An aardvark, meaning an earthpig, is a little nocturnal animal. They are mostly found in Africa. These peculiar animals are not known by many people. Sometimes they are also called “Cape Anteater”, referring to the Cape of Good Hope, or another name for them is the “African Antbear”.
The aardvark almost seems like a conglomerate of a few different animals. With an arched back, sparse hair, plus a snout-like nose — it’s easy to see why their name includes “pig”. But their ears are more rabbit-like, they have duck-like webbed feet, bear-like claws, and a kangaroo-like tail. And with a long tongue and fondness for ants, you would think they are cousins of the anteater. But they are not from the same family tree.
In the Maasai culture they believe it will bring you good fortune if you spot an aardvark. They live across Africa, but are mostly found south of the Sahara Desert.
Unique and Curious Looking
The aardvark is one of a kind, being the only one of the Tubulidentata species order. Their name comes from the Afrikaans language and is derived from the reclusive little animal’s fondness of sheltering underground.
An aardvark can weigh between 60 to 80kg (130 to 180 pounds). They can grow up to between 105 and 130 cm (3.44 to 4.27 feet). When you include their tails, they are about 2.2m (7 feet 3 inches) long. This makes them the biggest member of the Afroinsectiphilia clade. Raised in captivity, an aardvark can live up to 23 years.
Made to Last by Mother Nature
The genetics of aardvarks are almost a living fossil. The chromosomes reflect an early eutherian arrangement, before more recent divergence of the modern taxa. And this ancient genome makes them the most closely related cousins of elephants. Aardvarks reproduce very slowly, with only one little earth pig born at a time. They are born inside the den and the mommy aardvark looks after the little one for a whole year.
Their teeth are very unique. They don’t have a pulp cavity. Each tooth is made up of a cluster of very thin, hexagonal tubes of vesodentin alongside each other. It’s basically a modified dentine. Cementum hold the teeth together. The teeth aren’t covered in enamel. An aardvark’s teeth are constantly worn down and regrowing.
The Hunter in the Night
They are not fond of the sun and heat. During the day they prefer to hide in burrows under the ground, which the aardvarks dig out themselves. These burrows are far away from water and rocky terrain.
During one night’s scavenger hunt, an aardvark can consume up to 60 000 termites and ants. This great feat is achieved using their 30cm long sticky tongue. While extracting their food, an aardvark can close off its nostrils to prevent dust from entering, or ants crawling up its nose.
Aardvarks prefer eating ants, but there are only so many ants available to fill their tummies. So they are forced to also eat termites. The ant population is closely linked to seasonal changes. With its handy claws, an aardvark can demolish an entire termite mound. Which is an impressive feat, a mound can become close to concrete hard. The aardvark will slurp up the entire colony after breaking in, sometimes even snorting them up through its nostrils.
A rare daytime spotting of an aardvark
Compensating with a Unique Physique
Aardvarks can’t see very well. But although their eyesight is terrible, their keen senses of smell and hearing make up for the loss. They can hear a single sound from a long distance away. Aardvark claws are spoon-shaped and very sharp. They use them to borrow through the ground, as well as protection against predators. They can dig a burrow in a hurry, a very handy defence mechanism.
The Kings of the Underground
After eating all the inhabitants of a termite mound, they often make their burrows in it. Their underground homes are up to 13 meters long, and can have about seven different entrances. They like moving house often. And their abandoned burrows then become inhabited by warthogs, wild dogs, and pythons.
An aardvark territory can stretch for a few square kilometres. Oftentimes they don’t return to the same spot for up to seven weeks. This way the insect population can rebound a bit. The aardvark is thick skinned to protect it from the ant and termite bites. An aardvark can travel up to 16km during an evening of foraging, and sidestepping predators.
Living On Their Own Mission
Because they are nocturnal, not much is known about these curious creatures. They are not very social and prefer to live a solo life. They only meet each other during breeding season. Again, due to their fondness of the dark, not much is known about how exactly they mate and what rituals they follow. A female aardvark is pregnant for seven months before giving birth to a solitary little aardvarkie.