Elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard. The Big Five of Africa. Everyone’s always going on about them – and perhaps rightly so as they’re impressive animals. Seeing them in the flesh is an unforgettable experience, definitely something to boast about back home. Smaller in stature but no less interesting are The Little Five. You won’t find them on many travellers’ list of creatures to see on safari, but their importance to the ecosystem shouldn’t be underestimated! Plus, once you know a little more about them you’ll be able to impress your fellow travellers with fascinating facts about these slighter versions of the main attractions.
Equipped with a pair of fearsome-looking jaws, the antlion is probably one of the most impressive insect predators despite its diminutive size. Burrowing into soft sand, the antlion creates a kind of funnel, trapping ants and other bugs foolish enough to wander nearby. Once trapped, those hollow jaws suck the life out of the insect prey. A worthy entrant to The Little 5!
A cheeky white-headed bird, the buffalo weaver usually feeds on the ground in open grassy areas. It’s often found in areas where African buffalo have been, attracted by the insects and seeds that have been stirred up or knocked loose by the large mammals.
You don’t get a name like Dung Beetle without having a close relationship with faeces – but this little black beetle is in fact one of the most important creatures on the African savannah. Its diet makes it a key recycler. Large animals (like the ones making up the Big Five) produce large amounts of dung, and without this little guy, the savannah would be a whole lot dirtier! See if you can spot one of them rolling balls of dung around with their back legs.
Named for its long trunk-like snout, the elephant shrew feeds on insects and jumps about with its elongated hind legs. You’re unlikely to see one though – they’re incredibly fast, well camouflaged and skilled at dashing away from threats. Interesting fact: several species make a series of cleared pathways in the undergrowth, spending the day patrolling them for insects to eat. And if disturbed, these pathways provide an obstacle free escape route!
Attractively marked with leopard-like spots, the leopard tortoise is a sweet little chap, often found in thorny, arid environments and often spied crossing the road. Many people think they make excellent pets, but they shouldn’t be removed from their natural habitat under any circumstances. Although it must be said, watching them retract into their shells is highly entertaining! Interesting fact: Leopard Tortoises can grow up to 60cm in length and weigh up to 35kg.
OK OK, so this is number six – but with a name like ‘Rhino Beetle’ it has to be included! It’s pretty clear how this little guy got his name – check out that horn. Despite their formidable appearance, they’re completely harmless to humans as they can neither bite nor sting – though they will let out a ‘hissing squeak’ when disturbed. Their enormous horns are used for fighting other male beetles in mating season and for digging. They’re nocturnal creatures, finding refuge under logs or in vegetation during the day. Interesting fact: Rhino beetles can grow up to 15cm in length.