Günther’s Dik-dik

Photographed after pursuit [3]

Immediately after arriving at Mpala during the dry season, I was greeted by a mating pair of Günther’s dik-diks (Madoqua guentheri), one of the dozens of resident dik-diks at Mpala. This miniature antelope stands just a little over a foot tall, has a comical flexible nose that wanders from side to side, and produces a high-pitched whizzing alarm call before bolting for cover. At Mpala, it is difficult to walk around the station for five minutes without seeing their adorable faces and complexions. For all these reasons, it is very hard to not become enamored by them. Dik-diks prove themselves as highly adaptable and resilient animals— efficient in their browsing of fruits, flowers, succulents, and other high-quality greenery, as well as tough in their heat and drought tolerance. In fact, dik-diks obtain the majority of their water uptake from plants and rarely drink water. Sometimes I feel similarly with fruit 😛

Dik-diks are monogamous, mate for life, and are almost always found in pairs. Only a single offspring is produced at a time and after 6-7 months is forced away by the parents. Being pair-bonded and always in close proximity of one another, it is easy to see differences between male and female dik-diks. They are sexually dimorphic with females being larger-bodied and males possessing two short horns. Both sexes are territorial, defending small home ranges from other dik-diks— a quality uncommon in female antelope. Males compete for females through agonistic interactions, consisting of mock charges and lowering the head to present the pointed horns. But most of the time one of the males will back down without any physical contact. Only on one occasion I observed an intense tussle between two dik-diks. Two males were furiously chasing each other and ramming their heads, at times locking horns and trembling visibly while emitting high vocalizations. Even for such a small antelope, this was an intense interaction to watch. Another time I saw a dik-dik with a broken horn that was dangling to the side, possibly due to combat with another male.

Mating pair of dik-diks, female (left) & male (right); photographed after pursuit [3]

I have countless memories of dik-diks, so I’ll try to share a handful of interesting behaviors that stuck with me. While on my futile efforts to find a leopard, I kept finding large claw marks on the ground, positioned perpendicularly as if a huge animal attempted a shallow dig into the earth. It was puzzling that the spacing between the claws was an inch and a half or more, really alarming me about the size of the creature responsible. It wasn’t until one day that I saw a dik-dik defecate and promptly slash at the ground repetitively that I understood who the perpetrator really was. Families of dik-diks are known to mark territories through repetitive placement of droppings and urine in the same spot, followed by scraping of the feces in a similar fashion. Many times I’ve happened upon mounds of droppings that certainly could not have been produced by a single dik-dik.

Male dik-dik marking its territory; photographed in situ [1]

While walking around looking for insects, I kept noticing black waxy globs on the tips of short stems and grasses. For months I was puzzled what was going on, whether it was something from an herbivorous insect or a plant disease, but it wasn’t until I saw a dik-dik stick its face into a stem that I finally understood. Dik-diks have two large black spots in front of the eyes, each with preorbital glands that produce a black sludgy secretion. After contacting an external surface, the secretion hardens to become more durable and functions in maintaining territories through scent marking. Despite the hundreds of times I’ve found secretions, I was only able to observe scent marking once from a close distance, and I’m happy to have gotten a photo of this neat behavior.

Male dik-dik trying to copulate with a female (unsuccessful); photographed in situ [1]

Also… why the long nose? No.. they are not closely related to elephants, aardvarks, and elephant shrews with their curious elongated snouts. It is thought that their snouts function in evaporative cooling of blood (culminating in a complex net of veins and arteries; a ‘rete mirabile’), as an adaptation to life in the arid savanna.

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