Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Fall 2020

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Primate Behavior

Committee Chair

Lori Sheeran

Second Committee Member

Kara Gabriel

Third Committee Member

Clay Arango


Aye-ayes are a species of lemur with several unique characteristics. They have the largest brain to body size ratio of any lemur and are the largest nocturnal primate. Insect larvae are a dietary staple. They use their elongated third digit to tap on structures such as tree bark and their large ears to listen for auditory changes caused by the larvae burrowing through the wood, which creates cavities in the wood. They use their rodent-like incisors to chew a hole in the wood and insert their third digit to probe the cavities, feeling for the larvae. After locating their prey, they use this digit to extract the larvae from the cavity and put it into their mouth. This complex extractive foraging behavior might lead to handedness in acquiring food. I set out to test handedness in aye-ayes while feeding. Using video recordings, I observed which hand was used while captive aye-ayes foraged. My study was based at the Duke Lemur Center (Durham, North Carolina, USA). I questioned whether aye-ayes would have hand preferences for percussive and extractive foraging behaviors, and whether hand preference was an individual or population-wide trait. I also tested whether the type of food eaten influenced individual or group-level hand preferences. Through my research, I found that, overall, no hand preference tended to be most common except in behaviors such as Digit-feed where handedness varied. These findings contrast with previous studies in other species of lemurs that have reported a species wide hand preference rather than individuality. These results may provide an essential element in the link between brain size and handedness in non-human primate species.

Available for download on Thursday, November 27, 2025