Divert your gaze with these extraordinary Little 5
Imagine a tortoise with leopard like spots and an ability to swim, a passerine bird with an externally visible psuedo-penis, or a beetle with a rhinoceros like horn. Also, imagine a small mouse-like creature baring a trunk which rapidly runs along pathways and deftly kicks obstacles from its trail. Sounds a little “Alice in Wonderland”? Or perhaps, a creation so mystical in appearance and behaviour that they served as an archetypal for the “Ceti eels” featured in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan! Only you don’t have to imagine this, as these are all real and possible sightings of the “Little 5” in Africa’s national parks.
Visitors from all over rush to our parks in the hope of seeing “Big 5!” interaction. But, what about the other 5005 forgotten inhabitants in our biodiversity hotspots?” Luckily, Rael Loon, Wildlife Author & Scientist had a similar thought pattern. Ignoring these “5005 inhabitants” is a drawback to visitors. And, it was at this point he introduced us to the “Small 5005 concept.”
Malcolm Douglas, Senior Lecturer of South African Wildlife College enlightens me by explaining the concept. He says, “5005 is a play on numbers, started by Rael with the notion that the Big 5 is so limiting, and a clichéd marketing gimmick. How can only 5 species be of interest to a visitor in the bush? It is at this point we noticed the movement from “Big 5” to “Little 5”.
Introducing these “Little 5” in Africa’s national parks:
- The leopard tortoise, red-billed buffalo weaver and antlion which are most easily spotted.
- The rhino beetle is generally only seen at night-time as it is attracted to lights.
- The elephant shrew is the most difficult to spot without a camera trap (a remotely activated camera that is equipped with a motion or infrared sensor).
The Leopard Tortoise sports an attractive shell with markings that resemble that of a leopard. It is one of the few tortoises that is capable of swimming and can often be seen crossing a river or lake. They are the fifth largest species of tortoise and prefer a semi-arid, thorny grassland habitat. They typically live to between 80 and 100 years of age and adults reach a length of 18 inches.
Red-billed buffalo weaver
The Red-billed buffalo weaver has an interesting dynamic and considered extroverted by nature. They are typically found in savannah, thornveld and dry woodland. Their social nature is displayed by untidy communal stick nests in tree colonies. The nests are generally occupied by one male and several females. Fascinating, they are one of few bird species to possess a visible phalliod organ on the belly. The males’ psuedo penis can reach approximately 1.5cm in size. However the function of this organ during their prolonged copulation is not entirely certain. They can often be seen feeding off of a buffalo.
The ant-lion larva is a ferocious-appearing creature with a small head that bears a pair of sickle-like jaws with teeth-like projections. They frequent sandy terrain and are often nicknamed “doodlebugs” because of the spiral-shaped trails they create in sand when hunting. They predominantly prey off ants but will eat anything else that they capture in their trap. Following approximately 3 weeks of healthy growth the larva will spin a silk cacoon from which a lacewing will emerge.
The rhinoceros beetle is aptly named because it has horns on its head much like the rhinoceros does. This herbivorous beetle is unyielding and can carry 850 times its own weight. They are generally found on decaying wood and plant matter. And, if you listen carefully you may hear a hissing cheep sound. This is not a vocal noise but the sound of the beetle rubbing its abdomen and wing covers together.
The elephant shrew habits closed-canopy woodlands, and thickets, usually with a floor densely covered by leaf-litter. It is an insectivorous eating, hopping mammal whose long snout often resembles the trunk of an elephant (and moves as such). And not to be misled they are not part of the shrew family, but are considered sengis, a term derived from the Bantu languages of Africa.
Original Source: Latest Sightins & Africa Geographic by Tracy