Yellow-Spotted Hyrax {heterohyrax brucei}

Also known as the bush hyrax, bush dassie, or Hoggar hyrax; this furry little mammal is characterised by its stocky body, short legs, round ears and sharply pointed face

South Africa WildlifeThe Yellow-Spotted Hyrax {heterohyrax brucei}

Also known as the bush hyrax, bush dassie, or Hoggar hyrax; this furry little mammal is characterised by its stocky body, short legs, round ears and sharply pointed face. They have thick pelts with coarse hair, the guard hairs of which can get up to 30 millimetres in length. The coat is generally grey in colour, with brown hues. However, in parts of the world that have damp vegetation, this colouration will vary towards the red-brown range.

Because they live exclusively in rocky terrain, their feet are specially adapted to hold onto the rocky substrates firmly, without compromising on dexterity. The soles of the feet have tiny glands in them, which are responsible for keeping the feet moist, and the muscles of the foot give it a cup-like structure that assist with suction and staying power. For this reason, these little hyraxes are extremely accomplished climbers.

They have long whisker-like structures called vibrissae; which are located above the eyes, on the chin, along the back, on the sides of the body, on the underside, and on the legs. These sensory organs aid the animal to feel what is around it, even in dark conditions. They measure between 70 and 90 millimetres.

The Jacobson’s organ is an auxiliary olfactory organ that is specialised to pick up chemical stimuli, mainly pheromones. Another very special adaptation is the umraculum in the eye (extending from the iris to the pupil), which allows them to look directly into the sun as they keep a watch for predators.

The kidney of the bush hyrax is also specialised in that it can produce really concentrated urine to allow the water that it has consumed in its food to be conserved in the organs and tissues, rather than expelled too quickly. This high concentration of the urine is the reason that it leaves a crystalline residue on the rocks.

Quick Facts

Size

The female may be slightly larger than the male, but they tend to be very similar in size. The yellow-spotted hyrax can be anywhere between 35 and 55 centimetres long, with a height of between 20 and 25 centimetres.

Weight

There have been various opinions and findings regarding the weight of a bush dassie. In some areas, they average as little as 1.3 kilograms, while, in others, they can reach an impressive average of around 3.6 kilograms.

Habitat

The yellow-spotted hyrax is only found in rocky areas like koppies, hillsides and heaps of loosely packed boulders. They build dens and, therefore, need places with little nooks and crannies. They can often be found in mountainous regions that are located up to 3 800 metres above sea level.

Distribution

The bush hyrax can be found in many African countries; including Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Mozambique. In South Africa, they are found in the northernmost provinces, such as Limpopo, which is actually the southernmost extent of its range.

Diet - Herbivore

The bush hyrax spends the vast majority of its foraging time nibbling on flowers, grasses, stems, twigs, and herbaceous plants known as forbs. They browse their local terrain in search of food, and eat what is available to them in any given habitat. These are social animals, and usually feed in groups. This is also an important part of their safety and security. However, it is not uncommon for one or two animals to graze on a large amount of vegetation very close to the living area.

These animals do not need to drink much fresh water, as they get a good supply of hydration from the foods that they eat.

Socialisation

The yellow-spotted rock hyrax is gregarious, colonial, and playful with those in its colony. It often lives in a group of dozens of others, if not hundreds. While they feed, play or sun themselves, the dassies have to remain vigilant to potential dangers around them. If anything threatens them, they become extremely vicious, biting at will and capable of doing plenty of damage with their sharp teeth. They use sharp, shrill vocalisations to alert others of danger and to frighten off the threat.

Reproduction

The bush hyrax lines its den with soft vegetation or fur in preparation for the arrival of the babies. They mate between April and June, and enjoy a fairly long gestation period of around 7 months. Between 1 and 4 babies are born, and are well-developed and capable of walking, even following their parents just hours after their birth. They will reach sexual maturity at around 15 months old.

Gestation

The gestation period of the bush dassie is surprisingly long for a mammal of its size, at between 7 and 7.5 months.

Life Expectancy

While some yellow-spotted rock hyraxes have enjoyed a long life of up to 14 years, the average life span of this animal is 12 years in the wild.

Predators

The bush dassie faces a number of threats in the wild. It is popular prey for hunting birds like eagles and owls, as well as for land-based hunters like leopards, pythons and mongooses.

References

Walker's Mammals of the World; Arkive; Animal Diversity; The Animal Files.

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Yellow-Spotted Hyrax
Conservation Status

  • Least Concern

South Africa's Big Five

Did you know?

The bush hyrax spends the vast majority of its foraging time nibbling on flowers, grasses, stems, twigs, and herbaceous plants known as forbs. They browse their local terrain in search of food, and eat what is available to them in any given habitat.

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