The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing mammal native to Africa. This animal is easily recognizable due to its unique and unusual appearance: aardvark resembles a pig with rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo-like tail, although the animal is related neither to kangaroos nor rabbits. Instead, it is closely related to elephants. The common name of the species, ‘Aardvark’, originates from the Afrikaans (South African) language and means “earth pig”.
Aardvark has a long and sticky tongue and flexible snout. The nostrils are covered with hair in order to protect them from entering dust when digging. The skin color of aardvark varies from pale yellowish-grey to pinkish. However, due to burrowing in the soil, their skin is usually stained, typically exhibiting darker grey or reddish-brown coloration.
In this article, you will learn about the Aardvark with Pritish Kumar.
Aardvarks inhabit central and southern Africa (except for the Namib desert), occurring south of the Sahara Desert, from Senegal to Ethiopia and South Africa.
The preferred habitat of these animals are areas of sandy soil, although they can live in very different environments such as grasslands, rainforests, savanna and woodland. On the other hand, they usually avoid very dry areas as well as rocky grounds, which are hard to dig.
The aardvark is vaguely pig-like in appearance. Its body is stout with a prominently arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. The limbs are of moderate length, with the rear legs being longer than the forelegs. The front feet have lost the pollex (or ‘thumb’), resulting in four toes, while the rear feet have all five toes. Each toe bears a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like, and appears to be intermediate between a claw and a hoof. Whereas the aardvark is considered digitigrade, it appears at times to be plantigrade.
This confusion happens because when it squats it stands on its soles. A contributing characteristic to the burrow digging capabilities of aardvarks is an endosteal tissue called compacted coarse cancellous bone (CCCB). The stress and strain resistance provided by CCCB allows aardvarks to create their burrows, ultimately leading to a favorable environment for plants and a variety of animals.
An aardvark’s weight is typically between 60 and 80 kilograms (130–180 lb). An aardvark’s length is usually between 105 and 130 centimetres (3.44–4.27 ft), and can reach lengths of 2.2 metres (7 ft 3 in) when its tail (which can be up to 70 centimetres (28 in)) is taken into account. It is 60 centimetres (24 in) tall at the shoulder, and has a girth of about 100 centimetres (3.3 ft). It is the largest member of the proposed clade Afroinsectiphilia.
The aardvark is pale yellowish-gray in color and often stained reddish-brown by soil. The aardvark’s coat is thin, and the animal’s primary protection is its tough skin. Its hair is short on its head and tail.
However its legs tend to have longer hair. The hair on the majority of its body is grouped in clusters of 3-4 hairs. The hair surrounding its nostrils is dense to help filter particulate matter out as it digs. Its tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers.
Habits and Lifestyle
These shy and solitary animals tend to socialize only when mating and caring for young. In areas, densely populated by aardvarks, 2-3 individuals may use a single, large burrow. The presence of an aardvark in the area can be detected by its tracks, burrows as well as scratch marks, left by the sharp claws of this animal. Aardvarks are night feeders. They may travel 2-5 km each night when foraging.
Before foraging, they leave their den in an unusual way: they stop at the entrance of the den to check if there are enemies around; then they come out, jump around repeatedly, look around, jump once more and finally leave the den. Aardvarks are known to use grunts as a form of communication. In addition, they may bleat when threatened. These animals possess glands on their elbows and hips that can be used in mating and locating conspecifics, although they don’t appear to use scent marking.
Diet and Nutrition
As myrmecophagous animals, aardvarks feed almost exclusively upon termites and ants.
They will also consume the only fruit called the aardvark cucumber.
Aardvarks are polygynous, which means that one male mates with a number of females. Due to their solitary and territorial behavior, these animals socialize only when mating.
In northern African populations, births usually occur in October-November, while those in South Africa produce offspring in May-July. The gestation period lasts for 7 months, yielding a single baby, which is born with open eyes and naked.
The baby is born in an underground burrow, where it lives for the first several weeks of its life, feeding upon maternal milk. By 2 weeks old, the baby begins to accompany its mother. By 3 weeks old, the young aardvark starts consuming insects. It becomes independent at 6 months old, reaching reproductive maturity at 2 years of age.
Being classified as Least Concern, this species is presently not threatened. However, in some parts of its range, the animal suffers from human activities such as logging and agriculture, leading to the destruction of its natural habitat. On the other hand, the animal is hunted for its meat, while the skin, claws, and teeth of an aardvark serve as materials for bracelets, charms, and curios. And finally, burrows of these animals often damage roads, dam walls, fences and farming equipment, due to which aardvarks may come into conflict with humans and be persecuted by farmers.
According to IUCN, the aardvark is relatively common and widely distributed but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Aardvarks play a significant role in the local ecosystem since their burrows serve as shelters for hyenas, warthogs, squirrels, hedgehogs, mongooses, bats, birds, reptiles, and many other animals of their range.
Fun Facts for Kids
- Despite a well-developed sense of smell, these animals have very poor eyesight: they are colorblind since their retinas contain only rods, intended for good vision only at night.
- Aardvark possesses a highly-developed sense of hearing. Moreover, the long ears of this animal are able to move independently, folding back and closing as the aardvark digs the ground.
- The webbed feet make this animal a good swimmer.
- Aardvark is featured in African folklore as a diligent and fearless animal. And indeed, the aardvark is not afraid of soldier ants, tirelessly looking for food.
- Aardvark possesses a sticky and long tongue of up to 30 cm, which is used to collect termites. When foraging, this animal may consume up to 50.000 termites per night.
- Aardvark has a thick and rough skin, protecting this animal from bites of angry ants and termites, which it feeds upon. Aardvark usually closes its nostrils while eating, so that termites and ants cannot enter its nose.
- Aardvark is an excellent digger. A single aardvark will dig faster than several people with shovels, even on solid ground.