Bush babies, also called galagos, are small, saucer-eyed primates that spend most of their lives in trees. At least 20 species of galago are known, though some experts believe many are yet to be discovered. Also known as nagapies, which means “night monkeys” in Afrikaans, all galagos are considered nocturnal.
Along with their big eyes, which help them see in low light, bush babies are adapted to nocturnal living with their large, collapsible ears that rotate independently like radar dishes to zero in on prey in the dark. The animals are ace jumpers, using powerful legs and extremely long tails to spring great distances. This allows the primates to move quickly through the forest canopy or snatch flying insects out of the air.
Bush babies are found in forests throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Some species, like the South African galago, hang out in acacia trees on the savanna. Other species, like the brown greater galago, prefer more tropical and subtropical forests, while the Somali galago can be found in dry, thorny habitats. From evergreen forests to grasslands, bush babies have evolved to survive in nearly every kind of habitat on the continent.
Bush babies are omnivores that eat fruit, insects, and the gum that oozes out of certain tree species. Some of the larger galago species will even hunt small animals, such as frogs and birds.
Many galago species look so similar, it’s difficult to tell them apart by sight alone. Instead, scientists often use the animal’s distinct calls—which sound like a crying newborn baby, the likely source of their name—to differentiate between closely related species.
Some species prefer to nest in tree hollows, while others hide out in the crooks of trees or tangles of vegetation while the sun is up. The Senegal bush baby has even been known to reuse old birds’ nests or abandoned beehives for shelter.
Family groups of two to seven bush babies will frequently spend the day nestled together in their hollow, but will split up at night to look for food.
Predators include mongooses, genets, jackals, domestic dogs and cats, owls, and snakes. Several other primates have also been observed eating bush babies, such as grey-cheeked mangabeys and blue monkeys. There’s even evidence that chimpanzees fashion spears to kill and extract bush babies from their burrows.