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Column: Strange animals and strange questions
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

Do you know what an aye-aye is?

No, I don’t mean what a pirate says to his captain. I mean the animal. Yes, there’s an animal called the aye-aye. These are things you learn when you’re a parent.

I don’t remember learning about such exotic animals when I was a child. There were tigers and elephants, maybe red pandas and spider monkeys. No aye-ayes.

If you haven’t heard of an aye-aye, you’re probably curious now. It’s a type of lemur. 

“They are the world’s largest nocturnal primate at around 15 inches long with a fluffy tail that is longer than their bodies,” according to the Duke Lemur Center.

They’re also ugly. And they’re thought to bring bad luck, probably because they’re so ugly.

You’ll now have to Google them to see just how ugly they are. That’s another thing you do when you’re a parent: Google pictures of strange animals, sometimes even common animals.

What does a mole look like? I should probably know, but my oldest has posed the question, and I, in fact, cannot say what a mole looks like.

Is it the same as the voles my pet cat used to leave on our doorstep?

Nope. Not the same at all. But I learned vole is another word for field mice. And another thing I don’t know is why Little Bunny Foo Foo kept bopping those field mice on the head. I don’t know what a goon looks like, either, but neither does Google.

Naked mole rat
Naked mole rats are rodents native to eastern Africa. - photo by Associated Press

A mole is a funny looking creature, especially the naked mole rat, which is also ugly — the kind of ugly to give you nightmares. The naked mole rat isn’t actually a mole, though. 

Another strange creature I’ve learned about as a parent is the tree kangaroo. Of course I’ve heard of kangaroos, those Australian creatures that hop around on the ground and take care of little joeys in their pouch. The tree kangaroo is something like that, with less hopping and more climbing. 

These smaller creatures also live in Australia, but most live in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Children spend a lot of time learning about animals. It starts with teaching them what farm animals say. The cow says moo, the pig says oink and so on. I’m not sure why we teach them that. It’s about as useful as the precalculus I suffered through my junior year. At least some students go on to use that precalculus in engineering or other math-based fields. I’m not sure even a farmer needs to say “moo” to his cow or “oink” to his pig. And don’t ask me what an aye-aye says. I don’t know.

My oldest is pretty good at realistic animal noises, though. What does a dolphin say? That’s not something I can type, but he can make that chirpy noise in his throat so well you might think you’re at the ocean. 

We’ve got one children’s book where the dolphins say “click-clickety-click.” That doesn’t exactly capture it, and I sure don’t sound like a dolphin when I read those words out loud at bedtime.

Dolphins are pretty smart and can call one another by name, or a signature whistle, according to National Geographic. Maybe my kid could come up with his own dolphin name and teach it to a pod of dolphins. 

I did learn a good bit about dolphins as a child. There are pink dolphins and some that even live in fresh water. The bottlenose one is the best, though.

It’s certainly a lot cuter than an aye-aye.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.

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