Aye-Aye Has Its So-Ugly-It’s-Cute Genome Sequenced

Aye-aye has its genome sequenced by science

The rare aye-aye from Madagascar, once nominated by The Inquisitr as the second ugliest animal on earth, has had its genome sequenced so that its DNA won’t be lost. Oh, the humanity. The team included researchers from Penn State along with Edward Louis, Director of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, and the new genetic information was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Among other things, the researchers produced a complete genome sequencing of three separate populations of the aye-aye, including a northern group that they described as “genetically distinct, with strong differentiation from other aye-ayes.” Aha. Is that a hint? Will the species eventually be split to form two different species?

Can there be two second-ugliest animals in the world?

If the aye-aye is new to you, that’s probably because it’s only found on the island of Madagascar — and, even there, it’s a rarely seen nocturnal species. Yet, like humans, it’s a primate. As a member of the lemur family, it’s considerably more primitive than the other primate that recently got its genome sequenced, our very near relative, the Neanderthal.

The Neanderthal, of course, is completely extinct, and its genome had to be recovered from fossil bones. The aye-aye appeared to be well on its way to extinction for awhile, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had it red-listed as an endangered species between 1986 and 2000.

More recent sightings have shown that the aye-aye has a larger population than we previously realized, but it’s still considered “near-threatened,” and it’s a good idea to monitor how it’s doing.

If you want to get to know the aye-aye better without traveling all the way to Madagascar, a large island offshore Africa, then I suggest you visit the Penn State site where Louis has published an engaging photo gallery of some of the aye-ayes he encountered along the way.

Do you think it’s really the runner-up in the world’s ugliest contest? If you ask me, the aye-aye is actually kinda cute.

[aye-aye at night in Madagascar photo courtesy Frank Vassen and Wikipedia Commons]