By Roxanne Devonshire
This month we decided to focus on our youth as we celebrate Youth Day in South Africa on the 16th of June. This is a very important day I believe as the youth is our future, the generation that will either make or break us. We need to give special attention to them and celebrate their ability to adapt and survive. In nature being a juvenile or young, means higher risk to die. Predators, natural selection and even the natural elements play a role. Survival of the fittest is the law of nature and even siblings will fight each other to survive. Nature is amazing however and never disappoints in ways in which animals are adapted or have special mechanisms to promote their survival.
I decided to first focus on a few mammal species that can be found in our beautiful bush and the amazing ways in which they are either adapted to help their young survive or how the juveniles are adapted to help with their survival. One of my favourite mammal species are Cheetahs and how the cubs are adapted to be camouflaged in the bush. They have a grey strip of hair that grows on their back as well as some grey tufts of hair around their neck and on their head which let them look like honey badgers. Honey badgers are tough, and hardy and most predators will leave a honey badger alone and this helps the cubs to survive in the wild. The colouration also helps them to blend in better with their environment. Baby leopard species are another example of mammal species that also change their fur for camouflage. When they are small their spots are more closely spaced and darker which makes them blend easier into the shadows under ‘n tree. This camouflage helps the mother leopard to keep them safe until they are older.
“Follow me” signs are also another amazing way in which animals have colour adaptation to show the younger animals where to follow the group or the parents. For instance, warthogs have a whole litter to look after. Their young are born in spring when grasses are tall and easy to get lost in. The parents use their tails erect like an aerial with small tufts of hair to show the young where to escape to. We all have seen this in action. Other animals that also use their tails as “follow me” signs include lions and leopards. The Lions have a small tuft of black hair and leopards have a white tuft of hair at the end of their tails that when held upright, the cubs can follow.
Juvenile birds are very difficult to identify as their colouration is not as specific as when they are older. They are mostly dull in colour and look like the females and helps them to avoid predators and help them to survive. They go through a few different processes before having their permanent plumage. They first have their moulting plumage at birth which is mostly brown or grey if they are born with feathers. Most hatchlings are born without any feathers or plumage. After being a hatchling for a few weeks they then move into their next phase and are called nestlings where they might grow feathers. After being a nestling for a while they start to develop their first-year plumage and are then only seen as juveniles. Birds that are born without any feathers need more care from their parents to stay warm, while other bird species are born with feathers, and they are able to forage for their own food after only being a few hours old such as some duck species. The juveniles are kicked out of the nest and must learn all the necessary survival skills. Some parents will still stay close to the nest and where the juveniles are and can even help with feeding periodically and to help teach them some necessary skills to survive.
It is a very special sight to see the amazing and beautiful young animals that our wildlife has to offer in South Africa. The best time to come and see young mammals and animals will be in Spring as mating season is mostly in wintertime. Some species can have young any time of the year and it is always a delight to search for these special sights in nature. These juveniles only stay small for such a limited time and is therefore so special to tressure and enjoy.
Here are some links to photos of young animals found in South Africa that will absolutely melt your heart. We hope to see you soon searching for a glimpse of the future that the South African bush or our beautiful gardens and natural areas have to offer.
Celebrating Africa’s Wild Babies – Africa Geographic – https://africageographic.com/stories/celebrating-africas-wild-babies-2019/#5
Baby Animals In South Africa In The Rainy Season | The Great Projects – https://www.thegreatprojects.com/blog/south-africa-s-cutest-baby-animals-why-you-should-explore-this-incredible-country-in-the-rainy-season