The term little five was brought to life, after safari tourists’ successful wildlife experience of the big five in Southern Africa. It was after a call by nature conservationists for visitors also to acknowledge the smaller — less noticed — but still enigmatic, animals of the savanna (called bushveld in South Africa).
Each “little” species is a contradiction in sheer size to the big five animal, but the first part of its English name relates to one of the famous bigger five animals one-on-one.
- Elephant shrew: a small, insect-eating mammal with a long nose. Elephant shrews are very common in Southern Africa but seldom seen.
Elephant shrews, or jumping shrews, are small insectivorous mammals native to Africa, belonging to the family Macroscelididae, in the order Macroscelidea, whose traditional common English name comes from a fancied resemblance between their long noses and the trunk of an elephant, and an assumed relationship with the shrews (family Soricidae) in the order Eulipotyphla. Nonetheless, elephant shrews are not classified with the superficially similar true shrews, but are instead more closely related to elephants and their kin within the newly recognized Afrotheria; the biologist Jonathan Kingdon has proposed they instead be called sengis (singular sengi), a term derived from the Bantu languages of Africa.
They are widely distributed across the southern part of Africa, and although common nowhere, can be found in almost any type of habitat, from the Namib Desert to boulder-strewn outcrops in South Africa to thick forest. One species, the North African elephant shrew, remains in the semiarid, mountainous country in the far northwest of the continent.
The creature is one of the fastest small mammals. Despite their weight of under half a kilogram, they have been recorded to reach speeds of 28.8 km/h.
Elephant shrews are small, quadrupedal, insectivorous mammals resembling rodents or opossums, with scaly tails, elongated snouts, and rather long legs for their size, which are used to move in a hopping fashion like rabbits. They vary in size from about 10 cm to almost 30 cm, from just under 50g to over 500g. The short-eared elephant shrew has an average size of 150 mm (5.9 in). Although the size of the trunk varies among species, all are able to twist it about in search of food. Their lifespans are about two and a half to four years in the wild. They have large canine teeth, and also high-crowned cheek teeth similar to those of ungulates. Their dental formula is 1-22.214.171.124.1.4.2-3
Although mostly diurnal and very active, they are difficult to trap and very seldom seen; elephant shrews are wary, well camouflaged, and adept at dashing away from threats. Several species make a series of cleared pathways through the undergrowth and spend their day patrolling them for insect life. If disturbed, the pathway provides an obstacle-free escape route.
Elephant shrews are not highly social animals, but many live in monogamous pairs, which share and defend their home territory, marked using scent glands. Rhynchocyon species also dig small conical holes in the soil, bandicoot – style, but others may make use of natural crevices, or make leaf nests.
Short-eared elephant shrews inhabit the dry steppes and stone deserts of southwestern Africa. They can even be found in the Namib Desert, one of the driest regions of the earth. Females drive away other females, while males try to ward off other males. Although they live in pairs, the partners do not care much for each other and their sole purpose of even associating with the opposite sex is for reproduction. Social behaviors are not very common and they even have separate nests. The one or two young are well developed at birth; they are able to run within a few hours.
Female elephant shrews undergo a menstrual cycle similar to that of human females and the species is one of the few non primate mammals to do so. The males have relatively long penises, reaching to near the sternum. The elephant shrew mating period lasts for several days. After mating, the pair will return to their solitary habits. After a gestation period varying from 45 to 60 days, the female will bear litters of one to three young several times a year. The young are born relatively well developed, but remain in the nest for several days before venturing outside.
After five days, the young’s milk diet is supplemented with mashed insects, which are collected and transported in the cheek pouches of the female. The young then slowly start to explore their environment and hunt for insects. After about 15 days, the young will begin the migratory phase of their lives, which lessens their dependency on their mother. The young will then establish their own home ranges (about 1 km²) and will become sexually active within 41–46 days.
Elephant shrews mainly eat insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and earthworms. An elephant shrew uses its nose to find prey and uses its tongue to flick small food into its mouth, much like an anteater. Eating large prey can pose a challenge; an elephant shrew struggling with an earthworm must first pin its prey to the ground with a forefoot. Then, turning its head to one side, it chews pieces off with its cheek teeth, much like a dog chewing a bone. This is a sloppy process, and many small pieces of worm drop to the ground; these are simply flicked up with the tongue. Some elephant shrews also feed on small amounts of plant matter, especially new leaves, seeds, and small fruits.
A number of fossil species are known, all from Africa. They were separate from the similar-appearing order Leptictida. A considerable diversification of macroscelids occurred in the Paleogene Era. Some, such as Myohyrax, were so similar to hyraxes that they were initially included with that group, while others, such as Mylomygale, were relatively rodent-like. These unusual forms all died out by the Pleistocene. Although macroscelids have been classified with many groups, often on the basis of superficial characteristics, considerable morphological and molecular evidence now indicates placing them within Afrotheria, probably close to the base of Paenungulata.
