Meet the dik-dik

Photo by Yathin sk. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 05-04-2023. Shared under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Some animals just have names that are fun to say.

Like this week’s animal: the dik-dik.

And, to make dik-diks even more fun, they’re also super cute!

And as if dik-diks couldn’t be cuter, I have some good news for you: a baby dik-dik was recently born at the Edinburgh Zoo! The baby is a female named Petal, and her proud parents are father Drax and mother Noodle. I have no notes, A+ dik-dik names right there.

But enough gushing about how cute dik-diks are. I’m sure you’re wondering what exactly are dik-diks?

Dik-diks are small antelope in the genus Madoqua. There are four species of dik-dik: Günther’s dik-dik, Kirk’s dik-dik, Silver dik-dik, and Salt’s dik-dik. All species are found in the bushlands of eastern and southern Africa. More specifically, you can find them from southern Somalia to central Tanzania. There is also a population of Kirk’s dik-diks that live from northern Namibia into southwestern Angola.

About that name…

Let’s get this out of the way first: ‘dik-dik’ does not reference their genitalia.

Instead, dik-diks get their name from the sound they make when they run from predators.

Dik-diks are small, and they survive by hiding in the brush from predators. But when they get disturbed from their hiding place, dik-diks make a whistling sound through their nose that sounds like ‘zik-zik’ or ‘dik-dik.’

In addition to this whistling noise, dik-diks run from predators in a zig-zag pattern. The combination of the two may help them confuse predators and get away safely.

Tiny antelope

Part of what makes dik-diks so cute (in my opinion) is how small they are!

They typically weigh between 6 and 13 pounds (3 to 6 kilograms) and stand 12 to 16 inches tall (30 to 40.5 centimeters) at their shoulder. Females are bigger than males.

Dik-diks are so small that the hide of one individual is only enough to make a single suede glove.

But while dik-diks are one of the smallest antelope, they are not the smallest antelope. That distinction goes to the royal antelope, which, while cute, I find not as cute as the dik-dik.

Live in dry environments

Dik-diks can survive in arid environments due to several different adaptations.

For example, their long snout serves as a way to cool themselves off in extreme temperatures. When dik-diks perform rapid nasal panting, this large nose acts as a bellow, cooling their blood before it goes to their brain. As air moves over the membranes in their nose, the blood is cooled, similar to how sweating cools us down. Dik-diks have also evolved to not lose a lot of water in this exhaled air during nasal panting.

Günther’s dik-diks have a particularly large snout. Photo by Steve Garvie. Retrieved from Flickr on 05-04-2023. Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Dik-diks beat the heat by sleeping through the hottest parts of the day. They are nocturnal, so they do most of their moving around in the cooler night hours.

In part because of their ability to keep cool, dik-diks are water-independent. They don’t need to drink water. Instead, they stay hydrated from the moisture in their food – vegetation like foliage, shoots, and fruit.

As one last water-saving strategy, dik-diks have super concentrated urine and the driest poop of any ungulate. They really use every last drop of water they can in their bodies.

Marking their territory

Dik-diks are one of the few monogamous mammals. They live in pairs with their offspring. Dik-dik females produce one offspring at a time and can have two young a year. When the young dik-dik is about 7 months old, it is driven away from its parent’s territory – the male chases off a male offspring, and the female chases off a female offspring. This chasing occurs at about the same time the adult female is ready to give birth again.

To mark their territory, dik-diks participate in a dunging ritual. At the edge of their territory, the female first defecates and urinates. As the female is urinating, the male tastes her urine. This is for a good reason, not just because the male is into it – by tasting her urine, the male can monitor where the female is in her reproductive cycle. The male then defecates and urinates over the female’s excretions.

In addition to this somewhat gross way of marking their territory, dik-diks have a cuter method: their tears! The large black spot below the inside corner of each eye is a preorbital gland. This gland produces a sticky secretion used in scent marking.

The glands are about the size of a pencil eraser. Photo by David Dennis. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 05-04-2023. Shared under the CC BY-SA 2.0.

So if you see a dik-dik put a stick or branch in its eye, don’t worry – it’s just doing some territory marking!


African Wildlife Foundation


Smithsonian Magazine

How Stuff Works

Mental Floss

Animal Diversity Web

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