Episode 155 – White Rhino: Crash and the Birds

“…And today we’re talking about Marco Polo’s thick unicorn! But more on that later.”

Grazing along the African savannah, the white rhino keeps his ears peeled for the danger bird – despite not having many predators to worry about. When opportunity squawks, the rhino definitely listens. But the classic symbiotic relationship between the rhino the oxpecker may benefit the bird more than the mammal. But animals take what they can and give nothin’ back here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the White Rhino

  • White rhinos are large organic tanks with keratin horns coming out of their faces.
  • White rhinos have two horns with a larger horn in the front of the face and a smaller one directly behind it.
  • They have a hump on the backs of their necks and trunk like legs and feet. 
  • Unlike an elephant their feet flair out at the bottom like a bell, with three toes.
  • They have mouths that form a vague square shape.
  • They’re skin is leathery and think, contributing to it’s armored appearance. 
  • White rhinos can range in color from a yellowish brown to a dark grey.
  • They are said to have the widest set nostrils of any land animal. Olfactory systems in their brain are larger than the rest of their brain put together. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. American Bison
  2. Wildebeest 
  3. Guar
  4. Nilgai


  • 3.7 to 4 m (12.1 to 13.1 ft)
  • How many 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer replicas go into the length of a male rhino?
  • Hint: Hess started to sell replicas of their trucks in gas stations in 1964 as a thank you to their customers. The 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer was their first, modeled after the company’s first B61 Mack truck. Only 150,000 were made and if you have one in excellent condition today, it could go for $2,000.
  • 13.1 trucks. The trucks are 12 inches.


  • 2,300 kg (5,070 lb)
  • How many Rhinos go into a Mack Granite heavy duty truck’s maximum loaded weight?
  • Hint: Loaded weight refers to the weight that is transferred to the road from a fully-loaded vehicle’s axle. The federal limit of gross weight on a federal road is 80,000 lbs.
  • 18 Rhinos. The mack granite’s max load is 92,000 pounds (42,000 kg).

Fast Facts about the White Rhino

The white rhino is a herbivore graser, which means it has a lifestyle kind of like a cow, looking for tasty grass and plants to eat. They spend about half the day eating and a third of it resting, leaving four hours for fun stuff like mating, rolling in mud holes, and video games.

Grown males prefer the company of their own thoughts and spend most of their time alone, pondering the universe. Adolescents will hang out with one another and with adult females. These groups can be as large as 14 members.

Rhinos have good hearing and even better smell but they don’t have great eyesight. Something moving silently from downwind could sneak up on a rhino. An activity I wouldn’t recommend. But to prevent this, rhinos allow Oxpecker birds to sit on their backs, eating flies and parasites that may bother the rhino. They also act as an alarm system when danger approaches. 

Females reach maturity around age 6 but they can only date older boys, because it takes males between 10 and 12 years to reach maturity. Little unborn rhinos take about 16 months to gestate. Newborn calves can weigh up to 140 pounds.

Major Fact: Scaredy Crash

Rhinos are big, fierce, and heavily armored. They’re the second-largest land animals on the planet. They have huge, sharp horn-like appendages coming out of their faces. And they have 2-inch thick armored skin. They have no natural predators, which is surprising because even elephants have to deal with lions. But I imagine the baby rhinos get gobbles. So you’d think that these guys would be able to saunter across the savannah with confidence right? The reality is that they’re pretty easily spooked.

Rhinos have really good hearing. Their ears can almost turn the full 360 degrees around their heads. 

But they have pretty poor eyesight. If they’re startled, they’ll either run away or just charge the thing they think is after them–even if it’s just a bush or a tree.

They also make use of that rare jewel in the animal kingdom: cooperation! (interspecies cooperation, that is) symbiosis. There’s a bird they befriend called an oxpecker. They perch on the backs of rhinos as they graze. The oxpeckers get a free meal of ticks and other parasites that can latch onto the rhino. Also, there aren’t any animals that would try and nab a bird sitting on a rhino’s back.

The rhino gets a nice skin cleaning, but what it really wants is the bird’s natural alarm system. If the oxpecker spots danger, it will tweet. Then the rhino just wildly mauls the bush or runs away. The oxpecker is called “askari wa kifaru” in Swahili which means “the rhino’s guard.” But you probably already knew that.

But this famous symbiotic relationship may be more parasitic than you thought. Ticks suck…literally. All of them do – but the oxpecker actually likes to eat rhino blood, so it only eats the fat ones.

It’s selective and self-serving. In fact, it’s main food source is rhino blood. The bird will also find infected or infested wounds on the rhino and eat any larvae or parasites living there. But it will also eat the scabs and open the wound even more.

Ending: So armor up, sharpen your horn-like appendages, and keep helpful birds on your shoulder like the white rhino here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.