The Big Five phrase that has sparked the imagination of many people across the globe for many decades. For those of you who may not know, the Big Five of Africa are the elephant, rhino (both the black and white rhino), leopard, lion and African buffalo. The term ‘Big Five’ was anointed to these species by big game hunters as a way to identify the top five species that are hardest to hunt by foot, not, as the term would suggest, by the size of the animal. By comparison, it would stand to reason that since there is a listing for the Big Five of Africa there must also be a Little Five, right? Right! Named in honor of their fierce and fiercely beautiful namesakes, the Little Five of Africa are as follows:
Found in the arid savanna of Africa, these tortoise are so named because of their shared distinctive spots with the leopard (Panthera pardus). The leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is the most widely distributed tortoise in southern Africa and may be found in lands from Sudan all the way to the Cape. The leopard tortoise can live up to approximately 100 years and is the fourth largest tortoise in the world.
The elephant shrew (Elephantulus myurus) is an African native that gets its name from-you guessed it-- its long trunk-like nose. Feeding only on insects, this tiny species gets around quite easily due to its elongated hind legs, which for its size (elephant shrews can vary in size from 4-12” in length and weigh between a mere 2 oz. to 1 lbs.) enables the shrew to ‘hop’ along easily to find food.
The antlion (Myrmeleontidae) is a remarkable creature. Found in sandy, arid regions of the Earth, there are more than 2,000 species worldwide. The term ‘antlion’ refers to this species while it is in its larval form. The Antlion digs small pits in soft sand and waits, open jawed, for its prey to walk by before snatching it up. The antlion may have gotten its name due to early scholars studying this behavior and likening the ‘hide and pounce’ approach to that of lions.
The rhinoceros beetle (Scarabaeinae dynastinae) is one of the largest beetles in Africa; it gets its name from its characteristic horns, which look much like the horns of its namesake. Along with being one of the largest beetles in Africa it is also one of the strongest animals on the planet (in relation to its size): these beetles can actually lift up to 850 times their own weight!
The buffalo weaver is one smart cookie, err…birdie. Known as the ‘Architect of the Bird World,’ the nests for buffalo weavers are incredibly constructed. Nests usually contain several ‘rooms’ which the weaver enters from the bottom of the nest. To protect against predators, the weaver lines the branches that construct the outside of the nest and the branches leading up to the nest with thorny, prickly and sticky twigs. So, there you are! These are the Little Five of Africa. Amazing, aren’t they? Let it never be said again that all good things come in large packages.
Heading up AWF’s membership desk for the past eight years, Erin Keyes has amassed quite a bit of knowledge about Africa’s wildlife and unique wild lands. She’s also an expert on AWF’s membership benefits and programs. She started this blog to share what’s she’s learned and to give AWF supporters another forum for asking questions. So, if you have questions about African wildlife, AWF’s work in Africa, or all the ways you can help Africa’s wildlife and unique wild lands endure, now’s your chance – just Ask Erin.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.