The Loh Down On Science

The Finger

Sometimes study subjects just give researchers the finger!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Dartmouth University's Gillian Moritz and Nathanial Dominy. They study middle fingers. Specifically, those of Madagascar's aye-aye--as in "aye-aye, captain"--lemur.

In the forest, our nocturnal friend quietly hunts beetle larvae, which live under tree bark. To find them, the aye-aye uses its very skinny and highly vibration-sensitive middle fingers. They're as long as their ring fingers, but much slimmer--and jam-packed with nerves.

In what scientists call "percussive foraging," aye-ayes tap the specialized digits on bark, feeling for hollows with something tasty moving inside.

The duo figured such fancy fingers would be energy-intensive to use. So, with infrared cameras, they thermally imaged eight captive lemurs.

And they found something very peculiar. When not in use, middle fingers were colder than the other eight. In use, however, they warmed up, matching the rest.

So follow the aye-aye and give that middle finger a rest. 'Til you absolutely need it.



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