Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Practically everyone has seen or heard of Africa’s Big 5 and who wouldn’t want an opportunity to see the elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, lion and rhinoceros? What many people don’t know is that Africa also has a “Little 5”. These are the elephant shrew, ant lion or lion ant, buffalo weaver, rhinoceros beetle and leopard tortoise. While not quite as imposing as their larger compatriots, each of these lesser-known creatures have much to recommend them and are no less fascinating.

Mouse with an elephant’s trunk

The elephant shrew is a tiny creature the size of a mouse but with a trunk-like snout. In spite of their pocketsize they are zippy little speedsters known to create mini ground networks by scraping away leaves and twigs. They use these networks to rush about, cleverly avoiding the larger feet and teeth of other creatures.

Birds on the buffalo trail

Weavers are known throughout the world for their nest weaving skill. Africa’s buffalo weavers are so called because they spend a substantial amount of time in the company of the buffalo. The buffalo roams for kilometres on end kicking up the free-meal tasty insects snatched up by the enterprising buffalo weavers.

Insect with rhino horns

The singular connection between the rhinoceros beetle and the black rhinoceros is imposing horns. Interestingly, they both use their horns to great effect in much the same way – for digging. The former digs for edible roots while the latter digs to bury themselves as a means of hiding from predators. Both use their horns as weapons to defend themselves and in rivalry to impress the ladies.

Leopard print tortoise

The leopard tortoise owes its name to the spotted patterning on its outer shell and not for leopard-like speed. Moving gingerly about the African terrain their spots act as camouflage and help them to blend with their surroundings. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot determine the age of a tortoise by counting the spots (or rings) on its shell.

Cunning ant hunters

Ant lions resemble neither lion nor ant. In fact, they are larvae-like and when full grown they grow wings and sometimes resemble dragonflies. Like lions they are cunning hunters. Some species dig traps in the sand, bury themselves at the bottom of these and lie in wait for ants to fall through. Once the prey is in their lair the ant lion uses it’s razor-sharp jaws to pierce through its dinner and suck the body fluids.

Africa is brimming with abundant wildlife and increasing awareness means a growing appreciation of lesser known but no less intriguing creatures. So why not take up the challenge of ticking off Africa’s Little 5?

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