ground; not reaching over 3.6 km/hr (2.2 mi/hr) (Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
    • Stand bipedally on hindfeet to reach a higher branch


  • Scale vertical tree trunks rapidly (from Ancrenaz et al. 1994 unless otherwise noted)
    • Ascend with all 4 limbs; often release forefeet and hop upwards with the hindlimbs
    • Descend either head first or tail first (Curtis and Feistner 1994)
  • Jump to dismount trees (from Petter and Peyrieras 1970)
    • Land on all four feet


  • Limited leaping abilities, compared to other lemurs (Petter and Peyrieras 1970; Schwitzer et al. 2013)
    • Hesitate to jump across distances > 2 m (Ancrenaz et al. 1994)
    • Often pause after jumping across larger gaps before proceeding (Petter and Peyrieras 1970)

Interspecies Interactions


  • Minimal direct evidence of predation (from Richard and Dewar 1991; Mittermeier et al. 2013 unless otherwise noted)
    • Few predators other than humans
      • Largest Malagasy carnivores are 7-12 kg
    • Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox)
      • Prey on other lemur species of similar size (Richard and Dewar 1991)
    • Possible predation of young by snakes, harrier hawk (Polyboroides radiatus) and other raptors (Richard and Dewar 1991)

Possible symbiotic interactions (Erickson 1995a; Pollock et al. 1985; Rakotoarison et al. 2010)

  • Microhylid frogs
    • Cavities excavated by aye-aye may be used as breeding sites; more research needed

Other Behaviors

Comfort behaviors

  • Self-groom with hands, feet and mouth
    • Scratch and wipe the face while seated/crouched (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Winn 1989)
      • Elongate 3rd finger used to clean near the eyes, ear, and nose (Winn 1989)
    • Inspect and clean the body while suspended by the hindlimbs or by both limbs on one side (Ancrenaz et al. 1994; Winn 1989)
      • Hang from the hindfeet and lick the anogenital region (Winn 1989)
      • Suspend laterally (from both limbs on one side) to scratch the belly (Winn 1989)

Aye-aye Nest

an Aye-Aye in a nest

Nest constructed by an aye-aye in managed care at the Duke Lemur center. Aye-aye sleep in tree top nests at night; often moving from one location to another. Researchers searching for aye-ayes often do so by finding their nests and waiting for the animal to emerge.

Image credit: © D Haring/Duke Lemur Center. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Ancrenaz et al. (1994)
Andriamasimanana (1994)
Curtis and Feistner (1994)
Delbarco-Trillo et al. (2013)
Dixson (2012)
Erickson (1995a)
Feistner and Ashbourne (1994)
Mittermeier et al. (2010)
Petter and Peyrieras (1970)
Pollock et al. (1985)
Price and Feistner (1994)
Rakotoarison et al. (2010)
Richard and Dewar (1991)
Schwitzer et al. (2013)
Sterling and Richard (1995)
Stranger and Macedonia (1994)
Winn (1989)
Winn (1994b)

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