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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Alumni

The Small the Shy and the Ugly

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

This blog was written by Kerry Ross and Joshua Judd, who did their Bushwise Professional Field Guide course at our Mahlahla Campus. The information contained in this blog is based on Kerry and Josh’s own research.

4 min read

The small, the shy and the ugly

Sounds like the title of a classic Western right? Not this time, but I do think of a really cliché high school grouping system when I think of these unorthodox groups of animals. You all know about the Big 5 – the popular kids. Today we are going to dive a little deeper into the lesser known nature groups, namely the Small 5, the Shy 5 and the Ugly 5.

The Small 5

 A leopard tortoise, with a beautifully patterned shell, looking up as it makes its way across the savannah ground.

In all seriousness though, the Small 5 are too adorable. Thrown together due to their relationship in name to the Big 5, the elephant shrew, rhino beetle, leopard tortoise, red-billed buffalo weaver and the mighty antlion may not be anywhere near their various counterparts in size, but they certainly are as effective in their respective environments at survival. 

Take the elephant shrew, his trunk-like long nose is the reason he was named after his counterpart, the African elephant. His nose is designed to enable this little creature to clear pathways together with its paws in order to lure insects to eat. 

I think we would be remiss if we did not mention the mighty antlion – what a mighty little critter. He certainly cannot roar, but wow can he hunt! You might have come across his cone-shaped pit many times in your gardens. Once another ant gets stuck in the pit, it cannot climb out, and as it struggles to, the movement of the sand shifts the prey down the cone. Once the ant comes to a halt in the centre of the hole, the antlion pounces and collects his spoils.

The Shy 5

A porcupine photo taken at night by a camera trap, illuminated by a flash.

Next we move onto the Shy 5. As beautiful as they are elusive, these five secretive animals are sought after by many nature enthusiasts the world over. Let me introduce you to these lovely animals: the meerkat, aardvark, porcupine, aardwolf and bat-eared fox. All of our animals are nocturnal except one. 

We have only been blessed enough to find meerkat and porcupine. Still in the search of the elusive aardvark, aardwolf and bat-eared fox. Do not get me wrong just because we have not managed to get a glimpse of the aardvark, we bear witness to the evidence he leaves behind after he uses his powerful claws to dig two feet into a termite mound in 15 seconds! Now that is lightning fast excavation. 

In doing this he also plays a huge part in creating homes for other burrow dwelling animals such as warthogs and mongooses, even the African Shelduck uses these burrows to lay it’s eggs in! Once the Aardvark has dug his tunnel into the termite mound he uses his extra long tongue to get into the termite tunnels and eat his preferred evening meal.

The Ugly 5

 A warthog with his face down as he munches on grass. His hair appears wet as he’s just come from wallowing in a mud pit.

Last but most certainly not least no cliché high school movie would be complete without the loners. These loners are grouped together because, well, as the name suggests they are just plain ugly, but also secretly some of our favourites! 

The Ugly 5 consists of five animals that certainly will by no means be winning any beauty contests but all offer something totally unique which really just makes us love them more! Hyaena, warthog, marabou stork, vulture and wildebeest. 

A spotted hyena peaks over tall grass as it looks towards the camera.

Let’s dive right into our favourite of the group, the spotted hyena. A scavenger by nature with a very strange stance this group of giggling animals are actually more closely related to cats than dogs – strange but true!) What we love most about our spotted friends is their epic jaw power. Jaw power is measured in PSI and the hyena’s PSI comes in at 1100! To put that into perspective, lions have a PSI of around 650. This epic jaw power enables them to crush through most bones without too much of a problem. 

As we are both avid birders we just want to take a closer look at our beautiful bird on this list, the marabou stork. Now if we were giving away a prize for the ugliest bird I have seen in South Africa, the Marabou stork would be in first position no questions asked. 

A marabou stork with a balding neck and head, ruffled feathers and pink skin.

Now what on Earth is that thing under his beak? It is a sac but this sac is special, he uses it during courtship rituals. It connects directly to his left nostril and allows him to produce a guttural croaking sound. 

So if you get a chance to come to Africa on safari, look past the Big 5 and towards our more overlooked, equally as special creatures that make up this entire ecosystem!

Learn more about all of these amazing creatures on a Bushwise course.

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