Do Aye-Ayes See in Color?

Thursday, February 25, 2010
By Matt C

photo source from wikimedia commons

The name of this animal is called Aye-aye. This animal can only be found on the island of Madagascar. This animal is very rare and also hard to find when looking. They’re usually black or dark brown with a very bushy tail. They have big eyes, slender fingers, and very large, but sensitive ears. They have pointed claws at their hands and feet.These extremely rare animals don’t look much like primates, but DNA wise they are related to chimpanzees, apes, and even humans! Aye-ayes usually live in trees in a rainforest and rarely come down to the earth’s surface.

They stay in a ball-like nest full of leaves and branches. They eat insects from trees and tap on the tree with their middle finger for the bugs to come out.  It also uses its middle finger to fish out the bugs. Local people say the Aye-aye is ill luck.

Ok, now to the question … Do Aye-Ayes see in color? Well, according to this article the answer to this question is no they do not. A team of scientists did a study to see if these remarkable creatures can see in color. With a year and a half long study and rechecking results twice the answer was no.

photo by cenz

The scientist used many tests anywhere from DNA tests to seeing how the Aye-Ayes react to different colors. The Aye-Ayes did not react to any colors therefore the scientists believe that Aye-Ayes don’t see in color. The scientist used eight different Aye-Ayes to do this test: male and female. Male or female didn’t make a change at all. Both had very similar results.

Why is it important to know if Aye-Ayes can see in color?  How do you think this test should be re-done by other scientists to make sure the results are correct?

25 Responses to “Do Aye-Ayes See in Color?”

  1. Vasiliki

    Aye-ayes’ color vision could of degraded over evolutionary time. There is also the possibility that only the eight aye-ayes that were tested could have not been able to see color. But, a lot of aye-ayes cannot be tested for this because they are endangered.

  2. Joseph

    Great post Matt! I learned a lot, including the fact that I have never heard of this animal before this post. Some other information about this animal is that Aye-ayes have pointed claws on all their fingers and toes, except for their opposable big toes, which enable them to dangle from branches. They are also the largest nocturnal primate in the world, weighing up to about 6 pounds. They are omnivores and their favorite type of food are fruits. They have sharp teeth to tear into wood, so they can then pick out grub and insects with their elongated finger. It’s important to see if Aye-ayes could see in color to help trace back the evolution of color vision. The theory was that nocturnal primates cannot use color vision to see, and so the genes that they have for color vision accumulated mutations and degraded over evolutionary time. However, results show that this theory is totally wrong and that the animal’s color vision is not degrading. In fact, they did not find a single mutation in it. The opsin genes are absolutely fully functional, which is completely counter to how they had believed color vision evolved in nocturnal mammals.

  3. Amy

    Great job Matt! I’ve heard of this type of animal before but I haven’t heard of this topic involving it. I think that this topic is really interesting and attention grabbing. From the article that was in this post, I learned about the study and that it gave a new insight into the evolution of color vision in nocturnal animals. They discovered that there were no mutations in the genes, which is the opposite of what they were expecting.
    I think that they should have done the test on wild aye-aye’s, but since they are endangered this cannot be accomplished. One of the main reasons that they are endangered is because their habitat is being destroyed for agricultural and developmental uses. The aye-ayes moved to plantations because of their loss of habitat and the farmers are killing them because they are eating their crops. Also aye-ayes are seen in some cultures as bringers of death and because of this, they are killed immediately.

  4. phoenixia

    Primates have different types of vision Old world monkeys, apes ,and humans have trichromatic color vision , but only the humans in this particular grouping have polymorphic vision. New world monkeys have more of a polymorphic color vision , in addition to a trichromatic and dichromatic colr vision.
    Species of nocturnal primates have no color vision such as the owl monkey and the prosimian monkey. It has been said that the early primates were nocturnal , which makes nocturnal species of primates of interest. It has been found that in both primates the M or L pigments ,which either type absorbs middle to long wavelengths , have been present in their retina , while the S pigment has not been evident in their retinas. Both types are found to be needed in order to see color .

  5. Rohit

    Great Post Matt. I learned a lot from your post and I never knew that this animal existed. From some research I found out that Aye-Ayes are nocturnal and they spend the day curled up in a ball-like nest of leaves and branches. Many people native to Madagascar consider the aye-aye bad luck. They are usually killed on sight because of their bad luck. In 1984 the Aye-Aye was the largest nocturnal primate in the world. Aye-Aye are now an endangered species.

  6. Vincent

    Great post Matt. The Aye-ayes are very interesting creatures. Many natives of Madagascar believe they are a sign of bad luck, because of this they have been hunted close to extinction.They are also believer to be the only primates to use echolocation to hunt. They can weigh up to four pounds and can live up to twenty years. They use their fingers pull insects out of trees and to eat fruits. The Aye-ayes live all of their lives in the trees, and will never touch the ground.

