Thursday, July 14, 2011

Creature Feature: Klipspringer.

"Human feet are inefficient!" We have said it again and again: human feet fail at being anything but mildly dextrous snowshoes. We have no claws, and although our five digits were useful for climbing trees, they are not so useful for running. As a rule of thumb, the fastest creatures are the ones who have the least of their bodies on the ground at any given time.

Nowhere is this more true than with the klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus - no relation to Oreo cookies). The klipspringer is a small antelope native to the rockier parts of southeastern Africa. It's so agile it makes other ungulates look like awkward turtles by comparison. The klipspringer looks at us and laughs its adorable little tail off as it dashes up the cliffs like so:

See that? That was Bambi ballet dancing (note: antelope like the klipspringer are not as close to deer as they look). We're not kidding - the klipspringer has evolved to walk on its toes just like a ballerina, only all the time. Ungulates normally walk on their toenails, but the klipspringer takes it one step further by walking on the tippy-tips of its toenails. The digits are so narrow that all four feet can fit on the surface of a rock the size of a Canadian dollar coin.

The klipspringer's rocky, dry habitat has given it another useful adaptation: It does not need to drink. At all. Like many desert animals, it gets all the water it needs from the succulents it eats. It is also one of the few truly monogamous mammals, staying in breeding pairs instead of large herds. Not that we would mind herds of cute, athletic antelopes dancing on their tiptoes.

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