Just like the Big Five. Just a little smaller, a little tougher and sometimes even a little more interesting - Lion, Cape buffalo, African elephant, black rhinoceros and leopard: The famous African Big 5. These animals earned this status as the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot and who, when cornered, presented the most danger to the hunter. Today the Big 5 is of the main reasons millions of adventurers, travellers and safari goers visit national parks and reserves to “hunt” these animals, armed with cameras and lenses and monopods.
However, while you are stretching your spotting skills (and pressing your luck) trying to find that elusive leopard, spend some time trying to photograph the Little 5; So named simply because they are small and their names contain the names of the Big 5 animals. You don’t even have to go on a game drive to spot them – they can easily be found in your camp or in Bushveld Terrace Hotel's garden.
1. The Ant Lion
Ferocious ambush predator extraordinaire – a lot like its namesake - but while lions in a very successful pride can boast a hunting success rate of approximately 30%, an unsuspecting ant that falls into an ant lion’s conical sand trap is lunch. Finish en klaar.
Ant lions are actually the larvae of lacewings – flying, nectar eating insects often mistaken for dragonflies or damselflies. The larva lives most of its life underground, digging traps and gorging itself with ants and termites.
2. The Rhinoceros Beetle
Rhino beetles – so named because of the horn(s) on its head – are a subfamily of the scarab beetle family; the same family dung beetles belong to. Hundreds of species are found all over the world.
Also known as Hercules beetles in some places, it is said that rhino beetles are the strongest insects in the world, capable of lifting 850 times its body weight. To put the claim into perspective: this would be equal to a 80kg human lifting a Southern right whale (68 tons) over its head. Wie’s jou pappa, Thor?
3. Red Billed Buffalo Weaver
Ranked as one of the largest in the weaver bird family, buffalo weavers like to live in large colonies – just like African buffaloes prefer large herds. They too prefer open savannah, dry grassland and low bush.
Unlike their four-legged herbivorous namesakes, buffalo weavers are omnivorous and eat almost anything. Seed, fruit and insects like crickets, locusts, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, wasps, ants, flies and spiders are all on the menu. No scientific study has ever been published, but one can assume that the weavers’ more balanced diet results in significantly less methane flatulence than the buffaloes’ grass only meals.
4. The Leopard Tortoise
Named for their attractively marked, leopard-skin rosette shells, leopard tortoises are found in semi-arid, thorny, from open grassland to thorny bush habitats. That is where the similarities end, however.
Where the kolletjieskat is an elusive ninja predator, the leopard tortoise is an easy-does-it herbivore that prefers getting its grazing done slowly and properly. This is maybe also why it outlives the big cat 6 times over. Leopards have a lifespan of approximately 15 years, whereas the tortoise easily lives to be a 100.
5. The Elephant Shrew
Cuteness overload! Native to Africa, elephant shrews get their names from the fancied resemblance between their long noses and the trunk of an elephant. They are small, mouse-like insectivorous mammals that use its long noses to find prey and its tongue to flick small food into its mouth, much like an anteater. Larger prey, like an earthworm for instance, are pinned to the ground with the forelegs and chewed off with its cheek teeth, like a dog chewing a bone.
Elephant shrews have long hind legs and hop around like rabbits, which is why another name for them is jumping shrews. Elephant shrews can jump up to a meter high. Elephants, on the other hand, can jump exactly 0cm high. (See last month’s blog).