  7. Awesome Matt! Aye Ayes are really interesting, I never heard of them before today. After reading your post I did some research of my own to found out about how horses’ see the world. The average horse has 20\30 or 20\40 vision, which is much better than dogs (20\75) or cats (20\100). Horses can see almost 360 degrees around them. A horse only has two blind spots, directly in front of them and directly behind them. Horses have trouble focusing on images more than ten inches in front of their face. However, a horse doesn’t have a very good sense of depth in an object (nine inches). That is why when jumping courses (oxers especially) the riders guidance is so important. Horses’ also have night vision so to speak. Their pupils are rectangular slits and have a tapetum that reflects light.

  8. christian

    Great post Matt. The aye ayes are awsome, I agree with Vasaliki. The number of of aye ayes decreasing does affect how the animals can be tested. The popular question “can dogs see color” is answered in this website, dogs can see color but just not as vibrant as humans. that could also be linked to the aye ayes vision question.

  9. Great post Matt. The reason why aye ayes’ need to see color is to identify between different creatures. Forests are full of diverse and extremely dangerous creatures that mostly identify themselves by their bright oustanding colors for instance the Eastern Coral Snake or also the King Cobra. Just as in snakes, the same thing applies to spiders and other insects that inhabit the Magascar forest, and so it is vital for the Aye Aye to be able to differentiate colors for safety against predators and even on its food, which may be venomous.

  10. victor

    Cool post Matt. To aswer your question, it’s important bucause it could help determine the roots of this cool animal. After doing some research i discovered that this animal was a Mammal. So i decided to look up a Mammals vision, this site states that Mammals such as Humans have well developed eye sight. Which contradicts the statement made by the scientists.

  11. Jack

    Thanks for the interesting Aye-Aye eye information Matt. As for uses of the knowledge, it is always good to learn about the world around us. How other animals see color and other things like perspective may help us understand how we see color better. For more tests, it would be a good idea to use different color coded objects. By replacing certain objects with other things of different color after letting the Aye-Ayes use the object, we can see if they react to the object in the same way they did the other object of the same color. As we learned in class, it is more likely for men to be colorblind then women, as guys only have one X chromasone. On the other side, it is possible for women to see a wider range of colors than the average human. The world of color perception is deep, and the more we understand and can explain, the more we can eventually accomplish.

  12. Carl

    Matt, this is a great post! When I went to Science Online with Ms. Baker, we visited the Duke Lemur center. There, we got to see the Aye-Aye that they have in their exhibit. Since it was winter, he was kept in the nocturnal building with all of their other nocturnal animals. He was very fascinating and his elongated middle fingers were very cool. The tour guide explained that he would use his ears to see if there were any insects in the tree he was on, and if there were, he would stick his middle finger into the tree and pull them out to eat them. To add on to the fact that the natives believe that the Aye-Aye is bad luck, the natives hunt the Aye-Aye, which caused it to be endangered and protected by the law.
    Is it possible that the Aye-Aye sees in a different way besides color vision, like how snakes have thermal sensors, to help them protect themselves from the natives developed by evolution?

  13. Adam

    Very intersting post Matt! I knew of this animal before I read this post, however, I never knew that they can’t see in color. I searched about the Aye-Aye, and this PDF file I found said that the Aye-aye’s are currently an endangered species. There are currently 2,500 adult Aye-aye’s today, and the number of them are still decressing. The reason why they are an endangered species is because of the loss in habitat and native people because they believe that it is an omen of death. The country is trying to set up a private reserve for them, but even that is not working. For more information on the Aye-aye, check out the link below.

  14. Deanna

    Great post Matt. Very interesting topic to be discussed. According to this site: Aye- ayes actually do posses the genes to see in color, even though they are nocturnal. One zoologist and his colleagues took on the responsibility to study three genes. One in particular was called opsins, which are responsible for color vision in humans. Aye- ayes come from an ancient mammal strain, humans and monkeys. However, over 6 billion years an evolutionary change has occurred and aye- ayes are completely nocturnal.

  15. Anna

    Aye-Aye, what an interesting name. Matt this article was very well done. It touched on many important points about the characteristics of this animal. This gave me a better understanding of how rare, sensitive, and unique it is to its environment, and how the Aye-Aye has evolved. I would have never guessed that the Aye-Aye is in one way or another related to humans through DNA. As mentioned Aye-Ayes spend a majority of their time in trees and not on the earth’s surface, this might be a necessity to be able to survive against animal predators and humans. In relation to the methods of testing, I have found an alternate method that I find interesting. I believe that the tests would be more effective when preformed on specific animals that are known to see in color, and on animals that are known to not see in color. I suppose that the results of theses tests would be more determining. One of the topics of my research was that the solution to seeing in color is to be able to make a distinction between wavelengths of color spectrum. When animals can only see in two colors, it is known as dichromacy. For example monkeys are dichromatic; they see mostly blues and greens. This isn’t helpful for them to survive because they cannot distinguish between fruits that are ripe and fruits that are not, this relates to their digestion and nutrient intake. If this is the same for Aye-Aye’s this might also be a reason for why this species is becoming extinct.

