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Do You Know All The 5’s Found On The African Plains?


We all know the famous Big Five most tourists come to Africa for, but how about the Little 5 as well as the occasionally mentioned Ugly 5?

The Big 5 being the Elephant, Rhinoceros, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard with the origin of the term Big 5 still a mystery to us.

The most probable origin seems to be that the famous Big 5 were called that by early hunters who found them to be the most dangerous to hunt, hence the term Big 5.

Now let’s turn our attention to the Little 5. For each of the big ones there is a little one with names matching the Big 5.


Elephant Shrew

The mighty elephant in the little five collection is the elephant shrew.

Elephant shrews are called that because their long nose resembles an elephant trunk and the body that of a shrew. They occur in most Southern African countries and can vary from around 50 to 300mm in length. Although they live in pairs they really only get together when the time comes to mate and a female can have up to 4 litters of one to three young per year. They have no relation to shrews and in fact are closer to elephants than to shrews!

They have a mostly insectivorous diet although small amounts of organic material is consumed. They are diurnal, but elusive and rarely seen.

An interesting fact is that females menstruate like humans and that their menstruating cycles were studied by scientists in the 1940’s in order to understand the human cycles.

Elephant shrews have an important role in nature in that they keep insect populations under control.


Rhinoceros Beetle

Rhinoceros beetles are called by that name because males have a long horn with which they fight for territory and ward off other males trying to steal their girl!

Rhino beetles are nocturnal and feed on organic matter like compost and manure throughout their lives. They are reputed to be the strongest animals on earth and can lift an object 850 times their own weight! They are found in most countries on earth in varying sizes and colours.

The life cycle has four stages starting with the female laying a few dozen oval shaped eggs into compost or manure. The eggs hatches and white grubs emerges which feeds aggressively on the manure until it enters a pupal stage lasting up to 9 months.

The beetle then breaks out of the hard pupal covering from which the adult beetle emerges and starts the cycle all over again. Many of them have an outer and inner pair of wings, allowing them to fly around actively at night, although in some species the outer wings are fused, rendering them flightless.

Rhinoceros beetles have an important role in nature in that they help with the breaking down of organic matter and therefor the re distribution of nutrients back to the soil.


Buffalo Weaver

Buffalo weavers are fairly large passerines found in the savanna regions of Southern Africa.

A number of different species occur in southern and eastern Africa, including the black billed and white headed buffalo weavers. Their diets consist mainly of an array of insects and spiders, including scorpions. Males differ from females in that they have white patches on the wing tips and shoulders, whilst females have a white frontal hem. Legs in males are red, whilst those of females are a lighter shade of brown. 

Both males and females are predominantly chocolate brown in colour.

Buffalo weavers derive their names from their habit of following buffaloes for the insects they disturb while grazing. Their nests are colossal structures made from thorny twigs and have multiple breeding chambers further divided into individual nests inside. The dominant male will have a number of breeding females in his harem, whilst lower ranking males have fewer females.

Vultures and Bateleurs nest on top of buffalo weaver nests, and in doing so provides some protection to the weavers in exchange for a camouflaged nest.



Antlions are predatory insects feeding mainly on ants during the larval stage of its life.

Adult antlions resemble damselflies and feed on nectar and pollen. There is a large number of antlion species in the world and they occur in many countries. Their life cycle begins with adult females laying their eggs in a soft substrate.

Larvae hatch and continue to construct a funnel shaped pit in the soft sand, which serves as a trap to catch unsuspecting ants on which they feed.

It might take the larvae a few years of feeding until they are big enough to turn into adults. Once large enough they enclose themselves in a round cocoon consisting of sand and a silky binding agent spun by a slender spinneret at the end of their bodies. The larval body has a narrow head with powerful pinchers and a globular abdomen.

After roughly 20 days the adult emerges from the sand and once the wings have set, flies off to start its short life feeding on nectar and pollen until it finds a mate, lays eggs and the process starts all over again.

Antlions have an important role to play in nature by keeping ant numbers in check as larvae as well as pollinating plants when they feed during the adult cycle.


Leopard Tortoise

The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest tortoise in the world.

Fully grown adults can reach a height of 40cm and in exceptional cases up to 70cm! The carapace is dome shaped with fairly vertical sides.

They occur in the savanna regions of Southern Africa where there is an abundance of grasses and succulents on which they feed. Leopard tortoises are successful in their distribution over their entire habitat because of their ability to swim and cross rivers.

Males will defend their females by aggressively warding off competing males, whilst they will follow would be partners over long distances before they pin them down and initiate the mating process.

Females lays 4 to 30 eggs in holes dug in the ground. Eggs can take up to 15 months to hatch and many eggs are lost to birds, monitor lizards and jackals. Adult leopard tortoises are predated upon by lion and hyenas. Leopard tortoises are long lived and reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years.

They have an important role in nature in that they are primary consumers feeding on plants and returning nutrients back to the soil. They furthermore assist with the distribution of plants by consuming seeds and passing them undigested through their gut for germination elsewhere.


Ugly 5?

Now you may have heard of the Ugly Five too! Off course they aren’t really ugly and as with all other animals they are beautiful in their own right and all have an import role to play in their respective habitats.

Could you try and name 5 not too good looking animals?… If not, how about these: Wildebeest, Marabou stork, Hyena, Vulture, and finally the beautiful Warthog!

Why don’t you find pictures of these guys and decide for yourself if they should be called the Ugly Five?


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