The Fascinating Five

In the Wild

The Hippo - Mating Rituals to Make You Sick


The Mongoose – Courageous Snake Killer

While they may look cute and cuddly, these daring bundles of fur are feared by some of the deadliest snakes in the world. No bigger than a foot high, the little mammals are intelligent, bold, and agile predators - beware the most fearless snake killer! In fact, the mongoose has been called a snake's worst enemy. Its ability to fight cobras is a result of its supreme confidence and courage coupled with its lightning fast speed and agility. In a standoff with a snake the mongoose will typically make a series of feints towards the snake, to finally dash in and seize the snake by the back of the neck, moving fast enough to avoid strikes. The animal's sharp teeth will bite deeply to break the snake's spine. After killing its dangerous foe, the victor makes a meal of it, starting with the head. The fact that the mongoose has a high tolerance to snake venom also helps. Experts report that while they’re not entirely immune to the cobra's poison, it takes eight times the lethal dose for a rabbit to kill a mongoose. It’s rare for a mongoose to die from a snake bite – but it’s more likely that a mongoose will die from eating a poisonous snake! Several have been found dead with post mortem examinations revealing that they have eaten a snake whose fangs have punctured the stomach wall allowing the poison to enter their bloodstream. 

You’ve heard of the Big Five now meet our pick of the most interesting animals that make up The Fascinating Five.

In spite of its reputation as a predator, the mongoose is not a vicious animal. On the contrary, some have been found to make the most lovable pets. 


The Hippo - Mating Rituals to Make You Sick

Hippos are very unique creatures and there are a few things that make them so: They weigh up to 1 800 kilograms, despite a mostly vegetarian diet, they're hairless and so use mud as a natural sunscreen for their sensitive skin, their yawn is not a sign of sleepiness or boredom but is actually a threat gesture, displaying long, thick, razor-sharp canine teeth which are capable of biting a small boat in half. Being fearlessly protective of their turf and young, hippos have killed more people than any other wild animal in Africa!

But what earns this sub-Saharan dweller a place as one of the Fascinating Five is their rather revolting mating ritual. While some animals change colour or call out for a mate, male hippos attract theirs by emerging from their mud baths to fling a mixture of their own urine and faeces at each other. Then, if that’s not bad enough, the enamoured female will respond by twirling her tail like a propeller, spreading the delicious slop in every direction! The smelly pair will then begin foreplay, which consists of splashing around in the water before settling down to business. Gross!


The Vulture - A Dead Carcass Diet

While the dead carcass diet may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these scavenging birds of prey prefer rotting flesh as their meal of choice. In fact, vultures can eat up to 20 percent of their own body weight in one sitting! And as Mother Nature would have it, their preference for dead or dying animals serves a critical purpose in the animal world, ridding the highways of disease-filled discards.

Vultures will never go after healthy prey, and while usually found feasting on the leftovers of a kill, they have been known to attack wounded and dying animals. Most vultures have no power in their legs or beak and so cannot rip open thick hide so they let other animals do it for them. They love to eat off the bone especially picking away at the tendons. They insert their beaks as far they can sliding along the bone all the time. A particular characteristic of vultures is a bald head, devoid of normal feathers - specially designed to stay clean even when confronted with a meal of blood and bodily fluids. Equipped with a digestive system made of steel, their stomachs contain special acids that dissolve anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria.This means they can eat rotten meat at any stage of decomposition with no effect on their health and can also withstand most diseases that kill other animals.

If their eating habits gross you out, it’s interesting to note that the vomit of a vulture, followed by the action of flying away is a common defence tactic against predators. If the food is relatively undigested, the predator is rewarded with a free meal. If the food is mostly digested, the foul-smelling substance acts as a deterrent and will sting the eyes of a predator if it lands in their face.

Vultures are social and are often seen feeding together on the same carcass. What’s the point of a good meal if you can’t share it?


The Mimic Octopus - Master of Disguise

There are plenty of animals who pretend to be other animals, but the mimic octopus is the first one that can do more than one impression! So much so that this master of disguise was only discovered ten years ago – before that, divers who spotted it mistook it for the creatures it was pretending to be! The sneaky mimic-octopus is a master artist duplicating the appearance of at least fifteen other speciesIt doesn’t just copy the physical characteristics by twisting and folding its body, and changing shape and colour but can also adjust its behaviour to fit its new form.
Its amazing talent to ‘fake it’ comes in very handy at dangerous depths. So intelligent, it’s able to decide which dangerous sea creature to impersonate that will act as the greatest deterrent to whatever predatory animal threatens it. For example, scientists observed that when the octopus was attacked by damselfishes, it mimicked the banded sea snake, a known predator of damselfishes.

Its repertoire is extensive: it can swim like a banded sole (a type of poisonous flatfish).  It can bury six of its tentacles so that only two are visible making it look like a particularly deadly snake. It can also swim with its arms spread to mimic a venomous lionfish. It also speeds through the water, drawing its arms together and swims in a rippling motion, just like a poisonous flatfish.

All of the above talent begs the question: Who is the mimic octopus when he’s not in disguise? Well, he’s almost 50 centimetres long with brown and white stripes or spots all over its body - just another normal guy really.


The Flatworm – Penis Fencing Battles

Because all flatworms are hermaphrodites and have both male and female sexual organs, they can all inseminate and be inseminated. So, when certain species of marine flatworms meet, they engage in a battle like no other, in what is scientifically termed ‘penis fencing’.

The act can best be described as the ‘war’ to determine who will be the mom and who will be the dad. Both worms are the swordsmen and have two penises each for their weapons. If the actual scientific term for the act of ‘penis fencing’ is not interesting enough – you can just imagine how it’s done. Equipped with their two-headed dagger-like penises, the flatworms engage in a sexual fight where both worms try to pierce the skin of the other using one of their two penises. This battle can last for hours and can sometimes even harm the worms in the process. Just like a real battle of war, there are winners and losers and this particular battle is enforced by the sheer determination to donate sperm rather than receive it.

The first one to make a successful jab delivers its sperm and becomes the male and the pierced one becomes the female. Both worms would prefer to be the male as the one that has no choice but to take on the female role, now has the more difficult and energy expending task of raising the young and caring for the developing eggs. So in essence the losing flatworm bears the burden of motherhood - not at all sexist!