Dassies – our little energy efficient herbivores
Dassies (Procavia capensis) are a common sight when hiking in the Table Mountain National Park. More closely related to elephants than the guinea pigs that they superficially resemble, dassies are one of four living species in the order Hyracoidea, and the only living species in the genus Procavia.
When seen on Table Mountain dassies are usually lazing around on rocks sunning themselves; these woolly little herbivores definitely take relaxation to the next level. They aren’t, however, just lazy creatures – their inactivity allows them to survive in harsh environments, and they don’t just survive, they thrive. Dassies are in fact one of the few herbivores that are tough enough to survive on a diet of fynbos. Eating for short periods throughout the day, dassies retire for extended periods of time to allow this rather harsh food source to slowly ferment in a bacteria-filled sac which aids digestion. This is not the only reason why we see dassies “lazing around”, they have become highly efficient at conserving energy, which also allows them to survive in these unforgiving environments. One such energy saving tactic is to allow their body temperature to drop by a few degrees at night, they then sunbathe in the morning to increase their body temperature, ensuring that they have enough energy for the day ahead. But don’t worry these little creatures are not cold at night, they live in harems of up to 20 females and one male and by huddling at night, they ensure that they stay warm during cold nights.
The next time you share a rocky outcrop with a dassie or two take a minute to appreciate these resilient little energy efficient herbivores, who have certainly found a relaxing way to adapt to their harsh environment.
Species: P. capensis
Photo Credit: Peter Chadwick