Aardvark is an African mammal with a bulky body, 6 ft long including a 2 ft tail, and standing 2 ft high at the shoulder. Its tough grey skin is so sparsely covered with hair that it often appears naked except for areas on the legs and hind quarters. The head is long and narrow, the ears donkey-like; the snout bears a round pig-like muzzle and a small mouth. The tail tapers from a broad root. The feet have very strong claws — four on the front feet and five on the hind feet. The name is the Afrikaans for ‘earth-pig’.
COMMON NAME: Aardvarks
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Orycteropus afer
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN CAPTIVITY: 23 years
SIZE: Head and body: 43 to 53 inches; tail: 21 to 26 inches
WEIGHT: 110 to 180 pounds
LOCATION : Sub-Saharan Africa
HABITAT: Sandy and clay soil
Aardvark Distribution and Habits
The aardvark has powerful limbs and sharp claws so it can burrow into earth at high speed. This it does if disturbed away from its accustomed burrow. There are records of it digging faster than a team of men with spades. When digging, an aardvark rests on its hind legs and tail and pushes the soil back under its body with its powerful fore feet, dispersing it with the hind legs.
The normal burrow, usually occupied by a lone aardvark, is 3-4 yd long, with a sleeping chamber at the end, big enough to allow the animal to turn round. Each animal has several burrows, some of them miles apart. Abandoned ones may be taken over by warthogs and other creatures.
Years can be spent in Africa without seeing an aardvark, although it is found throughout Africa south of the Sahara, except in dense forest. Little is known of its habits as it is nocturnal and secretive, though it may go long distances for food, unlike other burrowing animals.
Aardvark – Termite Feeder
The aardvark’s principal food is termites. With its powerful claws it can rip through the wall of termite nests that are difficult for a man to break down even with a pick.
Its method is to tear a small hole in the wall with its claws; at this disturbance the termites swarm, and the aardvark then inserts its slender 18 in. tongue into the hole and picks the insects out. It is protected from their attacks by very tough skin and the ability to close its nostrils – which are further guarded by a palisade of stiff bristles.
As well as tearing open nests, the aardvark will seek out termites in rotten wood or while they are on the march. It also eats other soft-bodied insects and some fruit, but-unlike the somewhat similar pangolin, which has a muscular, gizzard-like stomach filled with grit for crushing hard-bodied insects – it cannot deal with true ants.
Aardvark Breeding Cycle
The single young (twins happen occasionally) is born in midsummer in its mother’s burrow, emerging after two weeks to accompany her on feeding trips. For the next few months it moves with her from burrow to burrow, and at six months is able to dig its own.
Aardvark digs to escape enemies
The aardvark’s main enemies are man, hunting dogs, pythons, lions, cheetahs and leopards, and also the honey badger or ratel, while warthogs will eat the young. When suspicious it sits up kangaroo-like on its hind quarters, supported by its tail, the better to detect danger. If the danger is imminent it runs to its burrow or digs a new one; if cornered, it fights back by striking with the tail or feet, even rolling on its back to strike with all four feet together. On one occasion, when an aardvark had been killed by a lion, the ground was torn up in all directions, suggesting that the termite-eater had given the carnivore a tough struggle for its meal. However, flight and-above all-superb digging ability are the aardvark’s first lines of defence for, as with other animals with acute senses like moles and shrews, even a moderate blow on the head is fatal.
A creature on its own
One of the most remarkable things about the aardvark is the difficulty zoologists have had in finding it a place in the scientific classification of animals. At first it was placed in the order Edentata (the toothless ones) along with the armadillos and sloths, simply because of its lack of front teeth (incisors and canines). Now it is placed by itself in the order Tubulidentata (the tube-toothed) so called because of the fine tubes radiating through each tooth. These teeth are in themselves very remarkable, for they have no roots or enamel.
So the aardvark is out on an evolutionary limb, a species all on its own with no close living relatives. Or perhaps we should say rather that it is on an evolutionary dead stump, the last of its line.
What is more, although fossil aardvarks have been found – but very few of them-in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, they give us no real clue to the aardvark’s ancestry or its connections with other animals.
Aardvark escape route
Disturbed away from its burrow, the aardvark can escape its enemies by digging at incredible speed. It forces the soil back with its fore feet and kicks it away with its strong hind legs, so fast that it can outstrip a team of six men with spades’.
The wall of a termite nest is so hard it is difficult for a man to break down even with a pick-axe but the powerful claws of the aardvark! can rip through it easily.
The termites are so disturbed by having their nest opened that they swarm about and the aardvark then puts its pig-like muzzle into the nest to eat them. It has an 18 in. long, slender, sticky tongue with which it captures and eats the swarming termites that make up the main food of aardvarks.
Aardvark Interesting Facts
- Aardvarks live in Africa. They can be found in both forests and grasslands;
- Aardvarks have long snouts. They have big ears, too;
- Aardvarks have sharp claws. Their claws make them very good at digging;
- Aardvarks dig burrows. They most often sleep in their burrows during the day;
- In the evening aardvarks leave their burrows to look for food;
- Aardvarks often break open termite mounds to suck out the termites;
- Aardvarks dig up ants, too. They eat around 50,000 insects each night;
- Most of the time, aardvarks live by themselves;
- However, baby aardvarks live with their mothers;