Motswari is part of both the Timbavati and Umbabat Nature Reserve and is home to an exquisite abundance of wildlife, ranging from the Big Five to lesser-known animal species. Most visitors, local and international, almost always have the country’s celebrated Big Five on their ‘must see’ lists. They tend to ignore the wealth of smaller wildlife that abounds in the rich biodiverse hotspots. The African bush is abuzz with little creatures, remarkable birdlife and bizarre insects.
We wanted to give these little critters the spotlight this week. We encourage visitors to Motswari to add the Small Five to their next safari ‘must see’ lists. Their elusive natures mean that spotting them in the bush could be considered as much a privilege as seeing their Big Five counterparts.
Introducing some of Africa’s finest little creatures: The Small Five.
The Ant Lion (Myrmeleontidae) is a peculiar feature of the African bushveld. Fully grown, its larvae-like appearance with little wings can sometimes resemble a dragonfly. Although, the Ant Lion has some serious problems taking flight and is best suited to staying on the ground. It digs conical depressions in soft sand. Here it lures its prey – the ant – who it pounces on and traps in the sandy funnels. This strangle little creature with its somewhat alien like appearance is a real treat to spot in the bush.
Unlike their herbivorous namesakes, the omnivorous Red-billed Buffalo Weavers (Bubarlornis Niger), have a much more varied diet consisting of, well, almost anything. Fruit, seeds, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, ants, caterpillars and spiders all make for delicious meals and these little social birds are constantly on the go. Nesting in open colonies, they are typically weaver-like in their mannerisms and are always noisily going about their business. Nest masters, these birds are renowned for making huge nests from with coarse grasses and rugged twig structures.
Like its namesake, the Rhinocerous Beetle (Scarabaeinae Dynastinae) has large, intimidating horns on its head which it uses to dig underground, climb and fight off other males for the right to mate. With two sets of wings (the outer set protecting the real working wings underneath) these tough little guys are able to fly. Despite their size, Rhinocerous Beetles are actually one of the strongest animals in the world and are able to lift up to 850 times their own body weight. This is more than any other animal ever recorded! So, the next time you spot one of these hardy critters, give them the respect they deserve.
Unlike its counterpart, the Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is certainly not one the fastest creatures on land. It is, however, an extremely fashionable addition to the bushveld and a beautiful sight to behold. Sporting a striking yellow and black spotted exterior shell, this animal is one of the largest breeds of tortoise in South Africa. A mature Leopard Tortoise can weigh over 23 kilograms with a shell circumference of up to one metre! Like humans, these hefty shelled creatures can live to be 75 years of age. When fully-grow, don’t have any real natural predators in the bush.
With its long, elephant-like elongated snout, the tiny insectivore known as the Elephant Shrew (Elephantulus Myurus) is a truly adorable sight to see. Despite their shy and wary natures, they are quite common around South Africa. They tend to live mostly in arid lowlands, rocky outcrops and savannah grasslands. Their size, however, makes them pretty hard to spot. So consider your safari a real success if you get to see one! Only growing to a length of 250mm, with an average weight of only 60 grams, these little critters feed on fruit, seeds, nuts and insects and are, in turn, scrumptious snacks for snakes and raptors.
So, the next time you join us for a visit to Motswari, turn your African safari experience into something a little different. Do so by adding these fascinating little creatures to your ‘must see’ list. The Small Five celebrate South Africa’s incredible biodiversity and represent the many small creatures that do not get to make the same noise as their larger, more popular counterparts. Let’s hear it for them!
This blog was originally published on the Motswari blog.