Discovering the ‘Little Five’

Apr 29, 2020

We can guarantee that you have heard of Africa’s Big Five. Now while it may take you a second to recount the animals that make this grouping, we know that you can at least name a few. For those of you ready to open up a new Google tab to quickly refresh your memory, here they are: the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and African Buffalo.

Unsurprisingly, many visitors to South Africa dream of encountering the renowned national Big Five. In fact, so much so that many foreigners’ sole intention for visiting our grassy landscapes have been in the hopes of spotting one of these incredible creatures whilst on a picturesque safari experience.

While these (admittedly incredible) animals tend to get all the attention, did you know that there is a “Little Five”? Probably not, so we thought we’d give them the attention that they deserve. Here are the somewhat shy, sometimes admittedly not-too-pretty and unfamiliar faces that make up the Little Five:

The Ant Lion

ant lion little five

The ant lion (scientifically known as the Myrmeleontidae) is a rather odd, yet familiar, creature of the bushveld. For our more visual readers – here’s our best description of this little critter: picture a mix between a brown scorpion with its wide- set pincher jaws and a caterpillar. And there you have an Ant lion!

They are known for creating those funnel-shaped sandy death-traps that look like moon craters. The ant lion then hides just beneath the surface awaiting their prey, which comprises mainly of ants – as their name would suggest.

Ant lions are the smallest of the Little Five and are sometimes referred to as ‘doodlebugs’ because of the abovementioned markings that they leave in the sand.


Buffalo Weaver Bird

buffalo weaver bird little five

Did you know that you have most likely seen a Buffalo Weaver Bird (Bubalornis niger)? Yes, even if you aren’t an avid bird watcher. If you are picturing those birds that are always found wondering around Buffalos – then you would be correct. They enjoy being around their larger Buffalo counterparts as they help kick up the insects for the Buffalo Weaver to eat.

Although the Buffalo Weaver does come in two species. The first being the Black Buffalo Weaver that you’re envisioning and the second being the White Buffalo Weaver that has a white head and striking orange markings on the base of its body.

These noisy and sociable birds enjoy living in relatively large colonies and can be heard by their easily identifiable call. Buffalo Beaver birds are also known for building huge, messy nests out of grass and twigs, which can be seen scattered all over tall-standing trees.


Elephant Shrew 

elephant shrew little five

Probably one of the least commonly seen of the Small Five clan, but arguably the cutest is the Elephant Shrew. Believe it or not, Elephant Shrews (Macroscelididae) are genetically related to elephants!

Although these insect-eating mammals have mouse-like bodies, they have long snouts resembling an elephant’s trunk. But unlike their larger elephant counterparts – Elephant Shrews can run like the wind!

As they are considered to be quite an introverted species spotting them can be rather difficult. Not only are they skittish and timid in nature but also spend a considerable amount of time hiding from potential predators. If you do come across an Elephant Shrew they are most likely foraging for food. Their diets comprises of fruits, nuts, seeds and insects.


Leopard Tortoise

leopard tortoise little five

The Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is the easiest to spot out of the Little Five, with its colourful display of yellow and black spots on their shell that is somewhat reminiscent of the spots that you would find on a leopard. These spots easily blend in with the surrounding landscape and are therefore an additional means of protection and/or camouflage – much like a leopard.

If ever you are close enough to a Leopard Tortoise, you will most likely hear cat-like hissing, which they make when they have been approached or feel frightened. This is, in actual fact, not them hissing, but rather the air leaving their lungs in order for them to make space and compress into their shell for protection.

Leopard Tortoises are also known for grazing on dry grass and often seek shelter in abandoned burrows. While they are capable of digging these holes themselves, they prefer other animals to do the heavy lifting. Their burrow-digging energies are saved for when it is time to lay eggs.


Rhinoceros Beetle

rhinoceros beetle little five
Did you know that this little guy made his famous debut in The Lion King movie? Although the cameo was rather short and he was depicted as blue, instead of dark red, we cannot help but applaud this beetle for making it into a piece of cinematic history!

The Rhinoceros Beetle (Scarabaeinae dynastinae) is one of the largest beetles in South Africa. This creature gets its name from the horns on its head, that look very similar to the horns found on a Rhino.

It should be mentioned that their fierce-looking exterior, horns and outer armour are particularly useful – as a means of protection – but mostly as a way to win over other female Rhinoceros Beetles. Their dangerous appearance is somewhat of a front as these beetles are completely harmless to human beings!

When it comes to the diet of a Rhinoceros Beetle – they aren’t too picky. Their diet is surprisingly varied and includes a variety of fruits, sap, bark and vegetable matter.

There are a variety of awesome little creatures that are also deserving of your attention – all you have to do is look down. On your next trip out to iKhaya LamaDube Lodge, make sure to take a second to see if you can spot any of these small wonders. Just make sure to tag us in the photos so we get to see too!

Have any questions about the Little Five? Pop a comment below and we’ll get back to you!

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