Meet the SMALL FIVE

Here are some interesting facts about the real Small Five:

 Elephant shrew © Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures

Elephant shrew © Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures

Elephant Shrew: Named after the trunk-like nose that it uses to sniff out insects, the Elephant Shrew grows 9 or 10 inches long (half of which is its tail), and has long back legs that help it leap high in the air – perfect for escaping snakes and other predators.

These little creatures live in pairs but do not usually hang out with other Elephant Shrews (note that our hero’s best friend is a bird). Scientists believe that the Elephant Shrew is a unique species, and may be more closely related genetically to elephants than to other species of shrew!

 
 White-headed buffalo weaver © Chuck Dresner, Saint Louis Zoo

White-headed buffalo weaver © Chuck Dresner, Saint Louis Zoo

Buffalo Weaver: This beautiful bird is very sociable, and you’ll often see two or more pairs sharing a large thorny nest divided into different compartments. It was given its name for its habit of following large herds of buffalo around, looking for the insects they disturb as they walk.

There are two types of buffalo weaver: the common Black Buffalo Weaver and the White-headed Buffalo Weaver, which is the one in our book. Their loud, raucous calls and shaggy nests can be seen all over East Africa – especially out on the plains.

 
 Leopard tortoise © Scotch Macaskill

Leopard tortoise © Scotch Macaskill

Leopard Tortoise: This striking tortoise is named for its beautifully camouflaged shell, which is quite similar to the markings of a leopard. The fourth largest of all land tortoises, it typically grows to about 18 inches long and weighs about 18kg. It’s also famous for its long life – commonly living to between 80 and 100 years of age!

The Leopard Tortoise grazes on grass and digs a nest in the ground for its eggs. Its stout legs and sharp toenails make it a surprisingly fast walker (as you’ll see in our story), as well as a very good swimmer and climber.

 
 Rhinoceros beetle courtesy of Caiene/ freeimages.com

Rhinoceros beetle courtesy of Caiene/freeimages.com

Rhinoceros Beetle: This fearsome little fellow is named after the males’ large horn, which it uses for fighting and digging in the undergrowth for fruit, bark and other plant matter. Although it only grows up to 2.5 inches long, the Rhinoceros Beetle can carry over 30 times its own weight – equivalent to a person picking up a large car!

Until a few years ago, the Guinness Book of World Records claimed the Rhinoceros Beetle was the strongest animal in the world – although that title has now passed to the Dung Beetle (which also appears in our book). A member of the scarab family, the Rhinoceros Beetle larva can take up to five years to mature into an adult beetle.

 
 Antlion larva courtesy of Gilles San Martin/Wikimedia

Antlion larva courtesy of Gilles San Martin/Wikimedia

Antlion: The smallest member of the Small Five is itself a larva, which after a wingless period of up to three years will turn into a beautiful lace-winged insect very similar to a dragonfly. These little creatures can be found all over the world and are very successful hunters; in the US they’re usually called doodlebugs, for their habit of ‘drawing’ in the sand.

All over Africa, where the soil is soft and sandy, you’ll see their little funnel-shaped traps in sunny spots sheltered from the rain. Each of these has an antlion larva sitting at the bottom, with only its head and jaws showing – waiting for small ants to fall in. As our story shows, the antlion is often a far more successful hunter than the big cat that shares its name!