Little Creatures Make Big Impressions on Safari

You may have already heard of the Big Five African game: leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalos, rhinos and lions. With their massive size and strength, these animals are sure to capture the attention of anyone who encounters them.

But many smaller creatures are just as fascinating – you just have to know where to look. A fun, pun-filled list of must-see safari animals called “the Little Five” draws attention to sub-Saharan Africa’s more minute wildlife.

Read on to find out more about the astounding ant lion, beautiful buffalo weaver, extraordinary elephant shrew, lovely leopard tortoise and resplendent rhinoceros beetle.

What small creatures are on your safari “must-see” list?


Ant lion

ant lion
Photo by Jonathan Numer. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Ant lion is the name given to the larvae from 2,000 species of related insects that look like dragonflys as adults. Ant lions hunt by digging holes in the sand and posing as ants that have become stuck in them.  Insects hoping to eat the “ants” get eaten by the ant lion instead.


Buffalo weaver

red-billed buffalo weaver
Red-billed buffalo weaver photo by Greg Tee. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Of all the Little Five, the buffalo weaver is probably the easiest to spot. They aren’t shy of people, and in fact prefer habitats where humans and livestock roam. Large groups typically nest together in trees or in manmade structures like windmills. Buffalo weavers are found in Eastern Africa from Somalia and southward, and throughout most of Southern Africa. You can spot two species: the red-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis niger, pictured above) and the white-headed buffalo weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli, below).

Dinemellia_dinemelli, white-headed buffalo weaver
White-headed buffalo weaver photo by Bob Fabry. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Elephant shrew

This elephant shrew is just a baby. Adults' noses are even longer! Photo by Smithsonian National Zoo. Used through a Creative Commons license.
This elephant shrew is just a baby. Adults’ noses are even longer! Photo by Clyde Nishimura and Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Elephant shrews get their name from their long noses. About the size of a large mouse, these mammals are found mostly in South Africa and Botswana. The get around by hopping on large hind legs. They are not shrews, but are in fact more closely related to hyraxes and elephants.


Leopard tortoise

leopard tortoise
Photo by Berthold Werner. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Weighing up to 40 pounds and living as long as 100 years, this is the largest of the Little Five. They tend to live in thorny brush or grassland, two ecosystems that offer them plenty of vegetation to eat. When threatened, they retract their head and arms into their shell.


Rhinoceros beetle

rhinoceros beetle
Photo by TIm Ellis. Used through a Creative Commons license.

Africa has many species of rhinoceros beetles, so named for the horn-like structures that protrude from their faces. They use the horns to dig for food, and males also use them when fighting each other over mates. Ranging in size from 1 to 2½ inches, they make a big impression.

 

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