Procaviidae – Hyraxes

African rock dwellers that resemble pikas but are more closely related to elephants!

Despite their small size and rodent-like appearance, hyraxes share a closer evolutionary lineage with elephants and manatees, a fact that becomes evident when examining their teeth and bone structure. These creatures exhibit several unique characteristics and behaviors that highlight their adaptability to diverse environments across Africa and the Middle East.

Hyraxes typically inhabit rocky terrains and dense forests, where they have adapted to thrive in both environments. The most commonly observed species, the rock hyrax, prefers rocky outcrops and cliffs, which offer protection from predators and ideal spots for sunbathing. Their ability to live in large colonies of up to 80 individuals provides not only social interaction but also a strategy for maintaining body heat during colder periods as they huddle together in communal living spaces.

One of the most fascinating aspects of hyrax behavior is the extensive time spent sunbathing. Due to their inefficient thermoregulation, hyraxes rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. This behavior is essential for their survival, as their dense fur and lack of insulating fat make it challenging to retain body heat. Sunbathing on rocks exposed to direct sunlight allows them to absorb heat, while huddling together minimizes heat loss, demonstrating a remarkable adaptation to their environment.

Tree hyraxes, though less widespread than their rock-dwelling counterparts, have adapted to a more arboreal lifestyle, inhabiting forests where they can climb trees with agility. This habitat differentiation among hyrax species showcases their versatility and the broad range of ecological niches they occupy.

Despite their small size, hyraxes possess sharp tusks, which are actually elongated incisors similar to those of elephants. These tusks play a crucial role in defense against predators, as well as in intraspecific competition among males for territory and mates.