18/10/2019

Cute but venomous: meet the pygmy slow loris

​If you’ve ventured into Twilight World, you may have spotted our pygmy slow lorises clambering among the branches or sleeping curled up in a snug little ball.

With their cute faces and huge brown eyes, it’s easy to see why the pygmy slow loris is so popular … but there’s more to these tiny nocturnal primates than meets the eye!

We met up with keeper Paige to find out some of the slow lorises’ amazing secrets, and why their cuteness threatens their survival in the wild.

1. The pygmy slow loris is venomous

It’s not just snakebites that can pack a punch. The pygmy slow loris produces a toxin from glands on its elbows, which it licks to poison its teeth. More amazing still, the toxin is only activated when mixed with the loris’s saliva in a natural chemical reaction. This makes it the only known venomous primate!

 2. Mums have a really clever way of protecting their babies

Some researchers think that when female slow lorises groom their babies, they are coating them in poisonous saliva to protect them from predators – thanks mum! Our off-show female Holly and male Lustukru (nicknamed Lusty) have recently become first-time parents to twins – a huge achievement for both this endangered species and the Zoo, as slow lorises are very difficult to breed in captivity.

 3. It has two tongues

Yes, really! The slow loris’s main tongue is used for eating and grooming, but it also has a second, smaller tongue tucked underneath. This cleans its teeth, just like a handy built-in toothbrush. Experts think the slow loris needs this special tongue because it eats lots of sticky treesap, which then builds up on its gnashers.

 4. Being so cute is dangerous

Slow lorises are often trapped from the wild to be sold illegally as pets. Lots of online videos show lorises being cuddled by humans, but there’s a horrible story behind these ‘cute’ clips. Because lorises are venomous, their teeth are often removed – without anaesthetic – to make them safe to hold. This causes immense pain, and they usually die soon after because they can’t eat properly.

Some videos also show lorises being tickled, and raising their arms in ‘enjoyment’. In fact they’re trying to reach the toxin glands on their elbows because they feel scared and threatened. So if you see a clip of a pet loris online, please don’t like or share it.

 5. Its name means “clown”

With large, teardrop-shaped patches around its eyes, the slow loris looks like a comical little clown. In the 18th century Dutch explorers brought back slow lorises from south-east Asia, and it’s thought that the species’ name comes from the old Dutch word “loeris” (clown).

 6. It’s not that slow!

When a slow loris spots a predator, it’s no sloth. This pint-sized creature can climb quickly away from branch to branch, using its super strong wrists. (Unlike other primates, it can’t jump.) It can also turn into an acrobat when it spots a tasty insect – hanging from its feet, the slow loris will ‘lunge’ out and snatch the prey with its front paws for a speedy snack.

 7. There’s lots more to discover

In the wild the slow loris is very elusive, so not much is known about this amazing animal. Our keeper Paige is currently completing a two year study of our lorises in the hope of learning more … watch this space!

 Bristol Zoo has two on-show lorises, Lorraine and Mr Ben. Next time you visit, come find them in Twilight World – you’ll never look at these tiny primates the same way again.

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