Rock Hyrax

I discovered last week that manatees, elephants, and hyraxes are close relatives. Hyraxes? Hyraxes are small, furry animals that look like rodents. In fact they look a lot like guinea pigs or a rabbit with short ears.

Photo Credit – Dave Govoni

The rock hyrax is sometimes referred to as the little brother of the elephant. The hyrax and the elephant, as well as the manatee, are descendants of a hooved mammal, Tethytheria, that died out approximately 50 million years ago. And though at first glance there is a huge (pun intended) difference between these three relatives, their toes, skulls, and teeth have many similarities. On the hyrax, that includes incisors that are like tiny tusks. Elephants and hyraxes have flat, hoof-like nails (and even manatees have toenails on their flippers!) and specialized footpads. Finally, all three are highly intelligent animals and among the smartest on the planet.

These mysterious creatures live throughout Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East. Rock hyraxes live, as their name implies, in rocky areas in colonies of as many as 50-60 individuals. One of the most interesting things about hyraxes, to me anyway, is that they spend their first couple of hours every morning in a group cuddle basking in the sun! In fact, they dislike cool and rainy weather. If they poke their head out in the morning and don’t like what they see, they won’t even come out of their rock shelter. And while mostly diurnal, hyraxes will come out on a moonlit night (if the weather’s good!).

Their social structure reminds me of prairie dogs in that they live in large, social groups, create nurseries for the young, utilize lookouts that watch for danger while others eat, and have a variety of vocalizations to communicate. And yet, they are not closely related to prairie dogs at all. Evolution is a mysterious thing.