All About Bush Baby: The Night Monkey

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 11th November 2023

NameBush BabyDietOmnivorous
Scientific nameGalagidaeWeight<1 lbs (<.45 kg)
Pronunciationbush bay-beeLength5 to 16 inches (12 to 40 cm)
ClassificationMammalia, Primates, & GalagidaeLocationSub-Saharan Africa

The Bush Baby

bush baby
Portrait of the nocturnal Lesser Bush Baby (Galago moholi), South Africa | EcoPic via Getty Images

The bush baby is a well-known primate popular for its distinctive appearance and unique vocalizations, which sound like the cry of a newborn baby.

One look at the bush baby, and it’s easy to see where their intriguing name comes from. 

This small, attractive primate is cute and cuddly, with wide, saucer-shaped eyes. 

But bush babies aren’t helpless babies at all. 

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

They’re hardy and adaptive creatures with the impressive ability to thrive in a wide range of habitats. 

The bush baby is an agile primate that can jump from tree to tree over long distances. 

The fact that they’re among the most successful groups of primates in Africa is a testament to their adaptive nature and makes them quite an intriguing group to study.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most fascinating facts about one of Africa’s most interesting primate groups. 

Taxonomy and Classification

bush baby
What are you looking at, Bush Baby? | Tanto Yensen via Getty Images

The name “bush baby” is the common name given to up to 20 species of galagos known in the wild. 

These are small primates in the family Galagidae, only found in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The Galagidae is considered a closely related sister group to the family Lorisidae, which includes other arboreal primates like the lorises, angwantibos, and pottos. 

Within the larger primate family, bush babies belong to the suborder Strepsirrhini, which means they’re related to lemurs, too. 

The galagos are considered the most successful strepsirrhine primates in Africa due to their abundance and diversity.  

bush baby
Bush Baby clinging to a branch in the dark | AOosthuizen via Getty Images

About 20 galagos species have been identified so far, and experts think there are many more yet to be officially recognized. 

The family is currently grouped into six living genera and one extinct genera. 

They include: 

  • Euoticus (needle-clawed bush baby)
  • Galago (lesser bush babies)
  • Galagoides (western dwarf galagos)
  • Paragalago (eastern dwarf galagos)
  • Otolemur (thick-tailed bush babies) and 
  • Sciurocheirus (squirrel galagos)
Gage Beasley's Bush Baby Galago Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Bush Baby Galago Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

The only species in the Laetolia genus went extinct during the Pliocene epoch. 

Bushbabies have only ever occurred in Africa. 

They have lived on the continent for at least 40 million years, changing very little since their early evolution. 

The different genera in the family split off at least 20 million years ago yet have managed to remain very similar in overall appearance. 

In fact, the bush babies look so similar that scientists have a hard time recognizing them.

The most notable feature that helps to tell them apart is their vocalization, which tends to vary from one species to the other. 

Physical Characteristics

bush baby
Bush Baby isolated on white | Farinosa via Getty Images

Galagos are small primates. 

The average length of a galago (from head to body) is typically between five and 16 inches. 

They have long tails that are typically longer than their bodies. 

The bush baby’s tail can extend between nine and 16 inches. 

Galagos have compact bodies, a rounded head, and a slender, agile frame. 

They have wooly fur, which is typically gray, brown, or reddish brown. 

Their limbs are elongated, which makes them well-adapted for arboreal movement.

bush baby
Bush baby close-up | Tanto Yensen via Getty Images

They also have a lightweight build, which makes it easier to jump from tree to tree. 

The weight of different species of bush baby vary widely. 

They generally range from two to eight ounces, but some larger species can weigh up to one pound. 

In addition to their elongated limbs, bush babies have other adaptations for leaping and climbing trees. 

Their hands have specialized pads and opposable thumbs that help them grasp tree branches securely. 

All their toes have sharp nails except the second toe of the hind foot, which typically has a grooming claw. 

Habitat and Distribution


All species of bush babies are native to continental sub-Saharan Africa. 

Although their range spans across multiple countries and regions of the continent, different species are often localized to specific regions. 

For instance, the lesser bush baby is only found in the tree savannahs and thorn bushes of Senegal, Somalia, and South Africa. 

One species in the genus, the dusky bush baby (Galago matschiei), can only be found in the rainforest of eastern Congo. 

Other species have localized distribution like this, too. 

The larger Allen’s bush baby (Sciurocheirus alleni) lives in the rainforests of West-Central Africa. 

bush baby
Illustration of Allen’s Bush Baby | Photo via Naturalists Library, A Handbook to the Primates by Henry Forbes (1894)

While species in the Galagoides and Paragalago genera are found in East African countries such as Kenya, Mozambique, and Malawi. 

