Anatomy is important, but need not be destiny: Novel uses of the thumb in aye-ayes compared to other lemurs

Aye-ayes (. Daubentonia madagascerensis) have highly specialized hands with long digits, especially the thin middle one (D3), which is used for extracting food, such as beetle larvae, under bark. Due to the elongation of their fingers, including the thumb, it is presumed that aye-ayes have a rather limited capacity for delicate manipulation of objects. However, studies have reported independent movement of digits D3 and D4, and one report noted a seemingly independent thumb (D1) movement in holding food. Sixteen captive adult aye-ayes were videotaped feeding on a diverse range of foods so as to document how the thumb is used during food holding. To determine if the patterns observed were unique to aye-ayes, 24 individuals from 9 other species of lemurs were also videotaped. Two patterns of thumb use idiosyncratic to aye-ayes and one other lemur, the sifaka (. Propithecus verreauxi), were identified: (1) when holding a food item in one hand, the thumb was used to secure the food, with the other digits playing a secondary role; (2) when holding a food item with both hands, the thumbs once again took a predominant role in securing the food. In the majority of these cases, whether held by one or two thumbs, the thumbs curled around the item, but some descriptive evidence is provided that suggests that aye-ayes exaggerate the role of the thumbs by shifting the hold to the outer edge. The novel uses of the thumbs in aye-ayes demonstrate that brain mechanisms can sometimes override the behavioral (or motor) limitations imposed by the morphology of the body. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

Aye-ayes (. Daubentonia madagascerensis) have highly specialized hands with long digits, especially the thin middle one (D3), which is used for extracting food, such as beetle larvae, under bark. Due to the elongation of their fingers, including the thumb, it is presumed that aye-ayes have a rather limited capacity for delicate manipulation of objects. However, studies have reported independent movement of digits D3 and D4, and one report noted a seemingly independent thumb (D1) movement in holding food. Sixteen captive adult aye-ayes were videotaped feeding on a diverse range of foods so as to document how the thumb is used during food holding. To determine if the patterns observed were unique to aye-ayes, 24 individuals from 9 other species of lemurs were also videotaped. Two patterns of thumb use idiosyncratic to aye-ayes and one other lemur, the sifaka (. Propithecus verreauxi), were identified: (1) when holding a food item in one hand, the thumb was used to secure the food, with the other digits playing a secondary role; (2) when holding a food item with both hands, the thumbs once again took a predominant role in securing the food. In the majority of these cases, whether held by one or two thumbs, the thumbs curled around the item, but some descriptive evidence is provided that suggests that aye-ayes exaggerate the role of the thumbs by shifting the hold to the outer edge. The novel uses of the thumbs in aye-ayes demonstrate that brain mechanisms can sometimes override the behavioral (or motor) limitations imposed by the morphology of the body. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

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