Meet the Dassie!

by Sonja Faul

If you’ve travelled to southern Africa, you’ve probably seen a Dassie. If not, then perhaps you remember Pati Pati, the cute rock hyrax from the movie Born Free?

Dassies are adorable, rodent-looking furry mammals. They have many special adaptations which make them fascinating! Here are 7 interesting facts about Dassies you may not know.

1. Dassies aren’t rodents

I know, a Dassie looks like a rodent, right? Wrong! A Dassie is not a rodent but rather closely related to Elephants and Sirenians (Manatees and Dugongs). Boy, looks can be deceiving…

2. Dassies forage as a group

Jip, eating is a group activity for these furry critters. They feed on a wide variety of plants, grubs, and insects. They even consume plants that are aromatic and toxic to other animals. To keep the group safe while they forage, some of the Dassies stand guard, ready to warn the group of approaching predators.

3. Dassies have built-in sun visors

Being a sentry is a very important job! As such, Dassies have modified eyes which enable them to look directly into the sun and still spot predators. The iris slightly protrudes over the pupil of the eye, essentially creating a built-in sun visor. Neat!

4. Dassies are surprisingly agile

Let’s be honest, their clumsy built doesn’t exactly scream sporty or active. But despite having no tail, short legs, and stocky bodies, Dassies are actually quick and fast. In addition to being surprisingly agile, they can also climb trees.

5. Dassies have the cutest feet!

I’m serious! Google ‘Dassie feet’. Not only are they the cutest, but also functional. The soles of their feet are padded and kept moist, soft and rubbery by special glandular secretions. The moisture improves traction and helps with the agility of Dassies.

6. Dassies have incomplete thermoregulation

What do I mean by this statement? Well, unlike other mammals, Dassies cannot control their internal body temperature. This means their body temperature fluctuates with that of the environment. Consequently, they are active during the day when the ambient temperature is high. At night, Dassies lie on top of each other to keep warm.

7. Dassies are pregnant for about 7 months

The gestation period for Dassies is approximately 230 days, which is very long for such a small animal. Females give birth to 2 to 3 babies that are born fully furred with open eyes.

I hope you’ve learned something new. Zoologist out!

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