One of the Little Five – the Rhinoceros beetle

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Rhinoceros beetles, or Dynastinae, are a subsection of the scarab beetle family of Egyptian mythological fame, and are also members of the Kruger National Park's Little Five. The Little Five consists of lesser-known creatures with similar names to the original famous five i.e. the rhinoceros beetle, ant lion, leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver and elephant shrew.

Over 300 different types of rhinoceros beetles have been identified worldwide, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are large beetles reaching up to 150mm in length and are covered in a tough, thick exoskeleton, with various protrusions from the head area which give them their name.

Rhinoceros beetles are capable of extreme physical strength, with some species such as the Hercules beetle able to lift 850 times their own weight.

Despite their butch appearance, rhinoceros beetles are totally harmless, unable to sting or bite anything other than vegetable matter, and rely on their size and strange appearance to deter predators.

Their intimidating horns and brute strength are used only for scrapping with other males in order to gain favour with the ladies during the breeding season, or for digging a place to hide from their enemies.

Size counts when it comes to these insects, with the size of the horn being directly proportional to the health and wellbeing of the beetle - nature's way of making sure that the fittest survive.

Rhinoceros beetles are mainly nocturnal, and hide out under logs or vegetation during the heat of the day when their predators are most active. Under cover of darkness they emerge to feed on nectar, fruit and plant sap, to war with their rivals and to mate.

If disturbed while in hiding, they emit a series of ear-splitting hissing squeaks, which they create by rubbing their abdomens against their wing covers. This is usually enough to send most predators scampering for a less intimidating meal.

A healthy male specimen can live for up to 3 years, while females rarely survive for long after they have laid their eggs. Laid at a rate of about 50 at a time, the eggs are deposited either in manure or other compost, which the emerging larvae devour with great gusto.

Once they have had their fill, the larva change into pupa and finally emerge as adults. This process can sometimes take several years.

Keep your eyes peeled for these insects while socialising around the campfire at night, as rhinoceros beetles find light very attractive.

It is in seeking out the smaller lesser-known creatures such as the Little Five that we get to pause in our quest for the big names, and experience the joy of taking an interest in the finer details of the African bush.

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Sunday, 19 August 2018