North Carolina

A rare ‘creature of the night’ born in North Carolina is one of only 25 in the U.S.

In the words of Melisandre, “The night is dark and full of terrors” — or, in this case, lemurs.

Much like her namesake, a rare “creature of the night” was born in North Carolina at the Duke Lemur Center last month. Melisandre the aye-aye is one of only 25 in the United States.

“Aye-ayes are nocturnal lemurs,” the center said in a Facebook post announcing her birth on Wednesday. “Hence little ‘Mel’ is filmed in red light only — appropriate for our very own ‘Red Woman’!”

Aye-ayes — which use their skeletal middle finger as a sensory organ, sport huge ears and appear to have what some would consider “crazy eyes” — were once one of the most endangered mammals in the world, according to the Lemur Center.

Villagers from their native Madagascar previously regarded the rather bizarre-looking creatures as an evil omen, believing the aye-aye could put a curse on someone merely by pointing its middle finger at them, the center said.

Aye-ayes were consequently “killed on sight to avoid bringing bad luck onto an entire village.”

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Melisandre, nearly two weeks old, on the scale Aug. 26. Sara Clark

But curator Cathy Williams said aye-ayes are some of the gentlest lemur species.

“They’re not at all aggressive, they’re extremely curious and energetic and they’re very intelligent — they learn very quickly,” she said.

Aye-ayes have been bred in captivity since the early 1990s, according to the center, which housed nine as of 2016.

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Melisandre on Sept. 19. David Haring

Sara Clark, director of communications at the Lemur Center, said all of its aye-ayes are “named after witches, wizards and other ghoulish beings” because of their nocturnal nature.

“Merlin, Poe, Morticia, Elphaba, and Nosferatu are just some of our aye-aye names, and Melisandre falls within this theme,” she told McClatchy news group in an email Thursday.

Melisandre goes by Mel for short, after one of the center’s longtime employees, Mel Simmons, with whom she shares a birthday, Clark said.

She was born Aug. 13 to two longtime residents of the Lemur Center: 23-year-old Ardrey and 9-year-old Grendel.

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Melisandre was born between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Aug. 13, 2019. David Haring

Mel isn’t available for public viewing, but her 36-year-old grandmother, Endora, is.

The aye-ayes are also available for “symbolic adoption,” where supporters who help pay for their care are given regular updates and photos from the center.

Each aye-aye costs the Lemur Center $8,400 per year — “and they can live into their mid-30s!”

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Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.
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