Most of us are familiar with Africa’s Big 5, but are you familiar with the Small five?
These little animals might be smaller in size when compared to the Big 5, but they are equally captivating. If you know the Big 5 well, it will be easy for you to remember the Small Five. They are the Elephant Shrew, the Buffalo Weaver, the Leopard Tortoise, the Antlion, and the Rhino Beetle.
The elephant shrew takes its name from the long-pointed head and exceptionally long, mobile, trunk-like nose. This tiny mammal measures 260mm and only weighs about 60 grams. An interesting fact is that its tail is longer than its entire body.
The elephant shrew eats “leaf litter invertebrates” such as ants, termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and earthworms. Unlike many other small mammals, the elephant shrew feeds during daylight. They play a significant role in maintaining a natural balance of insect populations.
Sightings of this small creature is rare, but they are found throughout Africa.
The Buffalo weaver is sparrow-like in size and appearance. The ‘buffalo’ part of their name is derived from its habit of feeding on the insects found on buffalo. They live in dry regions, where they feed omnivorously on the ground in small noisy flocks, often on account of buffalo herds. Their nests are usually a heap of thorny twigs containing compartments for two or more pairs; several nests may occupy the same tree. Featured in this photo is the Red-billed buffalo-weaver which is common to the Kruger national park.
The attractively marked leopard tortoise is the largest species of tortoise in southern Africa and 4th largest in the world. In exceptional cases, a leopard tortoise can exceed 40 kg and have a carapace length of 750 mm. Females usually grow faster and larger than males.
The leopard tortoise eats plant matter, but also old hyena scat (coprophagia). They also like to gnaw on bones. The high calcium content in both provide essential minerals to keep the tortoise’s shell in good condition, and to aid eggshell production. Leopard tortoises are the only tortoise not to have a nuchal shield (the protective scute above the neck). This means the leopard tortoise is the only member of the family that can raise its head, and thus is the only member that can swim
The leopard tortoise can live up to 100 years in the wild. An interesting fact about the leopard tortoise is that the gender of the young is based on the temperature of their surroundings. 21-31 degrees Celsius results in the development of males and 31- 34 and above degrees Celsius results in the development of males.
The antlion larva is an unappealing looking creature with a robust body, a well-rounded abdomen and the thorax bearing three pairs of walking legs. The antlion has a very distinguishing trait, which is a pair of “reaping hook” shaped jaws, with many sharp, hollow projections that act like intravenous needles. The antlion grabs its prey with these jaws and delivers a potent poison. This poison is 100 times more potent than the poison of a Japanese puffer fish. They are, however, harmless to humans, flowers, or structures.
An antlion excavates its pit by using its oval-shaped abdomen as a plow and its flat head as a shovel for flicking sand upward. It circles backward through the sand and repeatedly flicks sand upward, raising its head above the soil surface.
The rhinoceros beetle, so-named due to its large re-curving horn, is a well-known sight in gardens and on farms in Africa and is one of the largest beetles in the world. The mouthparts of adult rhino beetles are adapted for chewing and biting. They are often found burrowing into the growing crowns of palms to feed on the young leaves. They are nocturnal and often attracted to lights, such as porch and streetlights.
Rhinoceros beetles use their horns for digging, defense during fighting, climbing, and mating. Rhinoceros beetles are the strongest animals on the planet, proportionally. They can lift up to 850 times their own weight. To put this into perspective, if a human of average height and weight had the strength of the rhinoceros beetle, it would be able to lift a 65-ton object. You would also think something as massive as an elephant would be able to carry more weight than a little insect. However, A huge African elephant can only carry up to 25% of its own weight on its back and as the Rhino Beetle can carry 850 times their own weight, there is no contest. That would be like an elephant carrying 850 elephants on its back. Despite their fierce appearance, they are all totally harmless. They cannot bite or sting or hurt you with their horns.