Rock Hyrax – Animal Spotlight

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Rock HyraxRock Hyrax

Rock hyraxes, also called rock rabbits or dassies, are small mammals found throughout Africa and into the Middle East.  In East Africa, they live at sea level and up to altitudes of 14,000 feet.  They live in isolated communities in rocky, scrub-covered areas, finding shelter under rocks and in crevices.  Hyraxes look like oversized guinea pigs with tiny mouse-like ears and stumpy tails.

Characteristics

  • Size/Weight:  Hyraxes are 18 – 22 inches long and weigh between 2 and 11 pounds.
  • What they eat:  Mainly vegetarian, eating almost any plant including some that are poisonous to other animals.  They also occasionally eat insects and grubs.
  • How long they live:  The average lifespan is 9 – 12 years.
  • Number of young:  Usually 2 – 3 are born after a gestation period of 7 – 8 months.  The young are born fully developed with eyes open, and can run and jump about an hour after birth.

Interesting Facts

  • Rock hyraxes are noisy and sociable, with adults having over 20 different vocalizations used for communication.
  • Hyraxes have built-in sun visors!  Their irises protrude slightly over the pupil of their eyes, decreasing the amount of light to the eye from above.
  • Active during the daytime, hyraxes have poor thermoregulatory abilities and use the heat of the sun to help increase their body temperature.
  • Hyraxes have sentry behavior similar to meerkats.  One of the adults will stay on a high rock or branch and keep watch while the rest of the group eat or sun themselves, and will give an alarm call if there is danger.
  • Hyraxes’ best defense against predators is to escape to hiding places amongst the rocks, but they may bite smaller predators.  Although humble in appearance, hyraxes can be extremely aggressive.
  • Common predators include leopards, lions, jackals, hyenas, pythons and large birds.
  • Hyraccum is a substance created by congealed hyrax urine and feces that is used by humans as medicine for treating epilepsy and convulsions.