The bush baby, (the family Galagidae), also goes by the name galago. The Africans have named the galagos “nagapies”, meaning ‘night monkeys’ Bush baby can also be spelled as bushbaby. They are named bushbabies due to the noises they sometimes make that sound like loud, crying, shrieking babies.
There are about 20 species of galagos discovered to date, but scientists think there may be more of these diminutive primates that have not yet been discovered. They comprise of three greater galagos, which are larger with thicker tails, and 15 squirrel-sized lesser galagos.
Bushbabies belong to the prosimian group of primates, which also includes the lorises of Asia and the lemurs of Madagascar. It is believed that bushbabies evolved before monkeys and due to their similarity in appearance and nature, they are known as ‘night monkeys’.
Bushbabies are one of the world’s smallest primates. The bush baby belongs to the mammal class. Bushbabies are found throughout many parts of Africa such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
They can be found in subtropical and tropical forests, rainforests, woodlands, savanna, and in dry and thorny sub-Saharan African habitats. Bushbabies are related to monkeys and apes. They have fingers and toes that can grab things and have flat fingernails like humans. A bushbaby’s fur colour ranges from light brown, grey, or reddish to yellowish brown. They have large eyes and ears, long hind legs, soft, woolly fur, and long tails.
They can fold their ears during jumping or leaping from one tree to another, or while climbing, to protect them against sharp objects. They have exceptionally good night vision thanks to their large eyes.
Bush babies are also characterized by the long upper portion of their feet. They have enormous forward-facing eyes. So large in relation to their head, that they cannot move them in their sockets.
If they want to shift their gaze, they must turn their whole head. They can weigh anything from 1.2kg to 1.8kg. These tree-dwelling animals are about the size of a squirrel. They are between 16 -61 cm long and about 13 cm tall. The primates are fast and can run at speeds of up to 30 km/h.
Bushbabies are nocturnal animals, which means they hunt for food at night and sleep during the day. Superb hearing and delicate bat-like ears allow bushbabies to track insects in the dark and catch them in flight.
Bushbabies are extremely fast and agile. They can sit upright and move around by jumping with their hind legs. Bushbabies are frequently seen leaping from tree to tree thanks to strong limbs and a long tail used for balance.
They possess extremely powerful back leg muscles and can clear up to 2.5m in a single jump. These animals mark their territory by urinating on their hands and thus spreading their scent as they leap from tree to tree.
Bushbabies are very territorial. They use body posture, loud cries, and even special tactics to protect their territory from other bushbabies. They have different forms of communication, such as body posture or visual communication. Vocal communication is most common among them.
Bushbabies are not aggressive by nature but can be when protecting their area. Bushbabies can live up to 10 years in their natural habitat. This unfortunately decreases to about 4 years due to wildlife trade which is influenced by people who want to keep them as pets.
Bush babies are omnivorous animals, which means their diet consists of food both of animal and plant origin. Bushbabies have a diet of fruit, insects, small animals (like birds), eggs, flowers, and leaves, but a major component of the diet of most species is gum (tree exudate).
Tree gum forms an important part of their diet. They extract tree gum by gouging holes in trees and scraping the bark, using their toothcombs (forward-tilted lower incisor and canine teeth).
They are polygynous, which means the males mate with more than one female. The mating season normally takes place during the months of November and February. Gestation is about three to four months, with the female bushbabies giving birth to one or two babies, and rarely three babies in some cases.
The baby of a bushbaby is known as a galago. Male and female bushbabies do not have separate names. Both are called bushbabies. The female bushbabies raise the galago in nests that they build using leaves.
The baby is born with poor eyesight and the mother will carry its young around in its mouth, placing it on a nearby branch while feeding. Much like other primates, bushbabies have highly social and involved family groups.
Play forms an integral part of socializing, and they ‘play fight’ and ‘follow play’ by chasing each other from tree to tree. During the day bush babies live in a family of between two and seven individuals. When dusk comes, they split in search of food.
The current main threat to the bushbaby is the loss of habitat. According to the IUCN Red List, the conservation status of a species like the Senegal bush baby (Galago senegalensis) and lesser bush baby (Galago moholi) are of Least Concern. However, their numbers are rapidly decreasing.