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The Curious Case of the Aye-Aye’s Middle Finger

The
aye-aye, an odd-looking lemur indigenous to Madagascar, has a very unusual
extra-long middle finger that it uses to forage for food.

Scientists have discovered that the unusual finger is even more unusual,
as the aye-aye can thermoregulate the temperature of that finger by as
much as 6C:

When not in use, the finger appeared black on thermal images. This
indicated a large difference in temperature between it and the white
(hot) ears and eyes.

But when the animal was looking for food, the finger rose in temperature
by up to 6C.

"We think the relatively cooler temperatures of the digit
when not in use could be related to its [long, thin] form," said
Ms Moritz.

"This form results in a relatively high surface-to-volume
ratio [but] such a ratio is bad for retaining heat."

In order to sense the vibrations of beetle larvae through the bark
of a tree, the finger is "packed with sensitive nerve endings",
the scientist explained.

Because of its specialist sense receptors, using this tapping tool
is very costly in terms of energy.

"Like any delicate instrument, it is probably best deactivated
when not in use," Ms Moritz told BBC Nature.

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Date
January 19th, 2012

Author
Stranger to the World

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