Africa’s Little Five

Once you’ve set foot in Africa, undoubtedly you will be looking to see and experience the Big Five. Strong, fierce and wild, the big five games is Africa’s pride and receives central attention. But there is another group that should not be forgotten – the little five. In its own and unique ways, aiming to find the little five can also be a rewarding wildlife experience. Not nearly as intimidating as the big five, the little five creatures include the elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion, buffalo weaver, and the rhinoceros beetle. 

  1. Elephant shrew

With their long noses resembling elephant trunks but with a size similar to a large mouse, the elephant shrew is the smallest mammal among the Little Five. With their long legs, they hop in search of small bites to eat. The elephant shrew is hard to find as they are well camouflaged with their sandy brown colors.  An interesting fact about elephant shrews is that recent scientific research has shown that elephant shrews are genetically closer related to aardvark and elephants than to the rest of the shrew clan. Elephant shrews eat mainly insects and worms and use their elephant-like trunk to find their food. They love rocky areas where they can hide from the predators. They’re a bit of a romantic, as they are monogamous and mate for life.

  1. Leopard tortoise

There is one stark contrast here – speed!  Unlike its namesake, the leopard tortoise covers land very slowly. The leopard tortoise shells are quite beautiful, with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns. As they mature, their tortoiseshell color changes from dark brown to yellow. It is one of the largest tortoises in the world and can weigh up to 88 pounds (40 kg). Fun fact: did you know that the leopard tortoise will reach sexual maturity between the ages of 12 and 15? It makes sense when you find out that they can live up to 80 years! The plastron (their underbelly) is flat in females and concave in males so that during mating season, the male can comfortably mount the female. Another interesting fact about the leopard tortoise is the fact that their sex is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. If it’s between 87-93° F (31-34°C) the egg will produce a female tortoise and if it’s between 78-87° F (26-31°C), then the egg will be male.


  1. Ant lion

The smallest creature in the Little Five group, the ant lion cleverly survives in the African bushveld.  Ant lions are larvae of an insect similar in appearance to the dragonfly. With an impressive display of technique and skill, the ant lion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy soils. These funnels act as a clever drama stage: when potential prey approaches, the ant lion will pretend to be an ant falling down the funnel, stimulating the prey to lurch after the fallen ant, an easy meal!  But only to discover it has been trapped, and so the ant lion catches prey in its trap. They can survive for months at a time without food and can live for several years. The ant lion larvae resemble bedbugs, while the adult ant lions are similar to mayflowers. There are around 2,000 species of ant lions that can be found all over the world. So there are plenty of chances of catching a glimpse of one during your wildlife safari.

  1. Buffalo weaver bird

There are a few kinds of buffalo weaver birds in Africa, including the black buffalo weaver, the red-billed buffalo weaver, and the white-headed buffalo Weaver. Buffalo weavers are large birds feeding on insects and fruits and seeds. Living highly sociable lives with huge communal nests, these weavers are highly enjoyable to watch. It breeds in colonies and one male can have up to three females in their nest chambers.  Home to many of Africa’s large parks, the buffalo weaver is the easiest among the little five to find and observe.

  1. Rhino beetle

With its impressive body armor, it is kitted to win the bushveld battle. The rhino beetle’s horn resembles the rhino’s horn. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food.  The rhino beetle is known for its impressive strength – in comparison to its small body size.  Male rhino beetles also use their horns to fight over food and females. Rhino beetles are exceptionally strong, being able to lift up to 700 times their own weight! And they can also fly.

Africa is a continent of true diversity, as so clearly demonstrated by the big five and little five wildlife. The purpose behind Africa’s little five is exactly this: to demonstrate the extreme wildlife diversity found on the continent – from extremely big to extremely small, you can find them all on safari. Some of these little five creatures are quite hard to spot, making your encounter with the little five even more remarkable.


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March 11, 2020
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