Colours of Wildlife: Blue Duiker

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Blue Duiker

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Blue Duiker by Willem

This time I have for you a Blue Duiker, Cephalophus monticola. The genus name means 'crested head', referring to the tuft of hair this and many other duiker species have on top of their heads. The species name means 'montane', which isn't very appropriate since this little antelope lives in coastal and lowland forests as much as in mountain forests. The Blue Duiker is widespread in Africa, living from South Africa into central and eastern Africa, being replaced in equatorial West Africa by the similar Maxwell's Duiker. Duikers as a whole constitute a very diverse group of small to medium-sized African antelopes, most living in forests. I've already written about the rare and beautiful Zebra Duiker. The name 'Duiker' is Afrikaans and means 'diver', for the way these antelopes will dive into the dense bush when frightened. It is difficult to explain to English speakers how to pronounce the name, but you're not too far wrong if you pronounce it 'doyker'.

I'm Blue Da Ba Dee Da Ba Duiker1

The blue duiker is named for, in South Africa, the bluish sheen to its greyish-brown coat of hair. In other places the name is less appropriate. Their colour varies from reddish brown to greyish to nearly black. In South Africa the limbs tend to be more rufous brown. The darker colour forms occur in the more equatorial, wetter regions. A great many different subspecies of the species have been named. Some of them occur in small, isolated patches of forests, often on mountains, or on islands.

Tiny Antelopes

These antelopes are among the smallest in the world. They're rivalled for smallness only by the dik-diks and by the African pygmy antelopes of the genus Neotragus. A full-grown blue duiker weighs only 4 to 4.5 kg/9-10 lbs, making it the size of a cat. Females are slightly larger than males. They have rather large, broad heads, and big eyes. Below the eyes, they have large glands with a slit opening, which exudes a strongly scented fluid. They rub this on leaves and twigs to mark their territories. They also have scent glands between their hooves, which automatically mark their way wherever they go. They have proportionally small ears, and very short tails fringed with white. These constitute a vivid visual signal for other duikers in the gloomy forest interior. They have proportionally big, wide mouths with flexible lips for picking up or biting off big mouthfuls of foot.

Blue duikers have very short, straight, ridged horns. These are usually only 3cm/1.2" in length. The tuft of hair on top of the duikers head indeed often hides them completely. Males as well as females have the horns. The record length is 5.7 cm/2.2". These are probably just barely adequate for the duikers defending themselves against small predators.

Fruit Eaters

In many of the forests frequented by these tiny antelopes, the canopy is dense and consequently the understory is gloomy. Without much light, there is not much plant growth down there. But monkeys and other animals foraging up above often dislodge leaves and fruits. These drop down to the floor, where the blue duikers pick them up and eat them. They will also eat flowers and fungi. In more open patches, there will be light and growth of shrubs and herbs. The blue duikers will eat the leaves of these, as well as the small berries and seeds that they bear. In most regions, fruit constitutes 70%-90% of the blue duiker's diet, figs being especially important. So dependent are they on monkeys and fruit-eating birds like Rameron Pigeons dropping fruit that they can eat, that they will seriously decline wherever humans hunt monkeys or fruit-eating birds intensively. They will also eat small amounts of tree gum, and occasionally animal foods such as birds' eggs or even the birds themselves, or small mammals and reptiles. They need access to surface water, drinking daily. They spend a large amount of their time ruminating, that is re-chewing their food for better digestion.

Forest Lives

Most of the time blue duikers are seen singly. Males and females do form lifelong bonds and have shared territory, but still stay apart most of the time. They will chase other duikers out of their territory. The territory is marked out by secretions from the face and foot glands, and from the small piles of dung they deposit along their paths, and trees and shrubs marked by their rubbing their horns against them. When it's breeding season, the male courts the female by leaping about in front of her, rubbing his facial glands against her cheeks, and nibbling her neck and shoulders. The female gives birth to just a single lamb, mating again just 10-14 days later. She will let her lambs accompany her until they're a bit over a year old. Blue duikers are mainly diurnal (active in the day) but do forage well into the night on occasion. During the day they stay close to dense cover, but when its dark will venture towards more open spots around the margins of the forest. Mostly they rest and sleep during the night. They will try to pick a spot where they're well concealed and with cover overhead to keep them dry if it should rain, for instant underneath the trunk of a fallen tree. Bonded males and females come together to rest, strengthening their pair bonds by grooming and licking each other, and by rubbing their noses and face glands together.

A few different kinds of calls have been recorded for these antelopes. When alarmed, they give a nasal whistle. The mother and her lambs keep in contact with soft, groaning calls. When caught, they utter a mewing bleat.

Being so small, blue duikers are wary and secretive. In the forest their chief predators would be leopards and wild cats. They're heavily hunted by humans, too. They take great care when venturing out from the denser growth into the more open patches where they prefer to feed. They will hesitate on the border of a clearing and first look left and right before moving forward. Then they will just give a step or two and check again that all is safe before again moving out a bit further. At the first sign of danger, they'll dash back to the cover of vegetation. Unfortunately they're often caught by snares set by hunters along their well-trodden paths. Because of hunting and also habitat destruction, they have become rare in South Africa. But their requirements are very humble, and given just a little protection, these lovely little antelopes are sure to flourish.

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