Whilst on safari, many tourists pursue the Big Five as they are the most sought after and a great attraction. They include the elephant, rhinoceros, lion, cape buffalo and leopard, however, many people know very little of the Little Five. The Little Five which include the elephant shrew, ant lion, buffalo weaver, rhinoceros beetle, and leopard tortoise can be found all over South Africa.
As a country, we have so much to offer, our wildlife is exquisite and the country has some of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, with extraordinary birdlife, ample buck, small game, and unusual insects.
This mammal’s scientific name is Macroscelididae. This tiny creature lives in dry plains, rocky ridges and savannah grasslands and gets its name from its extended snout. These creatures are found all over South Africa and only grow to a length of 25cm, with an average weight of 60 grams. They feed on insects, fruit, seeds, and nuts. In turn, they are food for snakes and raptors, making them tremendously timid and wary.
They live in monogamous pairs for life but are not at all sociable, driving off any intrusion. You’ll be interested to know that female elephant shrews have a menstrual cycle very similar to that of human females. The chances of spotting them are slim, so if you manage to see an elephant shrew before an actual elephant, you can count your safari a real success!
The ant lion is also known as Myrmeleontidae or doodlebug and it is an odd insect of the bush. The ant lion is the larval form of the lacewing fly and it digs burrows in dry, soft sand with which to trap its prey. As ants and other insects scurry by the pit, they tumble in and slide down the steep walls. They can try and walk back out, but find little footing in the loose sand. The waiting antlion can speed up the prey’s demise by tossing sand at it, causing a little landslide that brings the ant to the bottom of the trap.
Some adults of some species eat pollen and nectar, and others are predators of small arthropods such as ants. This interesting insect resembles a dragonfly, although it’s not well-adapted for flight. Antlions have no anus; all their waste is finally discharged as meconium near the end of its pupal stage. Their bodies are bulbous and hairy, and their flat heads sit on elongated necks and feature a pair of sickle-shaped mandibles.
Buffalo weavers are also known as Bubarlornis niger and are social birds that build their nests in the split branches of tall trees. They nest in open colonies and are a rather noisy and busy lot. The weavers’ nests can be recognized by their rather bedraggled state, made from coarse grasses and with untidy twig structures. This member of the Little Five has a height of 23cm and weighs around 80 grams.
The buffalo weaver is black with either a red or white bill (the white-headed variety is found in other parts of Africa). This bird forages for food on the ground and eats insects such as butterflies, bees, wasps, locusts, and ants. They are preyed on aerially, killed and then eaten. The male red-billed buffalo weaver is polygamous, controlling up to three females at a time and between one to eight nests.
The rhinoceros beetle, dynastinae, is one of the largest beetles in Southern Africa and is identified by an impressive horn on its head. Both males and females are horned, but only the males are known for antagonistic behaviour and are much more aggressive than rhinos. They use their horns to fight opponents. The horns are also used to dig, climb and mate. All rhinoceros beetles are herbivorous. The adults feed on fruit, nectar, and sap. The larvae eat decaying plant matter.
Prone to lifting up to 850 times their body weight although despite their size and strength they are harmless to humans as they can neither sting nor bite. They are nocturnal, avoiding their predators during the day when they hide under logs or in amongst vegetation; when confronted they will hiss and squeak by rubbing their abdomens against the wing covers.
The leopard tortoise’s scientific name is Stigmochelys pardalis. It is a stunning creature of the bush, getting its name from its black and yellow spotted shell. The animal is one of the largest breeds of tortoise in this part of the world; a mature leopard tortoise can weigh over 23 kilograms, with a shell circumference of up to one metre. The males are larger than the females and when fighting for supremacy the males turn one another over. They enjoy the fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus.
Younger tortoises have dark brown patterns, while adult shells take on shades of yellow with slightly smaller spots. You will be interested to know that when it rains they tend to stay in abandoned fox, jackal or anteater burrows. You’ll find them in the savannah grasslands, and they typically live between 80 to 100 years.
Make sure to look out for these fascinating creatures whilst on your next safari!