Meet 7 of the Most Disgusting Animals in Africa
By Tyson Jopson
There’s a scene in Disney’s The Lion King that captures the majesty of Africa with all the reverence and hyperbole we’ve come to associate with life on this wild continent. Illuminated in the dusty light of sunrise, herds shuffle, predators stand regal and everything from beast to bird revels in our immaculate perception of another perfect day in Africa … and then Pumbaa the warthog lets out a ripper that could melt the bark off a mopani tree.
For all the awe-inspired gazing and gushing that takes place this side of your binoculars, there’s a rather indecorous and oft-gross side to some animals, and a farting warthog doesn’t even begin to hold a (precariously positioned) candle to some of them.
These sub-Saharan scavengers will gladly munch on decomposing or diseased flesh, even if it’s been rotting for days. But old meat isn’t the only thing on the jackals’ menu: aside from carrion, they eat bones, small mammals, berries, grass, insects and even reptiles. On the west coast of Namibia, jackals have been known to survive entirely on marine life, occasionally even chowing down on sea birds. Their stomachs adapt to the predominant food supply available in a survival tactic that allows jackals to exist as predators (on small game), scavengers or even purely on insects and rodents. Perhaps unbelievingly, there’s a plus side to their foul-flesh fetish: by eating rotting leftovers, jackals actually contribute towards the control of disease.The jackal might just be the ultimate Fear Factor teammate. Regardless of whatever vile concoction nature conjures up, whack it on a plate and start counting the prize money because there’s nothing these opportunistic omnivores won’t gobble down. And much like a hungover, blurry-eyed varsity student in front of the fridge, they also have a knack for completely ignoring the sell-by date.
Is that shrivelled piece of boerie in your refrigerator from last week’s braai suddenly looking tasty again?
THE DUNG BEETLE
Not only do they roll animal faeces, they also lay their eggs in it and hang around to watch as their young hatch and immediately go about feasting on the poo pie. In fact, these beetles are so passionate about dung that some, known as tunnellers, hide their smelly stash in the ground as if it were treasure. Others, called rollers, have been known to steal balls of poo from one another by shoving their heads under another beetle and flipping it into the air.The dung beetle is an obvious choice. These master poo rollers spend their days diligently cleaning up after the rest of the animal kingdom, all without a glimmer of career progression. Even after years of taking k*k from the big man (a.k.a. elephant) you won’t suddenly find this beetle rolling a disco ball down Kruger’s H1 flaunting its well-toned calf muscles.
Still, dung beetles don’t just do all this for the fun of it; their intricate antics play an important part in the environment – by burying dung they improve nutrient recycling and build soil structure and through eating it they’re effectively protecting larger mammals by removing dung that could provide a habitat for pests.
It might be a dead-end job in a malodorous workplace, but with an eye on the big picture the dung beetle has certainly earned its right to dabble in the disgusting.
You’d think that living on a moated fortress inaccessible to most land predators would make the fulmar carefree and quite laid-back. It doesn’t … especially not for the chicks.
The young birds are left alone in their breeding colonies off the southern coast of South Africa for hours while their parents take long, fanciful fishing trips far offshore. And much like Home Alone’s Macaulay Culkin with unsupervised time on his hands, fulmar chicks have devised an extraordinarily messy way to deal with unwanted visitors. They brew up a vile stew of fish oils, made up of indigestible fatty acids and triglycerides in their stomach, and then vomit it over anyone who comes too close to their nest. It’s a less-than-charming defence tactic that not only smells hideous, it’s also dangerous: the blast of vomit is highly acidic and can damage predatory birds’ plumage, causing hypothermia or even drowning.
While the usual threat is other birds, the fulmar will barf on pretty much anything that comes within spitting distance, which is an impressive two metres. Their unwitting victims include climbers, many of whom claim it’s the most disgusting thing they’ve ever smelled. For those of you who have ever taken it a little too far on a heavy night out, this curious habit gives a new meaning to the term ‘tactical chunder’, doesn’t it?
The eel-like hagfish is almost blind, toothless and spends most of its time moving slowly along the ocean floor. If you’re thinking, ‘that’s not disgusting, that’s just an old timer waist-deep in water at the beach’, then get a load of this: the hagfish is also one of the slimiest creatures in the world.
They produce up to eight litres of mucus in one go by firing protein pellets out of their glands. These swell as they come into contact with water to form an impenetrable slime barrier around their bodies. Hagfish produce a goop so thick it can suffocate predators that come too close and even hungry birds find this fish too slimy to swallow. It’s a defence tactic that has allowed the hagfish to survive for more than 300 million years, making it one of the oldest species on the planet.