Galagos are known to survive in pretty much every kind of habitat across the African continent. 

Some species of bush babies, like the South African galago, are known to live in savannas. 

Others, like the brown greater galago, are more commonly found in tropical to subtropical forests. 

The galagos in Somalia have evolved to survive in the arid and thorny habitats found in most parts of the country. 

Their ability to survive in a wide range of habitats demonstrates the adaptive nature of this primate. 

Behavior and Social Structure

bush baby
Bush babies really do love their trees | pjmalsbury via Getty Images

Bush babies live almost entirely in trees. 

They only come on land occasionally to feed or cross over short distances. 

On land, they tend to walk on all fours or hop like kangaroos. 

But they mainly move by jumping in between trees. 

Galagos demonstrate a mix of social and solitary behavior. 

After attaining maturity, female bush babies remain with their mothers while the males leave the mother’s territory. 

bush baby
Bush babies sleeping in a tree | Shumba138 via Getty Images

This means their social groups mainly consist of closely related females and their young. 

Adult males are typically solitary, maintaining a territory that overlaps with those of a female group. 

Younger males with no established territories form small bachelor groups. 

Like other primates, bush babies demonstrate a wide range of interactions within their social groups. 

Social plays may include grooming, play fights, and following play. 

In following play, two galagos chase each other as they jump sporadically from one tree to the other. 

bush baby
This Great Galago chose this tree! | slowmotiongli via Getty Images

Older bush babies are less active, and they prefer to rest alone. 

The younger ones are more rambunctious and playful. 

Bush babies enjoy grooming, and it forms an important part of their daily routine.

Typically, they groom themselves before and after rest. 

Social grooming is also quite common, especially within male bachelor groups. 

Galagos are nocturnal animals. 

bush baby
Mohol bushbaby (Galago moholi) | Wegmann via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Their large eyes give them very good night vision, and they have acute hearing almost on the same level as that of bats. 

Galagos communicate using a wide range of vocalizations and by leaving scent marks with their urine. 

Their scent marks are particularly important for navigation as it allows them to land on the same branch every time. 

Each bush baby species has its own set of loud calls, which can be used to locate or rally other members of the group. 

Scientists rely on the uniqueness of their vocalizations to recognize different species in the family. 

Diet and Feeding

bush baby
Nocturnal bush baby (Otolemur crassicaudatus) eating tree gum, South Africa | EcoPic via Getty Images

Bush babies are omnivores.

Their diet primarily consists of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. 

However, they’re also known to consume various plant matter, especially gum and tree sap. 

They also eat fruits and flower nectar. 

The exact composition of their diet can vary based on factors such as species, habitat, and seasonal availability of food resources.

bush baby
Fill your tummy up, bush baby! | EcoPic via Getty Images

For instance, some species, such as the needle-clawed bush babies, feed mainly on tree exudate.

They cling upside down to the bark of trees and dig into the bark with their sharp claw-like nails or specialized canine teeth. 

This allows them to access the gum that flows out of the tree. 

Bush babies use their keen night vision to locate insects and other small invertebrates at night. 

They’re quite agile and can leap high to catch prey mid-air or snatch them from leaves and bark.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

bush baby
Illustration of a pair of bush babies | ivan-96 via Getty Images

Adult male bush babies maintain territories that typically overlap with female social groups. 

This means one adult male is likely to mate with several females within its territory. 

After mating, gestation takes about 110 to 133 days. 

Females are typically more aggressive during this period. 

They can give birth to one to three young bush babies (infants) at once. 

The young bush babies are born with their eyes half-closed and are unable to move around on their own for the first few days of their lives. 

They typically weigh less than half an ounce at birth.

bush baby
A small bush baby | Farinosa via Getty Images

After day 6 of birth, the mother carries the infant in her mouth to a tree branch, where she feeds it. 

The infant remains in close contact with the mother for up to six weeks after birth and completely depends on her. 

It clings to the mother, causing her to move awkwardly when she moves around. 

Baby galagos are clingy, but the mother will become less interested in carrying the young around as they grow older. 

In some species, mothers leave their children for long periods, allowing them to play with other juveniles while they enjoy solitary time. 

The young, on the other hand, tries to maintain constant contact with the mother. 

They grow rapidly and are often able to fend for themselves by the time they’re two months old. 

Ecological Role and Interactions

bush baby
Bush babies sitting in a group | Freder via Getty Images

Bush babies have a balanced ecological role in their ecosystem as both predators and herbivores. 

As insectivores, bush babies help regulate the population of insects and small invertebrates. 

This can help keep pest populations under control, benefiting plants and other organisms that might otherwise be negatively affected by them. 

