The Nocturnal Journals

Today’s post is by Jason from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are not experts, but we are people with a passionate interest in the museum and its objects. We each bring our own insight into Manchester Museum and its collections.

For more about Zoology, please visit the Curator’s blogNature Manchester.

The Nocturnal Journals

Every child, teenager and adult has no doubt fantasised about visiting a museum after dark. Have you ever wondered what animals could be lurking in the darkest depths of the museum? And what secrets they could be hiding…

In this week’s post, I will be putting on a night-light and exposing one of the nocturnal residents of our museum, the Zanzibar bushbaby or Zanzibar galago (Galagoides zanzibaricus).

IMAG3261

Zanzibar bushbaby, Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum

This species, as you may have guessed, can be found on the Zanzibar Islands, Tanzania. These nocturnal primates live high up in the canopies of coastal, tropical forests. Their physical characteristics make them adept at foraging at night. They have large eyes and ears that provide extremely good vision and hearing, allowing them to find insects, fruit and tree gum (gum secreted from damaged plant tissue).

During the night, bushbabies travel by leaping from tree to tree and running on all fours, through their home range. They also tend to mark their route with urine. This is thought to communicate the paths that an individual has taken, as well as scent marking for territorial purposes.

Photo 27 aug 2012 21-58

Zanzibar galago. (Image: Dwarf Galago Project)

Like other species of bushbaby, the Zanzibar bushbaby communicate through unique calls. These calls can range from being short and detached to complex, repetitive arrangements. Their calls, like other forms of communication, retain meaning behind the vocalization produced in response to specific circumstances. For example, a bushbaby may produce an alarm call when a predator is spotted and this will cause the species to flee or group together. In other instances, the same bushbaby might use a different call to identify themselves to other members of the same species.

Different species; Galago moholi, Galagoides rondoensis, Galago Senegalensis

Acoustic vocalizations are extremely useful, as they not only allow intra-species communication, they also enable researchers to identify a species based on their calls. Now this might sound strange, but their form of calls, are no different from people who speak different languages, in different parts of the world. Think of it as a population that grows in isolation and develops a language that they can communicate with each other. Now think about members of the population moving to different areas and forming their own groups. As time goes on, the accent and language will change in all these areas and eventually, there may be slight similarities, but the words and way of speaking will have changed so much so, that it becomes it’s own language.

[Note that this is just an analogy to explain the variation in bushbaby species communication, not that they all evolved from a single population and expanded outwards. It could be possible but we don’t know!]

The main point to take away from this is that many bushbaby species are difficult to see at night and even when caught, can be difficult to differentiate a species from one another. Therefore, recording and analysing their calls is one of the few ways to accurately determine the species of bushbaby present and to lessen the disruption to their nightly activities

If this post has left you wondering what a bushbaby may sound like, here are two vocal recordings of two species of bushbabies that I encountered in Tanzania, 2013.

Thank-you for reading, and I hope to indulge you with more stories from the nocturnal journals soon.

Jason Lau

To read more about Zoology, visit the Curator’s blog, ‘Nature Manchester’ – naturemanchester.wordpress.com

Read more animal stories from the Visitor Team:
The Bison – Emperor of the Forest
Halloween Special! Death and the Hawk Moth
A Wolf’s Tail

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