To avoid the same vile fate, the hagfish slips off its slimy coat by passing a knot down its body. If that’s not enough of a bowl full of gross, hagfish have been known to feed on dead and still-living fish by entering any orifice and feasting on the animal from the inside out.
With no sight, no teeth, a gratuitously gooey body, an affliction for dead flesh and creepy way of getting it, the hagfish has to be one of the most disgusting creatures on the planet.
Whether you take your bath with bubbles, aromatic oils or a little toy boat, you’ll agree that the purpose is to come out smelling fresh. The hippo didn’t get the memo on this one.
These water dwellers have an affinity for emerging from their mud baths only to fling a mixture of urine and faeces at one another. With a quick swirl of their tail, male hippos will launch a disgusting cocktail of excrement in every direction, not dissimilar to a Catherine wheel. While this behaviour may seem disgusting and juvenile it is, in fact, a very effective method of marking territory as well as a neat party trick to impress the ladies.
But that’s not all: when hippos are out of the water they sometimes appear to be covered in what looks like a thin film of blood, a little like Freddy Kruger. However, this mechanism is an incredibly useful one that acts as a sunblock as well as an antibiotic. The pigment inhibits the growth of bacteria, which protects against infections from terrible cuts and wounds they incur during fierce territorial battles.
When you consider the amount of time they spend in the sun and sometimes less-than-pure river water, suddenly a natural antibiotic and sunblock comes across as a very useful thing to have, even if it does look a little like they ‘sweat’ blood.
THE AFRICAN WILD DOG
Times are tough and we’re all scrimping and saving as best we can, but even our best efforts to curb our wastefulness seem paltry in comparison to the African wild dog’s prudent, definitely disgusting, habit. While it’s common for many animals to regurgitate food to feed their young until they’re able to hunt for themselves, the wild dog takes this concept to a whole new level.
They regurgitate food not only for their biological pups, but also for every other member of the pack, from other mothers’ children to adult companions (particularly those which are sick or injured) who feel like a bit of silver service. Related or unrelated, it doesn’t matter, this second-hand dinner dance is a feast for all, with the same bit of delicious steak often going around more than once. This regurgitative behaviour is most commonly seen during the denning season when pups and their adult babysitters stay close to home and therefore need to be fed by some other means than hunting.
In their defence, field studies have shown wild dogs are highly intelligent and social animals and, like most predators, they play an important role in eliminating sick and weak animals, thereby helping to maintain a natural balance. While they’re not the most amicable dinner guest, the waste-not-want-not eating habits of these colourful, bushy-tailed hunters is in the interest of the pack and the survival of a species that’s very much endangered.
THE HAIRY FROG (ALSO KNOWN AS THE HORROR FROG)
The hairy frog, also known as the horror frog, is a real-life version of the X-Men comic-book hero Wolverine, minus the charm. With tufts of hair growing in places only your doctor would know about and claws that pierce through its skin, this Central African species of frog earns its place on the gross list with its strange self-flagellating defence mechanism and even stranger breeding habit.
When attacked, the hairy frog produces a set of claws by breaking the bones at the tips of its toes and contracting a muscle attached to those bones, thrusting them out through its flesh. What you have left is a highly intimidating, not to mention stomach-curling set of claws. When they breed, male frogs grow long strands of skin and arteries that resemble hair. Researchers believe this might bring in more oxygen.
Whatever the reason, the combination of claws and hair make this aptly named amphibian an abhorrence that does as bad a job at keeping its skeleton inside its body as it does looking good for the ladies.
AND THEN THERE IS YOU…
While poking a bit of fun at the weird antics in the animal kingdom is a lot less harmless (to both parties) than poking them with a stick, it’s interesting to note that all of the habits above ultimately achieve a goal, whether it’s for survival or preservation. Despite the poo-flinging, rotten-leftover eating and spine-curling vomit, the seemingly disgusting habits of our animal counterparts all serve a vital purpose.
However, when it comes to humans the same thing can’t be said. Those dishes you’ve left in the kitchen sink for days, that little fart you cupcaked into a fist and quietly lifted up to your nose and the chocolate wrapper you nonchalantly tossed on the pavement don’t contribute anything to the preservation or evolution of our species – in fact, it’s often counter-intuitive.
For a species that seems to have foregone evolution in favour of social definition, in the eyes of the animal kingdom our habits must come across as even grosser, weirder and ultimately pointless. I imagine them standing around in their herds, groups and troops wondering how exactly humans ever came so far as a species.
Source: Getaway Magazine