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Percussive Foraging: Stimuli for Prey Location by Aye-Ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis)


Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) use the thin middle finger to tap on wood in search of subsurface cavities containing insect larvae. When a cavity is located, they gnaw away wood until the prey can be extracted. Previous researchers suggested that acoustical cues reveal cavity location. We designed five studies to identify the cavity features that provide acoustical cues. When cavities were backfilled with gelatin or acoustical foam, excavation was still successful, suggesting that the reverberation of sound in air-filled cavities is not necessary for detection. Moreover, when the density of cavity content was varied, there was no difference in excavation frequency. On the other hand, a one-dimensional break in the subsurface wood was an effective stimulus for excavation. These studies suggest that a simple interface beneath the surface is sufficient to elicit excavation and that neither prey nor cavity nor even small air pockets are necessary to elicit the behavior. These results raise provocative questions as to how the aye-aye manages to forage efficiently.

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Correspondence to Carl J. Erickson.

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Erickson, C.J., Nowicki, S., Dollar, L. et al. Percussive Foraging: Stimuli for Prey Location by Aye-Ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis). International Journal of Primatology 19, 111–122 (1998).

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  • aye-aye
  • Daubentonia madagascariensis
  • foraging
  • insect larvae
  • acoustics