    This is where I found my information:

    A question that I have is how does being nocturnal effect your ability to see in color? Another question I have is, if Natives wanted to hunt and kill Aye-Aye’s did they eat them afterwards? Are there any cultures that eat this animal?

  16. Great post Matt and great comment Anna. As it has been determined that the Aye Aye can see some colors through studies that show Aye Ayes being able to see in colors because of a fully functional green opsin gene. This gene uses opsin proteins in order to recognize colors, which is astounding because usually nocturnal mammals are not expected to fully recognize colors with a lack of light. Take for instance a boy eating jelly beans in the middle of the night, he will not be able to differentiate the colors easily. While an Aye Aye, because of its genes is able to recognize these colors easily even when there is a minimum amount of light. These similarities prove that we as humans may be related to the Aye Ayes and have gained both part of our color vision and nocturnal vision from a similar ancestor.


  17. Michael L.

    I really like your post Matt. It was a rare but also interesting topic. Aye Ayes scientific name is Daubentonia madagascariensis and to add to the first part of your post, they don’t only eat grubs from trees, they are omnivores eating different nut and nectar from the Traveler palm tree. They are also the largest nocturnal primates. The reason this nocturnal primate doesn’t have color vision is because they would need bright light to detect colors and night time does not supply these animals with enough light so they don’t see in color.

  18. Alex

    This is a really fascinating post, Matt. I never knew that the aye-aye’s had such a distinctive compilation of physical features (as you mentioned in the first paragraph). To answer one of your questions, I think it’s extremely important to understand the aye-aye’s vision. The comprehension of other animal’s abilities can not only help protect those animals, but these could facts could eventually aid mankind in evolution- but potentially create new cures or treatments (like the horseshoe crabs we learned about in class).
    Here’s a great site about a study done on the aye-aye’s vision:

  19. Marielle

    Humans and some other primates have three genes that give color vision that are called opsins. There is one for blue, one for green and one for red. The aye ayes were chosen because they are nocturnal. Since nocturnal animals may not need color vision to see at night, the genes were speculated to have deteriorated over time. After tests were turn it was determined that the genes were completely intact with no mutations. This changed how the scientist viewed how color vision developed in nocturnal animals.

  20. Guy

    Great post Matt! I really enjoyed learning about an animal I knew nothing about. In my opinion the Aye- Aye is one of the ugliest animals I’ve ever seen. Also I find them very interesting. The fact that they don’t see in color is very interesting. I found out some more information on the Aye-Aye. Aye Ayes have very sharp claws and primate like hands. The average life span for an Aye Aye is 20 years long. They are mammals and they are Omnivore. They are also very small only 14 to 17 inches from head to tail. They also only weigh about four pounds. In fact their bushy tail is bigger than their body. Did you know that Aye- Ayes are the only primates that use echolocation to find prey. Echolocation means to find prey by using the prey’s echo’s.

  21. Adam

    Great job Matt!! I never knew of this animal before an this post explained all about the animal very well. To me, I thought that the experiment could have been a lot better than it was. UAccording to the scientific method, it says that the experiment needs to be done multiple times in order to make sure that the first result wasn’t an accident. Well, this experiment only done twice, and for an experiment this experiment is really important on the study of Aye-aye’s so they should do it four or five times. Another thing I noticed is that they only used eight Aye-aye’s in their experiment. That is really poor because as the scientific method also states that the more subjects you have in a experiment, the margine of error gets slimmer and slimmer. According to these stats, if you have 10,000 subjects, there would be a 1% change that there was an error in a experiment, as appose to 10 subjects which would mean that there would a 31% chance that their was an error in the experiment. The only problem about that is that because Aye-aye’s are an endangered species, you can’t get a lot of them in the first place. Have they fixed these flaws, they would have a much more convincing conclusion.

  22. Chris Muro

    Great post Matt. Ireally liked it and learned a lot. The Aye-Aye doesn’t really need color vision according to the scientist Verelli.
    Verelli talks about how the aye-aye is a primate and is related to humans in the evolutionary line, but unlike humans the aye-aye can’t see in color. According to Verelli it isn’t really important for the aye-aye to have color vision because it is mostly out at nightime. Verrelli also mentioned that it is a nocturnal primate. Nocturnal animals don’t need color vision at night. They only need to see the lights and darks to see for predators and their prey. So it really isn’t that important for this nocturnal animal to have color vision to live in its enviroment.

  23. bobby

    this is a really cool blog, and you have great research matt. i did some research and according to what i found, no animals can see in color because they do not have the rods or cones that humans have that make them see and distinguish the colors. for example dogs and cats caqnt see the difference between green and orange it just looks grey

  24. Livie

    This is an awesome blog, i never knew that much about Aye-Aye’s until now. I think they’re really cute, and this blog is interesting, i’m a big animal lover, good job with this.

  25. Livie

    Well, i think they should also try, young and old. That could make a huge difference, because as you get older, your body changes, so what if when the Aye-Aye was young, it could see in color? But as it got older, it started to lose that sight? Did they say what ages the Aye-Ayes were that they tested? Maybe it’ll help if they test it.


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