SOUTHERN NEEDLE-CLAWED GALAGO
Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The southern needle-clawed galago or bushbaby (Euoticus elegantulus), also called the elegant galago, elegant needle-clawed galago, western needle-clawed bushbaby, and western needle-clawed galago, makes its home in the moist forests of central Africa, between the Sanaga River in Cameroon and the Congo and Ubangui Rivers in the Republic of the Congo. They live in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of the Congo, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are known to be quite resilient, thriving even in disturbed habitats. Their resilience in the face of disturbance, coupled with a large network of protected habitats, has resulted in a healthy, stable population of these unique and charming primates.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Their head and body ranges in length from 8.5–9 inches (22–24 cm), with their tail adding another 11–12.5 inches (28–32 cm) in length. They weigh between 9.5 and 13 ounces (270–360 g). They have been known to live up to 15 years in captivity and are believed to live an average of about four years in the wild.
Southern needle-clawed galagos are small, rather compact primates. They have a dense coat covering their bodies, ranging in hues from gray to a cinnamon orange, with white underbellies and a dark strip along their spine. Their excellent night vision is owed to their large eyes. Their name is based on their sharp claws, with the exception of the second toe, which has what’s called a “toilet claw.” This is a larger claw that is specially adapted to help in grooming and it also comes in handy for their specialized diet and for gripping onto bark. Similarly, they also have a “tooth comb” or “toothscraper” composed of six specially adapted lower teeth that are used to scrape gum out of trees. Southern needle-clawed galagos have a more prominent tooth comb than other galagos—their lower incisors are long and stick out nearly perpendicular to their other teeth. Their finger pads are thick, helping them to grip onto tree branches and trunks. Their heads can rotate a full 180 degrees, and their large ears are also very mobile—very helpful for detecting nighttime predators. They are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females look more or less identical.
Southern needle-clawed galagos are considered “gummivores,” animals that subsist primarily on the gums and resins excreted by trees. They supplement this diet with insects and the occasional fruit. In the dry season, however, their diet is completely composed of gums. They follow regular routes through the forest canopy, making stops at the best gum trees, stopping an average of 100 times each hour to eat gum, sometimes stopping at up to 1,000 feeding locations in one night.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Southern needle-clawed galagos are largely nocturnal, meaning they are awake at night, and quadrupedal—they run and jump on their four limbs. They can cover 40 feet (12 m) in a single, powerful leap. They live their lives in the trees, climbing up to 160 feet (50 m) high into the canopy. They can even do a semblance of gliding—by leaping from a tree and spreading their limbs out, they can slow their descent significantly and safely jump from impressive heights!
Needle-clawed galagos and fork-marked dwarf lemurs (those of the genus Phaner) are an excellent example of “convergent evolution”—despite being only distantly related and inhabiting very different regions of Africa, the two groups of primates look remarkably similar and share a number of adaptations. These adaptations were not passed down from a common ancestor; rather, both groups occupy the nocturnal gum-eater role in their respective habitats and separately evolved very similar adaptations for this lifestyle.
Southern needle-clawed galagos spend their nights awake, foraging. Females often forage in small groups, but males forage alone. During the day, they sleep communally, although they do have some daytime activity as well. On average, their groups are composed of two to eight individuals, but it can be as high as 20. As the day breaks, individuals return from their solo foraging treks and come together, engaging in social grooming and close contact, before tucking in for the day. Females sleep with their young, and sometimes mated pairs sleep together as well. Southern needle-clawed galagos are territorial and have been known to chase off other individuals that venture into their home range. Each group has a single dominant male, who is typically the heaviest. He tolerates small males and will sometimes allow medium-weight males on the edges of his territory, but he chases off anyone else. Small males often live a nomadic lifestyle until they are big enough to hold their own territory.
Bushbabies, the alternate name for galagos, are so called due to their wailing cry they use to identify their territory. They also use scent marking from urine as well as specialized scent glands to delineate the boundaries of their territory. When non-group members come near, southern needle-clawed galagos defend their territory using warning calls, which have been described as sounding like “quee” and “tee-ya.” Babies make a call that sounds like “tsic,” and mothers respond with a similar call of their own. Distress is signaled with a call that sounds like “weet,” while aggressive calls sound like hoarse growls. Grooming is an important form of tactile communication and bonding between group members, especially between mothers and their babies.
Southern needle-clawed galagos have no fixed breeding season, but breeding tends to occur in mid-summer and mid-winter, depending on the availability of food. After a gestation period of four months, females give birth to a single baby. On average, a female has one baby each year. After her baby is born, she hides away with it for a few days, as the infant is highly vulnerable at this time, not only from predators, but even from the father. Not only do the fathers not provide care, they have been known to harm or even kill the young. The mother, however, is fiercely protective of her baby. The babies are born with all of their hair and with their eyes open. From birth, they are able to cling on to their mother as she moves about. When she’s foraging, she either leaves the baby in a protected space in a tree, or she may carry the baby around, sometimes in her mouth, and park it on a branch while she collects food. The mother continues to nurse her baby for two to three months. It is not currently known at what age the young become sexually mature. When they are of age, males leave the groups they were born into—their “natal groups”—while females stay in their natal groups.
Southern needle-clawed galagos are preyed upon by a variety of animals, notably nocturnal birds of prey such as owls. They are themselves predators to the insects they eat, and they have a close ecological relationship to the trees that they rely on for food. They are sympatric with—meaning they occupy the same spaces as—Prince Demidoff’s bushbaby (Galagoides demidovii). They aren’t in direct competition with one another, however, because they occupy different levels of the canopy and have different diets.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the southern needle-clawed galago as Least Concern (IUCN, 2016) appearing on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Southern needle-clawed galagos are fortunately widespread and common, and their population is not currently in any immediate danger. Their population has recovered since their 1996 assessment of Near Threatened.
Fortunately, southern needle-clawed galagos are not faced with any significant threats. They are not commonly hunted, and they do not face any significant human encroachment in their range. However, this does not mean that they are immune to any future threats. In particular, habitat loss may pose a threat to southern needle-clawed galagos in the future, as there is pressure for the forests they inhabit to be turned into industrial-scale oil palm plantations. Additionally, climate change is causing significant changes to central Africa and will continue to do so in the decades to come. These impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, flooding, and storms, as well as increased temperatures, may have untold consequences for the region’s ecosystems, and may put pressure on the southern needle-clawed galago population.
Southern needle-clawed galagos are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments whose goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The stable population of southern needle-clawed galagos is no accident. They are protected by a large number of protected areas, including the twelve national parks of Gabon. Gabon, in which southern needle-clawed galagos are widespread, has been noted for its particularly strong commitment to conservation. Nearly 90% of the country is forested—a significant feat for a highly urbanized country—and the country’s leadership has made commitments to keep it that way. Southern needle-clawed galagos demonstrate that when habitat is protected, stable populations follow.
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- Forbanka, DN. 2018. Microhabitat utilization by fork-marked dwarf lemurs (Phaner spp.) and needle-clawed galagos (Euoticus spp.) in primary and secondary forests. Am J Primatol. 80. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.22864
- Forbanka, DN. 2018. Population surveys of fork-marked dwarf lemurs and needle-clawed galagos. Primates 59, 355–360. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-018-0669-4
- Stephenson, I.R., Bearder, S.K., Donati, G., Karlsson, J. 2010. A Guide to Galago Diversity: Getting a Grip on How Best to Chew Gum. In: Burrows, A., Nash, L. (eds) The Evolution of Exudativory in Primates. Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-6661-2_12
Written by K. Clare Quinlan, September 2023