What are the ‘Little Five’?

You’ve heard of the Big Five – but what about the Little (or Small) Five? Safari is not all about the big animals, but also the tiny creatures so often overlooked. Meet the Little Five.

An adult antlion. Credit: Flickr user, Bill Kirby1.

Elephant shrew

These shy rodent-like creatures are so-named due to their long snouts that bear some resemblance to an elephant trunk. Though they look more like shrews than elephants, they’re actually more closely related to the latter. They are also known by the common name ‘sengi’.

You can spot elephant shrews all across southern Africa, though not easily. They eat insects and live in monogamous pairs, protecting their territory together.

Elephant shrew
Black and rufous elephant shrew. Credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian National Zoo.

Rhinoceros beetle 

Rhino beetles come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the common rhinoceros beetle to the European rhinoceros beetle. They’re some of the largest beetles and have a horn that protrudes from their heads – hence the name. They use their horns for digging or – for males – fighting. Proportionally, they’re the strongest animal in the world, being able to carry 850 times their own weight!

Rhino beetles are found all over the world and all over Africa. You might spot some on a walking safari – keep an eye out around leaf litter or fallen trees, under which they might be hiding.

Rhino beetle
The rhino beetle.


They might not be quite as big as actual lions, but antlions are just as fierce ­– probably even more so. Their larvae are known for constructing funnelled sand traps into which other ants will fall and find themselves unable to climb out. Once they develop into adults, they grow wings and are often mistaken for dragonflies.

There are around 2,000 species of antlion and they are distributed across the world. The species that build sand traps are of course found in sandy areas, such as deserts or semi-deserts.

Leopard tortoise

The leopard tortoise has a shell that resembles a leopard’s coat, patterned black and yellow. It is the largest of the Small Five and, as with other tortoises, uses its shell for protection. However, it is the only tortoise that can raise its head – and therefore also the only one that can swim.

Leopard tortoises are found in savannahs all over southern and East Africa and are one of the easiest to see in the wild, often spotted crossing by the side of the road in safari reserves.

Leopard tortoise
A leopard tortoise in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Credit: Flickr user, Yathin.

Buffalo weaver

The only bird in the Little Five, the black buffalo weaver is a small sociable bird that builds giant, communal nests. There are two varieties: the red-billed and the white-billed black buffalo weaver. Their feathers are black/dark brown and males have white flecks on their wings.

Buffalo weavers are mostly found in savannah areas and some sparse woodlands; like leopard tortoises, they’re pretty common to see on safari.

Red-billed buffalo weaver
A red-billed buffalo weaver in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Credit: Derek Keats, Flickr.

About the Little Five

The Little Five came about after conservationists realised how popular the Big Five (originally a hunting term) had become and wanted to showcase some of the smaller animals as well. To provide a link, they chose species that shared a name with the Big Five.

There are other ‘collections’ of animals you might see on safari, too – do you know about the Ugly Five or the Shy Five? As for the rarest animals to spot – check out our blog.

Share this post