Genus Daubentonia

E. Geoffroy, 1795

General characteristics

At present, the family Daubentoniidae with only the genus Daubentonia, consists of one single species, Daubentonia madagascariensis, and has characteristics quite different from the other lemurs.

The Aye-aye’s size is comparable to that of Lemur. The pelage, for the most part black, consists of short hairs and of long and stiff hairs. The face is short and the ears have large pinnae. The well-developed incisors have a continuing growth and the dental formula is reduced in number. The third finger of the hand is long, thin and very mobile. Daubentonia has only inguinal mammae.

It is a nocturnal animal, in general solitarily living. In the daytime it stays in a nest of leaves and branches, which is usually high up in a large tree. The animal is found in what is left of the coastal forests in the East and Northwest.
The animal is not very common and it is the object of various conservation programs. It is feeding mainly on xylophagous larvae. Its main threat is the vanishing of the primary forest.


The genus Daubentonia is clearly defined by its’ unique characters that separates it from other extant lemurs. According to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the name Daubentonia must be used for this taxon, because it is given before the name Cheiromys proposed by G. Cuvier in 1800.

To the first biologists who studied this animal, the systematic position was quite confusing; and it remained puzzling for almost the last hundred years. They believed that they had to do with a sort of squirrel and Gmelin classified it within the rodents.
Thanks to a specimen sent by Sandwith in 1859, Owen could clearly show the fundamental differences between the Aye-aye and the rodents, in his magnificent work on the anatomy of the Daubentonia (Owen, 1866).
The difficulties in the systematics explain why many names are given to the animal by different authors. At present it is distinguished as the only species in the genus: Daubentonia madagascariensis (Gmelin, 1788). Bones, corresponding to a, now extinct, large sized form are described to another species: Daubentonia robusta (Lamberton, 1934), which until recently lived in the Southwest of Madagascar.