In the past, elephant shrews have been classified with the shrews and hedgehogs as part of the Insectivora; regarded as distant relatives of the ungulates; grouped with the tree shrews; and lumped in with the hares and rabbits in the Lagomorpha. Recent molecular evidence, however, strongly supports a superorder Afrotheria that unites elephant shrews with tenrecs and golden moles as well as certain mammals previously presumed to be ungulates, including hyraxes, sirenians, aardvarks and elephants.
The 19 species of elephant shrew are placed in four genera, one of which is monotypic:
Short – snouted elephant shrew, E. brachyrhynchus
Cape elephant shrew, E. edwardii
Dusky-footed elephant shrew, E. fuscipes
Dusky elephant shrew, E. fuscus
Bushveld elephant shrew, E. intufi
Eastern rock elephant shrew, E. myurus
Karoo rock elephant shrew, E. pilicaudus
Somali elephant shrew, E. revoili
North African elephant shrew, E. rozeti
Rufous elephant shrew, E. rufescens
Western rock elephant shrew, E. rupestris
Namib round-eared sengi, M. flavicaudatus
Etendeka round-eared sengi, M. micus
Round-eared elephant shrew, M. proboscideus
Four-toed elephant shrew, P. tetradactylus
Golden-rumped elephant shrew, R. chrysopygus
Checkered elephant shrew, R. cirnei
Black and rufous elephant shrew, R. petersi
Grey-faced sengi R. udzungwensis
- Buffalo weaver: the buffalo weaver is the easiest among the little five to find and observe.
The red-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis niger) is a species of bird in the Ploceidae family. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Its natural habitat is the dry savanna. Today Uganda is becoming most loved destination for the birding tours in Uganda and it can be combined with wildlife and primates.
The body length of approximately 24 cm and the weight of 65 g place rank this as one of the largest of the Ploceidae (weaver birds). Visually the sexes are not greatly differentiated from one another. The red-billed buffalo weaver is differentiated from the white-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis albirostris) by the color of its bill.
The feathers of the male are dark chocolate brown in color. The front wing edges and the wing tips are flecked with white. His bill is a shade of red. The eyes are brown and the feet are reddish brown. The female’s body is also colored dark chocolate brown, without the white flecks on the wings. However, her chin and throat feathers include broad white colored hems. Her eyes are dark brown and her legs light brown. Adolescent birds are a lighter shade of brown.
Feeding and Foraging
The diet of the red billed buffalo weaver consists primarily of insects, seed and fruit. Particular insects the bird feeds on include crickets, locusts, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, weevils, wasps, bees, ants, flies, and spiders. Its diet also includes scorpions. Most of these food sources are located in the soil or in low vegetation. As a result, the red-billed buffalo weaver does most of its foraging on the ground. Climate changes have not significantly affected the abundance of prey for the bird.
Habit, habitats, and micro habitats
These birds tend to live in dry Savannah and sparse woodlands. They prefer areas usually disturbed by humans and livestock. In fact, if people living in community with a population of red-billed buffalo weavers leave, the birds often depart as well. Thus as places continue to be urbanized, these birds find more homes. Additionally, overpopulation does not tend to be a problem for the red-billed buffalo weaver seeing as they live in colonies.
Behavior and social organization
The red-billed buffalo weaver has been observed in small family groups or in large flocks. Males tend to be polygamous and control anywhere from 1 to 8 nest chambers with 3 females. Typically there is one dominant male who controls the most chambers and the most females. The males in lower social positions control fewer chambers and fewer females. These males will defend their chambers and females by showing aggressive displays and giving loud calls. However, two males sometimes cooperate with each other to build the nest, defend their territory, and help feed the chicks.
Females do not tolerate other females in their chambers while they are nesting and laying their eggs. Females typically feed the chicks (unless they are part of a cooperative breeding colony). The diet consists of insects, seeds, and fruit found near the nest.
Reproduction and Breeding
Red-billed buffalo weavers breed in colonies. The nests are composed of an enormous mass of thorny twigs. These twigs are divided into separate lodges (compartments), each with multiple egg chambers. Each chamber has a smaller nest, typically built by the female (unless they are part of a cooperative breeding colony). The smaller nest is composed of grass, leaves, and roots. The whole nest is usually found in a thorny tree or in a windmill near areas inhabited by humans. It is interesting to note that when humans depart from particular areas, so do the red-billed buffalo weavers living in the same area. White-backed vultures and bateleurs tend to construct their nests above red-billed buffalo weaver nests, which is helpful in camouflaging their nests from predators.
Male Red-billed buffalo weavers possess a pseudo-penis around 1.5 cm long. It was first reported in an 1831 German anatomist’s report on the birds and subsequent research has shown that it is female selected. The pseudo-penis has no blood vessels and does not carry sperm but instead appears to be favored by the females for pleasure and aids males in attracting females; males in colonies have larger pseudo-penises than males which live alone, suggesting male-male competition has also favored the growth of this peculiar organ.
Egg laying season can last from September to June, with the peak occurring between December and March. Females lay anywhere from 2 to 4 eggs and incubate them for roughly 14 days. The females are the only ones that tend to the eggs during this period. After 20 to 23 days, the birds leave the nest.
