2015-08-03 Les Underhill 
African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis)

Mad Mammal Mondays!

Good morning! This Monday we are looking at the African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis). As the name describes the African clawless otter has hand-like forefeet which are its most remarkable feature, enabling it to grapple with its prey with notable ease. The forefeet have long fingers, rounded finger tips and lack any claws.

African/Cape clawless otters are 1 of 4 otter species that lives in both marine and fresh water ecosystems. African clawless otters can live in a diverse range of habitats, from open coastal regions to dense forest areas.

Their diet generally consists of a variety of small items including frogs, worms, fish, and crabs. They are very fast when it comes to catching and consuming prey. Once captured, the otter may float in the water whilst eating its prey, or take larger items ashore. They are avid hunters, even looking under logs and rocks for creatures that they can eat.

They use their whiskers as the primary source of finding food. These whiskers are highly sensitive to vibrations all around them. They rely on them both in the water and on land.

The African clawless otter may breed at any time of the year, giving birth to a litter of one to three cubs after a gestation of 63 days. At just one year of age, the young African clawless otters are independent.

~Megan Lategan




Latest news

2013-08-21 Les Underhill 
2000 up on Facebook

ADU 2000 on Facebook

The "page" for the Animal Demography Unit on Facebook now has 2000 "friends" who have "liked" it.

It is the best place to keep up to date with the goings on in the ADU and beyond. It is where the news breaks first!

You don't need to have a Facebook log-in to see the page, which is at www.facebook.com/animal.demography.unit.

2013-06-19 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
How to submit records to the Virtual Museums

Virtual Museum logos

Not sure how to submit your mammal / butterfly / reptile / frog / weaver nest / dragonfly / scorpion / bird / starfish / tree photo records to the various Virtual Museums? Here is a quick and easy "How To" guide – this link will take you to the PDF file.

2013-05-02 Les Underhill 
April, the best month ever for the ADU Virtual Museums

ReptileMap 8350 --- last record accepted in April The Virtual Museums of the ADU are helping to construct the 21st century distributions for thousands of species. They had a record month in April. A total of 2758 submissions were made.


The photograph of a snake was the last record that was formally accepted into the Virtual Museum during April. It was taken by Vaughan Jessnitz in Limpopo and it is Record 8350 in the ReptileMAP Virtual Museum. April was also the best month for reptile uploads to the Virtual Museum since the new system was implemented in June 2010. The reptiles in fact provided the impetus to start the initial Virtual Museum, and the first records were submitted on 10 May 2005, eight years ago. In the first years, submissions were made by attaching photos to emails. By 2010, "broadband" had become commonplace, and the mode of submission was transformed to the internet upload system we are using now.


The ReptileMAP Virtual Museum now totals 134909 records. Besides the photographic record, the database contains the specimen record data that goes back to 1834. So we are building onto the database that contains all the museum records. The advantage that this gives ReptileMAP is the abiliy to plot maps through time, and to examine range changes.

Please keep your submissions coming in to all the Virtual Museums. It does not matter if your collective upload power exceeds that of the identification panels for the various project – the important thing is the information is uploaded into the Virtual Museum, and is therefore curated and available. In contrast, the large numbers of photos that are uploaded into the social media such as Facebook are lots of fun, but they are ephemeral, and fade into oblivion within a relatively short space of time.

Uploading to the Virtual Museum is a bit more time consuming than uploading a photo to Facebook, but that is only to be expected. The spatial information is critically important to the Virtual Museum projects, otherwise the distribution maps cannot be made. Put your biodiversity photos to the ADU Virtual Museums, and make your photography count for conservation.

2013-03-18 Megan Loftie-Eaton 
It is National Water Week and we are featuring a wonderful water mammal for MAD MAMMAL MONDAY – the Hippopotamus

Mad Mammal Monday Hippo Megan Loftie-Eaton MammalMAP3185

It is National Water Week and we are featuring a wonderful water mammal for MAD MAMMAL MONDAY! – the Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius. The hippopotamus, or hippo for short, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" (?πποπ?ταμος), is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae (the other is the Pygmy Hippopotamus). After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest species of land mammal and the heaviest extant artiodactyl. Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, their closest living relatives are the cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. The common ancestor of whales and hippos split from other even-toed ungulates around 60 million years ago. The earliest known hippopotamus fossils, belonging to the genus Kenyapotamus in Africa, date to around 16 million years ago.

The hippopotamus is semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps, where territorial bulls preside over a stretch of river and groups of 5 to 30 females and young. During the day, they remain cool by staying in the water or mud; reproduction and childbirth both occur in water. They emerge at dusk to graze on grass. While hippopotamuses rest near each other in the water, grazing is a solitary activity and hippos are not territorial on land.

Hippos are recognizable by their barrel-shaped torso, enormous mouth and teeth, nearly hairless body, stubby legs and tremendous size. They are the third largest species of land mammal by weight (between 1½ and 3 tonnes); the only heavier species on average are the white and Indian rhinoceroses, typically 1½ to 3½ tonnes, and the elephants, typically weighing 3 to 9 tonnes. The hippopotamus is one of the largest quadrupeds and, despite its stocky shape and short legs, it can easily outrun a human. Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h over short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Nevertheless, they are still threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and ivory canine teeth.

You can help us to map this amazing mammal's 21st century distribution by submitting your photos, along with the location details, to the MammalMAP Virtual Museum at vmus.adu.org.za. The photo featured here is from our MammalMAP Virtual Museum database, where it is Record 3185

Reference: Novak, R. M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

2013-02-04 Tali Hoffman 
Upping the 'cute factor' on MammalMAP

For our first February Mad Mammal Monday post, we’d like to up the ‘cute factor’ and introduce you to the smallest antelope in Africa: the royal antelope (Neotragus pygmaeus).

With a maximum height of 30cm and a maximum mass of 3.6kg, this tiny ungulate is believed to range only in the West African forests of Sierra Leone. Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Royal antelopes are so small that an average-sized calf can fit comfortably into a person’s hand!  Like many of their larger antelope counterparts, the males grow horns (albeit a miniature sized pair) that are around 2.5cm long.

There is remarkably little known about these antelopes, with only a handful of ecological studies ever having been conducted, and there are no recorded observations of these animals in the wild (or at least, none have been published).

Needless to say, we’re eagerly awaiting the day when the first royal antelope record makes it’s way into MammalMAP!