The lesser galago, also called bush baby, is one of the smallest primates, about the size of a squirrel. Despite its size, it is exceptionally vocal, producing loud, shrill cries surprisingly like those of a human baby. The plaintive cries and “cute” appearance may account for the name “bush baby.” It and its larger cousin, the greater galago (Galago crassicaudatus), are both arboreal and nocturnal in their habits.
Bush babies have large, round eyes for good night vision and batlike ears that enable them to track insect prey in the dark. Fast, agile and accurate, they catch some insects on the ground and snatch others from the air. As they jump through thorn bush or thick growth, they fold their delicate ears flat against their heads to protect them. They fold them during rest, too.
The bush baby travels through the trees in literal leaps and bounds. In midflight it tucks its arms and legs close to the body and as it lands, brings them forward, grabbing a branch with its hands and feet. In a series of leaps a bush baby can easily cover 10 yards in seconds. The tail (longer than the length of the head and body) powers the leaps made to catch prey, escape from enemies or get around obstacles. The bush baby’s other methods of locomotion are kangaroolike hops or simply walking or running on four legs.
Both bush babies and galagos often share habitats with monkeys, but as bush babies are nocturnal they do not compete ecologically with monkeys. Bush babies are found throughout East Africa, as well as in woodlands and bushlands in sub-Saharan Africa. They generally do not inhabit areas above altitudes of 6,500 feet. Most often they live in tree hollows that provide shelter. Sometimes they construct nests in the forks of branches, but these are not as commonly used as are natural holes. Bush babies prefer trees with little grass around them, probably as a precaution against wild fires. They will also shelter in manmade beehives.
Bush babies are usually found in small groups consisting of a mother and her offspring. These groups move about on their own to feed, but as bush babies seem to love physical contact, they join other groups to sleep together during the day. Aside from their babylike cries, they make croaking, chattering and clucking sounds or shrill whistles in case of danger. They frequently mark their routes with urine. By following their own scent, they can jump onto exactly the same branches each time when they go to or from their nest. Males also urine-mark the boundaries of their territories and will sometimes become aggressive toward intruders.
Females may become very aggressive just before or after giving birth. They may have singles, twins or triplets, with each newborn weighing less than half an ounce. The first three days or so the mother keeps the infants in constant contact with her. She picks them up with her hands or in her mouth, and they cling to her. After a few days she will either leave them in the nest or, if she takes them along, carry them in her mouth or let them cling to her back or belly.
The young are suckled for 6 weeks and can feed themselves at 2 months. They grow rapidly, causing the mother to walk slowly and awkwardly as she transports them. Sometimes the mother takes just one young with her, leaving the other in the nest.