Although this would be a great title for a sequel to a 1996 Western starring Clint Eastwood, it in fact describes three different groups of animals that can be seen on Safari in Africa. One would be surprised at the conversations that flow during game drives between myself, tracker Trevor and our guests. We often have the privilege of meeting and getting to know people from all over the world, who we didn’t know from a bar of soap before, as we spend countless hours out in the bush on safari. Whilst on a recent game drive we all got chatting about these three groupings of animals, and one more…
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these groupings, here is a quick summary:
The ‘Big’ Five:
Contrary to what many people believe, these are not the biggest five African mammals. Many years ago when people mostly hunted animals instead of viewing them (either for subsistence or recreational purposes), these five animals were grouped together as the most dangerous to hunt. In no particular order, the Elephant, Rhino, African buffalo, Leopard and Lion make up the big 5.
The ‘Little’ Five:
This is a group of smaller animals that can be seen on safari, all of which bear the names of each of the above-mentioned big five animals. They are the Elephant Shrew, Rhino beetle, Red-billed buffalo Weaver, Leopard tortoise and Antlion.
The ‘Ugly’ Five:
In my opinion, no animal is ‘ugly’, except maybe a naked mole rat… but this is a group of not-so-good-looking animals that can be seen whilst on Safari. Even though they may not have the most attractive features, they form very important roles in the ecosystem. Again, in no particular order, they are the Warthog, the Wildebeest, the Spotted Hyena, Vultures and the Marabou Stork.
So what is the, ‘One more?’
The ‘Fierce’ Five
As I mentioned earlier, conversations tend to flow in all different directions whilst on a game drive and this particular conversation leant towards a new grouping of animals, the ‘fierce’ five, for animals that punch above their weight (physically and literally). Here are the finalists, along with a brief reasoning as to why we decided to include them:
The Honey Badger:
This was a no-brainer and was the first animal that came to mind when compiling the list. Known for their ferocious nature and cunning behaviour, honey badgers are not to be messed with! Even the most fearsome predators such as lions and leopards have to think twice before engaging with a honey badger. They use their sharp teeth and claws to aggressively defend, and sometimes even attack these much larger predators, often going for the most sensitive of organs between the attackers back legs to scare them away… Click here for a quick throw back to one particular individual standing its ground against two rangers.
Honey badgers are able to survive against the strongest of snake venoms, namely that of the black mamba. They have been witnessed being bitten, passing out for an hour or so, waking up (with a huge headache no doubt), shaking their head and continuing to go about their business.
The Fork-tailed drongo:
A fairly common bird of the African Savanna, the fork-tailed drongo was put forward as a nominee for its unrelenting attempts to chase away any potential threat. The most commonly seen example of this is when the drongo dive-bombs an eagle sitting at the top of a tree or in mid-flight. Even though there is a chance of the bird being caught, especially in the case of a Wahlberg’s eagle, a third of which’s diet consists of birds.
The spider-hunting wasp:
One of the more interesting ways in which an insect reproduces is by laying eggs inside another arthropod. That’s exactly what this species of wasp does. They house a powerful sting which paralyses an array of spider species, in this area the most common being the baboon spider which itself has a nasty bite!
Upon stinging the victim, the female wasp will drag the spider to a burrow that is usually pre-prepared and lay an egg inside its abdomen. The larva will then hatch after roughly 10 days and feed on the spider (that is likely still alive, but just paralysed), and then wrap itself in a cocoon until conditions are conducive to emerge as an adult.
The Shrike family:
Shrikes are in general pretty badass. They are mostly insect-eating birds but are unique in that they often kill their prey by continuously slamming it onto thorns, spines or other sharp objects. Not only does this kill their prey, but they will impale their food onto these sharp objects for later feeding or, in the case of males, for impressing females.
The fungus-growing termites that we are familiar with at Londolozi have been a hot topic of late as the reproductive alates have been emerging from mounds in an effort to create new colonies. It isn’t, however, these winged termites that are fierce, more so the caste of soldier termites that safeguards them as well as the rest of the colony.
The termites’ main threat is other insects. More specifically ants, and these soldier termites will be called to the task to defend their colony against an invasion of thousands of ants. Their main form of defence is to either secrete a sticky substance, and in doing so trap various intruders, or inflict a painful bite with their enlarged mandibles.
It’s a fairly subjective topic and whilst writing this I had input from various different people who all had their own opinions on which species should be included in this elite grouping. Feel free to add your comments below on any mammals, birds, insects or other animals you feel should be given more publicity for punching above their weight!
Filed under Birds General Nature Leopards Lions Safari experience Wildlife
Fantastic lists, the spider-hunting wasp and the shrikes leave ma a bit in horror, there are such insects and birds here too, belonging to the same family group, doing the same. Gerbils were among the first pets of my sister, they are surprisingly clever little animals. All over the world there are examples of those categories but mongoose and black-footed cats were the first that came to my mind, as far as Africa is concerned. They are incredibly brave and ferocious when they meet enemies or large preys. If you consider how small they are… in the big I’d add whales. No one ugly really!
Would consider some snakes in the last category.
Nice job, Robbie, and some new categories to look for on the next visit.
Thanks, Robert. I had known the big, the small and the ugly ones, but not the fierce ones. Now I know.
Seeing a honey batcher and watching it for some time, is definitely on my list. Next time, maybe…
Loved your five Fierce “Badasses”! Happy 2023 to you and Shannon.
What a fun perspective! I wasn’t familiar with the “Little Five” but adore them all. Of the “Ugly Five” I’d say the only one truly unfortunate to look at (in my non-expert option) is the poor Marabou Stork. The others I find beautiful in their uniqueness. The fierce category was well represented. Certainly, all of those creatures are fierce their own way.
This is a terrific article Robert as most African travelers know about the Big Five, but you’ve introduced us to other little known creatures such as the rhino beetle. I’ve never seen one but now I’m going to be looking. Your blog is print worthy and will go into my “Africa” file. Thank you for gathering this information and including it into one blog.
Well described the fierce and the ugly groups. That honey badger is forsure to be feared and left alone. Dro go birds are really non stop fighters. The big five is still my favorite and the small five are really cute. The ugly for me is forsure the hyena and the stork. So interesting to learn about these incredible animals and needed for the eco system to keep going on.
I love the guts of the badger! and having read the part about the snake venom i love them even more!
THAT is quite a spectrum!
Totally disagree that hyenas are ugly!!! 🙁 The fierce five definitely qualify however!!! WOW!
What a super article, enjoyed it a lot 😀😀😀
Robert for your interesting perspective on some of Africas wonderful wildlife.
Interesting blog, Robert! To your fierce five I’d probably add the Porcupine. I remember a blog photo/video of not too long ago when a single porcupine fended off 4 or 5 lions, in the dark, and walked away unscathed. Pretty fierce little guys I’d say!
Robert, This is a great reminder of the diversity of the wildlife – big and small!
Fierce Five – I love it! I have never seen the elephant shrew or rhino beetle – I wonder how common that would be?