He’s a woolly little creature weighing less than 160 grams, can rotate his head almost 180-degrees like an owl, has oversized naked ears and is a spectacular jumper. And he’s by far the cutest primate on the planet.
But their magic is simply that the palms and soles of their feet have special friction pads to give them a firm grip in their tree world while the long tail is the power behind the jumps.
Despite its tiny size (about the size of a squirrel) the bush baby is quite a loudmouth, though it's his cousin the thicktailed bush baby who utters shrill cries surprisingly like those of a human baby. The lesser bush babies keep in touch through a variety of sounds that include laughing, croaking, clucking and chattering, not to mention piercing whistles when they’re in danger from predators like snakes, owls and genets.
The drill this evening is pretty much standard. After some grooming using their special ‘toilet claw’ on the second finger to clean their fur and ears – their other fingernails are rounded like ours – they’re ready to fill their tummies.
Because their huge eyes can’t move in their sockets, their heads are whizzing around left and right in search of tasty insect morsels, tree sap to lick or gum to chew. Thanks to their large mobile ears they have acute hearing and their skill at finding prey by hearing is so precise that they can catch gnats on the wing with their hands.
Cute as they are, they have some decidedly odd behaviour. We’re talking about peeing on their hands and wiping it on the soles of their feet, then tracking the scent through the trees as they travel. Called ‘urine washing’, this helps dominant males mark their territory and is also a turn-on for the opposite sex. Since only dominant males get to breed, it’s all rather important for them and they will even ‘mark’ females by peeing on them. Nice.
But the female is promiscuous enough not to care; she’ll mate with (and get pee’d on by) up to six males when she’s in oestrus.
She usually gives birth to twins, each weighing less than half an ounce. For the first few days mom keeps the little ones in a tree hollow. Later she takes them with her when she forages through the trees at night. Unlike most primates, the little ones don’t cling to her fur; instead, she carries each baby separately by the scruff of its neck in her mouth and ‘parks’ them on a nearby branch while she concentrates on finding breakfast.
Harem life seems to suit bush babies and they form small groups of mothers, daughters, sisters and their young. Girls from outside the group are chased away with a flea in their ear. Although adults prefer to feed alone, they’ll happily gather to sleep in groups of up to six during the day. They seem to love physical contact and will sleep jumbled up any which way in a tree hollow.
So if you don’t mind sleeping upside down with someone on top of you or with their feet in your face, walking in your own wee or having a guy pee on you to show you how much he wants you, bush baby life might be just the thing to get you ready for that Olympic long-jump gold medal.
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