This week’s Monday Organism is not going to be about evolution, and also, not going to be about one organism. Since I rather keep these posts non-technical (not an easy thing to do), I’m going to write a little exposee on two truly amazing mammals: the Aye-Aye and the Flying Squirrel.
A.The Aye-Aye – Daubentonia madagascariensis
The Aye-Aye is one of those rare occurences that can only happen in a place like Madagascar. That might not be 100% accurate, but the fact Madagascar is ecologically detached (for land animals, anyway) from mainland Africa has probably done some evolutionary magic to create the wondrous biota living there.
The Aye-Aye has a somewhat (for Primatology laymen anyway) esoteric taxonomy, it is a Strepsirrhine. Strepsirrhines are what can only be reasonably called “wet-nosed monkeys”, although the Aye-Aye, at least, has some attributes that make it quite unlike the normal “monkey image” in our head.
The Aye-Aye looks like a mix of a rodent, a squirrel, a monkey, and a demon. I say “demon” because the Aye-Aye is a nocturnal primate (and the largest known, at that) – which means he has quite large eyes that glow ominously at night (the presence of the Aye-Aye is considered ominous in Malagasy villages).
The most distinguishing feature in the Aye-Aye, however, is in fact his middle finger. The Aye-Aye’s have an elongated middle finger with an alarmingly developed “fingernail”, although this finger is distinct mainly due to its unusual, “evil-witch” bone-structure. This finger is used to forage food by probing tree-holes for grubs, seeds, etc. This is basically the same thing a woodpecker does, only with fingers!
B. The Flying Squirrel – Pteromyini
The Flying Squirrel is a not just an amazing animal, it’s also a visual (and intellectually painful) reply to the notorious creationist question: “what good is half a wing?”. Well, apparently, it’s a world of goodness, at least for the flying squirrel. The Flying Squirrel is a moniker for a family of species who all have the same distinct “gliding organ”: the Patagium: Flying Squirrels have an extension of skin on their back not unlike that of bats, which can be steered to control their gliding in the air (making them actually “gliders” and not really “flyers”, hence “half a wing”). They also use their tales as stabilizing and to monitor their speed (it can be used for “braking” when the squirrel needs to “land”).