Given their small size, bush babies themselves are prey for other animals. 

Some of their most notable predators include mongooses, genets, snakes, owls, and jackals. 

Bush babies have adaptations that help them avoid these predators, including their nocturnal habits and ability to jump from tree to tree with great agility. 

They also have loud calls that can alert others to danger. 

However, they are still vulnerable to predation, and many of them are killed by predators, contributing to the overall balance of their ecosystem. 

Conservation Status and Threats

bush baby
What did this bush baby see? | EcoPic via Getty Images

The conservation status of bush babies varies from one species to the other. 

Most species are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

This means that they are not considered endangered or threatened at this time due to their stable population. 

However, a few species, such as the Rondo dwarf bush baby (Galago rondoensis), are listed as endangered by the IUCN. 

This means their populations are declining, and they are at risk of extinction in the near future.

bush baby
Bush baby sitting on a tree | EcoPic via Getty Images

Climate change, habitat loss, and poaching are some of the biggest threats to the survival of bush babies. 

Bush babies are sometimes hunted for their meat or fur. 

They are also sometimes captured and sold as exotic pets, contributing to their decline in the wild. 

In recent years, conservation groups have recorded some successes in their efforts to protect bush baby populations. 

For instance, Rondo bush baby populations have had an upward trend in recent years thanks to conservation efforts such as the creation of protected areas and growing awareness about the species.

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

bush baby
Look at those eyes! | webguzs via Getty Images

The most notable adaptation of bush babies is their large eyes, which have a reflective layer known as tapetum lucidum. 

This eye structure enhances their vision, allowing them to navigate low-light conditions effectively to locate prey and avoid predators. 

Galagos are also known for their impressive agility. 

Despite their small size, galagos can jump to heights of over two meters. 

Their leap is about six to nine times better than that of frogs. 

Experts think bush babies can jump to such great heights because of their well-developed leg muscles, which make up about 25% of their entire body mass. 

Galagos jump with their legs and tails held close to the body and release them at the last moment to grab tree branches. 

They’re also capable of folding their ears in flight. 

Their long tail helps with acceleration and balance during their jumps. 

Bush babies can cover tens of yards within seconds by making consecutive jumps from one tree to another. 

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

bush baby
Is this a supernatural bush baby? | Farinosa via Getty Images

In some African cultures, bush babies are believed to possess supernatural qualities. 

They’re commonly referred to as messengers between the living and the spirit world. 

This creature’s large eyes and nocturnal habits contribute to its mystical identity. 

The bush baby is also commonly referenced in myths and folklore used to scare children to stay indoors at night. 

In some cultures, the baby-like cry of the galago is considered powerful enough to put humans in a trance-like state and kidnap them. 

In parts of West Africa, such as Nigeria, it is believed that bush babies can never be found dead naturally on the ground. 

Instead, they make nests of sticks or leaves to die in. 

Many of these claims are difficult to verify, but they persist to this day. 

Like many small primates, bush babies are commonly kept as pets. 

However, this is not recommended since they are likely to carry diseases that can cross species barriers and infect humans. 

They’re also found in zoos, where they have a captive lifetime of up to 16 years. 

Future Prospects and Research

bush baby
Illustration of Bush Babies | Hein Nouwens via Getty Images

As of 1980, only six bush baby species were known. 

However, in more recent times, scientists have been able to recognize up to 20 species in the family using differences in their vocalizations. 

Some experts think there might still be a few undocumented galagos species, and efforts are underway to identify them. 

In addition to species recognition, scientists are also studying the complexity of bush baby vocalizations to decode their meanings and understand how these calls contribute to their social interactions. 

Scientists are also looking into various intriguing aspects of the galago’s behavior, such as their echolocation abilities and unique immune system, to uncover potential benefits for humans. 

Research has shown that bush babies are relatively resistant to diseases. 

Scientists are currently studying their immune system to learn more about how it works. 

This research could lead to the development of new vaccines and treatments for human diseases in the future. 

Conclusion

The bush baby, or galagos, is one of the most intriguing primate species. 

Up to 20 galagos species are currently known, and they’re all native to sub-Saharan Africa.

This small primate is known for its furry appearance, cute eyes, and fascinating vocalizations that tend to sound like baby cries. 

Their unique cries make them quite popular in local folklore and are also considered important to scientists because they help with species identification. 

Bush babies are agile primates known for their impressive leaps and jumps. 

Galagos feed on insects and other small invertebrates, which they catch by leaping high into the air. 

They’re omnivores, which means they feed on plant materials as well, especially gum and other tree exudates. 

They currently have a stable population in most locations where they’re found, although human activities put some species at risk of extinction.

Sources:

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