23.2b – The Galago

One in the hand is worth two in the bush. (Brown greater galago photo by buecherfresser)

Something in the dark jungle is crying, and it sounds an awful lot like a human baby.

If you’ve never heard of a galago (pronounced guh-LAY-go), don’t despair. Most people don’t know these animals by their official name, but some people have heard the more common term — bushbabies.

Along with lemurs and lorisids, galagos are one of the few remaining primitive primates in the world today. Primitive in this sense means that they are an older type of primate that developed before more modern forms, such as monkeys and apes. But while the lemurs have constrained themselves to Madagascar, and while the lorisids are slow and dropping in number, the galagos are living strong in Africa.

Also known as nagapies, which means “little night monkeys”, galagos are found all over central and southern Africa. There are about twenty different species, all of them nocturnal. It’s believed that the galagos evolved to be nocturnal so that they did not have to compete directly with the faster, more modern monkeys, who do their business in daylight.

But the galagos are no slouches, no slow-moving lorisids. They are quick on their feet and have long tails to give them balance as they jump through the trees. They have strong night vision, good hearing, and are so nimble they can catch flying insects out of the air. Their cries are said to resemble those of a human baby, an unnerving prospect in the jungle at night.

In addition to their night vision, galagos use urine, of all things, to help them scramble through the trees in the darkness. A galago that moves through the trees will mark its path with urine on the branches, and other galagos can smell this so acutely that they can jump right onto the branch even if they can’t see it. Imagine a world where humans marked important things, such as doorways, their vehicles, and favorite restaurants, with urine so they could find them again. On second thought, please don’t imagine that.

“That’s a nice couch. But I’ll tell you what. I’ve been drinking water all day, and I know how to make that couch even nicer.” (Senegal bushbaby photo by OpenCage)

A galago is also a fantastic jumper. It has very strong, elastic legs, and scientists figure that a galago is, proportionally, at least six times better at jumping than a frog. These animals are tiny, but they can jump six feet straight in the air. Don’t give one guff; it could jump straight for your nose.

The social life of a galago revolves around the females. Females control family groups consisting of themselves, their offspring, and sometimes other female relatives, maintaining a specific territory. Males are forced to leave these groups when they grow up. The strongest males form their own territories that overlap female territories, but they are not allowed to live with the females. Weaker males form bachelor groups and hang out, possibly playing Call of Duty and calling each other “bro”.