Bush babies, or galagos, are small, nocturnal primates which range in size from cat-sized to mouse-sized. They are found in the forests and woodlands of Africa south of the Sahara. In some of these areas (i.e. the range of the lesser bush baby (Galago moholi)) nighttime winter temperatures can drop to as low as 22 Fahrenheit! In Africa, up to four species of bush baby may occupy the same area of forest, feeding on a combination of insects, fruit and tree gum. Each species, however, utilizes a different layer of the forest or specializes on a particular food, so that they don’t compete with each other or with the monkeys which make up the “day shift.”
The animal’s loud vocalizations, from which the term bush baby is derived, have proven to be the means by which the many different species have been identified. Only a decade ago, less than half a dozen species of bush baby were known, but currently over 20 species are recognized, and some experts feel that there may be as many as 40.
Weighing around seven ounces, the lesser bush baby’s coat is gray with yellow-tinged underparts. Their fur is dense, wooly, longish, and slightly wavy. Their large ears are crossed by four transverse ridges and can be independently and simultaneously bent back and forth and wrinkled downward from the tips at will. This furling and unfurling of the ears is occurring constantly when the animals are investigating something, and produce a very lovable, quizzical expression in the animals.
Some bush babies, including the lesser bush baby, are vertical clingers and leapers, springing up to 15 feet in a single bound as they travel through the forest from vertical support to vertical support. Ground travel in this species is accomplished like the sifaka, by a series of kangaroo-like bipedal hops. Other species of bush babies, such as the much larger thick-tailed bush baby, although certainly capable of leaping, seem to prefer to run on all fours along the tops of branches.
The thick-tailed bush baby is a nocturnal forager feeding on gum and animal prey, including butterflies, moths, and beetles. Up to half of this specie’s diet will consist of thick gums from trees and the remainder made up of fruits, leaves, and insects.
When bush baby females come into estrus, males will approach with a low clucking vocalization, and as they start to mount, they will emit a loud call which ends in a whistle. Most scent marking in the wild is done by males marking their territory by means of “urine washing” in which males will urinate into their cupped hand which is then vigorously rubbed on a branch to deposit the scent. In the wild, bush babies mate every four to eight months, with gestation lasting about 124 days. Females ‘park’ their infants in constructed nests while they search for food, moving them away from danger by carrying them in their mouths. Infants are weaned at around 61 days of age, and become sexually mature at 9-12 months of age. Young males leave their mothers when they become mature, but females may stick around their mothers for longer periods.
The bush baby lives in small family groups of two to seven individuals. These groups may consist of an adult pair with or without young, two adult females plus infants or an adult female with young. Such groups spend the day sleeping together at the same site, but split up at night to forage. Males may fight aggressively to defend a home range which overlaps the range of one to five females. Males will emit a territorial advertisement call, which might be answered by neighboring animals, resulting in back and forth calling for up to an hour. Other vocalizations consist of a clicking sound by which the young call their mothers, and a louder version of the same call which adults use in assembling at their sleeping site as well as a high pitched alarm call. Bush babies will spend most of the night foraging alone and usually reassemble in small groups at dawn before sleeping in a nest or similar retreat, such as a vine tangle or a hollowed-out tree. It appears as if males migrate from their natal group when they are about one year old, while females have a tendency to stay around longer. Dominant males are noticeably larger than submissive males and are much more active scent markers.
Populations of thick-tailed bush babies are fairly large and ubiquitous. They are found throughout much of eastern Africa and are known to survive well in suburban areas. Its habitat is semi-arid Acacia woodland, savanna, and forest edge and extends across the belt of equatorial Africa.
Bush babies were part of the Duke Lemur Center’s historic colony until 2018. We no longer house any bush babies in Durham.
Order: Primates; Suborder: Prosimii
Family: Galagonidae; Genus: Otolemur
There are many species of bush baby all classified in the genera Galago, Otolemur and Euoticus.
Adult Size : up to 3 lbs
Natural Range : Central Southern Africa.
Social life : Nocturnal forager, lives in family groups of 2 – 7 individuals
Habitat : Semiarid Acacia woodland, savanna, forest edge
Diet : Gum and animal prey, including butterflies, moths, and beetles.
Lifespan : over 15 years in captivity
Sexual maturity : 9 – 12 months
Mating : Every 4 – 8 months
Gestation : 120 days
Number of young : 1 – 2 offspring every 4 – 8 months
DLC Naming theme : South African locations (Limpopo, Pretoria)