Conservation status and threats
The red-billed buffalo weaver is currently listed as a least concern (LC) on the IUCN status. While the global population of this species has not been estimated, this bird is considered common and the population is stable. There are currently no programs or organizations established to monitor and maintain the LC status of the bird. Predators of the red-billed buffalo weaver include hawks, eagles, snakes, and baboons. They prey on both adult and adolescent birds.
- Leopard tortoise
The leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, although in the past it was commonly placed in Geochelone. This tortoise is a grazing species that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. Leopard tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Not surprisingly, given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles.
Taxonomy and Etymology
The phylogenic placement of the leopard tortoise has been subject to several revisions. Different authors have placed it in Geochelone (1957), Stigmochelys (2001), Centrochelys (2002), and Psammobates (2006). More recently, consensus appears to have settled on Stigmochelys, a monotypic genus. There has been considerable debate about the existence of two subspecies but recent work does not support this distinction.
“Stigmochelys” is a combination of Greek words: stigma meaning “mark” or “point”* and chelone meaning “tortoise”. The specific name pardalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning “leopard” and refers to the leopard-like spots on the tortoise’s shell.
The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 40 centimetres (16 in) and weighing 13 kilograms (29 lb). Adults tend to be larger in the northern and southern ends of their range, where typical specimens weigh up to 20 kilograms (44 lb) and an exceptionally large tortoise may reach 70 centimetres (28 in) and weigh 40 kilograms (88 lb).
The carapace is high and domed with steep, almost vertical sides. Juveniles and young adults are attractively marked with black blotches, spots or even dashes and stripes on a yellow background. In mature adults the markings tend to fade to a nondescript brown or grey. The head and limbs are uniformly colored yellow, tan, or brown.
Distribution and habitat
Widely distributed across the arid and savanna regions of eastern and southern Africa, extending from South Sudan and Somalia, across East Africa to South Africa and Namibia. The species is generally absent from the humid forest regions of Central Africa. Over this range, the leopard tortoise occupies the most varied habitats of any African tortoise including grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic brush land, and savannas. They can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,900 meters (9,500 ft).
Ecology and Behavior
Leopard tortoises are herbivorous; their diet consists of a wide variety of plants including forbs, thistles, grasses, and succulents. They will sometimes gnaw on bones or even hyena feces to obtain calcium, necessary for bone development and their eggshells. Seeds will pass undigested through the gut, so the leopard tortoise plays a significant role in seed dispersal. Normally active during the day, they are less active during hot weather or during the dry season.
A very long-lived animal, the leopard tortoise reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 12 and 15 years. During the mating season, males will fight over females, ramming and butting their competitors. They will trail after females for quite some distance, often ramming them into submission. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. Nesting occurs between May and October when the female digs a hole and lays a clutch of 5 to 30 eggs. As many as 5-7 clutches may be laid in a single season. Incubation will take 8-15 months depending on temperature. There are numerous predators of the eggs and hatchlings including monitor lizards, snakes, jackals and crows. Adults have few natural predators but lions and hyenas have occasionally been reported preying on them.
The leopard tortoise is a widespread species and remains common throughout most of its range. Human activities, including agricultural burning, consumption, and especially commercial exploitation in the pet trade, are potential threats but have not yet caused significant population declines. They are increasingly being bred in captivity for the pet trade. For example, most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, alleviating collection from the wild.
The leopard tortoise has been listed in Appendix II of CITES since 1975 and in 2000, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heart water, an infectious disease carried by tortoise ticks that could seriously impact the US livestock industry.
- Ant lion
The ant lions are a group of about 2,000 species of insect in the family Myrmeleontidae, known for the fiercely predatory habits of their larvae, which in many species dig pits to trap passing ants or other prey. The adult insects are less well known, as they mostly fly at dusk or after dark, and may be mistakenly identified as dragonflies or damselflies; they are sometimes known as ant lion lacewings, and in North America, the larvae are sometimes referred to as doodlebugs because of the strange marks they leave in the sand.
Ant lions have a worldwide distribution. The greatest diversity occurs in the tropics, but a few species are found in cold-temperate locations, one such being the European Euroleon nostras. They most commonly occur in dry and sandy habitats where the larvae can easily excavate their pits, but some larvae hide under debris or ambush their prey among leaf litter.
Ant lions are poorly represented in the fossil record. Myrmeleontiformia is generally accepted to be a monophyletic group, and within the Myrmeleontoidea, the ant lions’ closest living relatives are thought to be the owlflies (Ascalaphidae). The predatory actions of the larvae have attracted attention throughout history, and ant lions have been mentioned in literature since classical times. Read More
- Rhino beetle
Dynastinae or rhinoceros beetles are a subfamily of the scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae). Other common names – some for particular groups of rhinoceros beetles – are for example Hercules beetles, unicorn beetles or horn beetles. Over 300 species of rhinoceros beetles are known.
Many rhinoceros beetles are well known for their unique shapes and large sizes. Some famous species are, for example, the Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma atlas), common rhinoceros beetle (Xylotrupes ulysses), elephant beetle (Megasoma elephas), European rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis), Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules), Japanese rhinoceros beetle or kabutomushi (Allomyrina dichotoma), ox beetle (Strategus aloeus) and the Eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus). Read More