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With its large round eyes and big ears, the bush baby is one of the most peculiar animals of the African bush. Capable of leaping great distances, it often appears to fly among the treetops. There are four species of African bush baby, of which the Senegal galago, or lesser bush baby, is the most widespread. Usually less than 8 inches long, with a tail larger than its body, the bush baby is capable of leaping great distances from tree to tree.
Habits: the bush baby is a nocturnal animal. During the day, as many as twenty may crowd together to sleep in an enclosed space, such as a hollow tree trunk. At dusk, they wake and split into family groups and go searching for food. The groups forage separately all night, each group defending its own territory of 15-20 acres. They warn off other groups with loud, ringing calls. At dawn, the rivalry ends and they return to their den to sleep together again.
A typical foraging group consists of a single adult male, a pregnant female, and her young from a previous litter. Adult males do not usually tolerate another male in the group and will fight fiercely if one intrudes. A family group defends its territory by marking it with the scent in their urine. They mark twigs and branches and any new or unfamiliar object in the area. Other groups recognize the lingering smell and keep away from the family’s territory. Young bush babies huddle together on a branch for their daytime sleep.
Breeding: Bush babies mate at the end of the rainy season. In areas with one breeding season, twins are common, but where there are two breeding seasons, one baby is born at a time. When the female is ready to give birth, she goes into hiding so that the male will not kill the young. For 3 days, she remains hidden, suckling and protecting her tiny offspring. Thereafter, she either leaves her young concealed in the nest while she goes to feed or carries them with her. The youngsters cling tightly to her body, with their tails wrapped around her neck. The young bush babies are weaned after 6 weeks and can feed themselves by 8 weeks. At 4 months, they are fully grown.
In captivity, when they are fed regularly all year round, bush babies breed constantly throughout the year. This suggests that their breeding season in the wild is determined by the availability of food as well as the seasonal changes. A tiny bush baby, just 10 hours old, supports its minute body by clinging to a slender plant stem. Young bush babies huddle together on a branch for their daytime sleep.
Food and Feeding: During the rainy season, bush babies eat mainly insects such as caterpillars and dung beetles, which they catch by pouncing on them. They are quick enough to catch mice and lizards. In addition, they raid birds’ nests for the eggs. Bush babies eat flowers, fruits, pollen, nectar, and honey from wild bees as well. In the dry season, their diet changes as food becomes scarce. They rely on the resin of acacia and albizzia trees, and they only survive in areas where these trees grow.
Bush Baby and Man: Bush babies are easy to catch, and several African tribes keep them as pets. But in 1940, bush babies were persecuted as a severe outbreak of yellow fever swept through Africa. Bush babies can harbor the virus without becoming ill themselves. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from the bush babies and pass it on to humans. With the advent of inoculations, the danger of contracting yellow fever is now greatly reduced.
Length: Body 6-9 in., tail 9-10 in. Newborn babies, 2 in.
Weight: 3-10 oz. Newborn babies weigh ½ oz.
Sexual maturity: 8 months
Gestation: 4 months
Litter size: 1 or 2
Habit: Family groups when foraging; larger groups when sleeping.
Call: Rasping greeting sounds, “shout” in territorial defense.
Diet: Mainly insects; also flowers, pollen, honey, seeds, fruit, lizards, mice, nestlings
Related Species: As primates, bush babies share ancestors with apes and humans.
Distribution: All four species are found in Africa south of the Sahara, but not in rainforest areas.
Conservation: Populations are stable and all species are currently secure; there is no threat to their survival as long as habitats remain stable.
Features of the Bush Baby: The hind legs are longer than the forelegs to aid in jumping. The elongated lower leg bones give greater leverage for moving quickly from a standing start. Fingers and toes are flattened at the ends, with pads of thick skin to give them a better grip on trunks and branches. Large ears can be folded down for safety while leaping. The eyes are very sensitive. During the day, the pupil is reduced to a tiny vertical slit; at night, it opens into a complete circle to allow for better vision in the dark. The bushy tail acts as a rudder and stabilizer as the bush baby flies through the air.
Did You Know:
Because the bush baby’s call sounds like the shouts of an excited child, British explorers gave it its English name.
Some African tribes catch bush babies by leaving out saucers of palm wine for them to drink.
The longest recorded leap by a bush baby from one tree to another was 23 feet.
Bush babies fertilize flowers by transferring pollen as they feed.