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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Subfamily Cephalophinae
The duikers are a highly specialized and easily recognizable subfamily. With the tropical forests of Africa being their main habitat, duikers fill the same niche as chevrotains and muntjacs in Asia, and brocket deer and agoutis in the Neotropics. Like these other groups, duikers have a compact body, relatively short legs, and strong hindquarters - they rely on short bursts of speed through dense vegetation to escape predators. Indeed, the name duiker is Afrikaans for "diver", as these antelope dive straight into cover at the first sign of danger. The entire evolutionary history of this subfamily is restricted to the African continent. The fossil record is scarce, beginning approximately 6 million years ago (although some records indicate that this subfamily may have been present 12 million years ago).

All 18 extant species have the same body plan, but there are wide variations in size (from the 5 kg Philantomba species to the 80 kg yellow-backed duiker, Cephalophus silvicultor) and extreme variations in colors and markings (as evidenced by common names: red duiker, blue duiker, black duiker, gray duiker, white-bellied duiker, yellow-backed duiker . . .). There is minimal sexual dimorphism, but (unusual in mammals) females tend to be larger than males. In the majority of species, both males and females grow horns (except for Philantomba, Sylvicapra, and Cephalophus rufilatus). The horns are among the smallest of any bovid; their small size, low angle, and position near the back of the skull reduces the chance of them becoming caught in jungle underbrush. A tuft of hair on the forehead often conceals these tiny spikes. Duikers tend to be territorial - their very large preorbital glands are used in scent marking. The glands form prominent bulges on either sides of the nose, opening into a long slit which extends well in front of the eyes.

Duikers have a virtual monopoly on frugivory in African rainforests, but even so, several species of duikers have been recorded eating meat. Their brains are large and complex; since duikers are reliant on fallen fruits, most species are aware of canopy activity, and will often follow primates in order to eat dropped leftovers.

The Cephalophinae Family Tree
Branch lengths are not proportional to time
(From Hernandez-Fernandex and Vrba, 2005)


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Sylvicapra grimmia

Philantomba maxwellii

Philantomba monticola

Cephalophus adersi

Cephalophus niger

Cephalophus callipygus

Cephalophus weynsi

Cephalophus leucogaster

Cephalophus natalensis

Cephalophus harveyi

Cephalophus rufilatus

Cephalophus nigrifrons

Cephalophus jentinki

Cephalophus dorsalis

Cephalophus silvicultor

Cephalophus spadix

Cephalophus ogilbyi

Cephalophus zebra

Click on the species above to learn more,
or jump to the Cephalophinae Species List
Literature Cited

Estes, R. D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Hernandez-Fernandez, M., and E. S. Vrba. 2005. A complete estimate of the phylogenetic relationships in Ruminantia: a dated species-level supertree of the extant ruminants. Biological Review; 80: 269-302.

Kingdon J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, London and New York: NaturalWorld.

Nowak, R. M. [Editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

van Vuuren, B. J., and T. J. Robinson. 2001. Retrieval of four adaptive lineages in duiker antelope: Evidence from mitochondrial DNA sequences and fluorescence in situ hybridization. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution; 20(3): 409-425.

Vrba, E. S., and G. B. Schaller. 2000. Phylogeny of Bovidae based on behavior, glands, skulls, and postcrania. In Antelopes, Deer, and Relatives. Edited by E.S.Vrba and G.B.Schaller. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. pp. 203-222.