The aardvark, also known as the Orycteropus afer, is a burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. While other prehistoric Tubulidentata species and genera are recognized, it is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata. It has a long pig-like snout that it uses to search out food, unlike most other insectivores.
It travels through the majority of the African continent’s southern two-thirds, avoiding mountainous regions. It is a nocturnal feeder that feeds on ants and termites that digs out of their nests with its sharp claws and strong legs. A chief among excavators, it easily and quickly can make burrows in which to live and raise its young.
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Appearance of the Aardvark
The aardvark resembles a pig in appearance. It has a stout body with a prominently arched back and coarse hairs sparsely covering it. The limbs are moderately long, with the back legs being longer than the front legs.
The pollex (or ‘thumb’) is non existent on the front feet, leaving just four toes, while the back feet have all five toes. Each toe has a large, sturdy nail that is flattened and shovel-like, and looks like a cross between a claw and a hoof. While the aardvark is classified as digitigrade, it does tend to be plantigrade at times.
This is due to the fact that when it squats, it sits on its soles. Aardvarks have an endosteal tissue called compacted coarse cancellous bone that contributes to their burrow digging abilities (CCCB). CCCB’s stress and strain tolerance help aardvarks to dig their burrows, resulting in favorable habitat for plants and a number of animals.
The aardvark can twist and turn at high speed to avoid the claws of predators like lions and never straying to far from a burrow, the clever creature, can dive back to its subterranean lair with its predator left in a cloud of dust.
The average aardvark weighs between 60 and 80 kilograms (130–180 lb). The length of an aardvark is normally between 105 and 130 centimeters (3.44–4.27 in), but it can grow to be as long as 2.2 meters (7 ft 3 in) when its tail (which can be up to 70 centimeters (28 in)) is considered.
At the hip, it stands 60 centimeters (24 in) tall and has a girth of around 100 centimeters (3.3 ft). It is the largest member of the Afroinsectiphilia clade. The aardvark is a pale yellowish-gray animal with a reddish-brown coat stained by dirt. The aardvark’s coat is thin, and the animal’s tough skin serves as its primary defense.
Habitat of the Aardvark
Aardvarks can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, where they can find suitable habitats (such as savannas, grasslands, woodlands, and bushland) as well as food (such as ants and termites). To escape the heat of the day, they pass the daytime hours in dark burrows.
The only major habitat where they are not found is swamp forest, where digging to a proper depth is impossible due to the high water table. They even stay away from the ground that is too rocky to dig in. In Ethiopia, they have been seen as high as 3,200 meters (10,500 feet). With a few exceptions, they are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, all the way to South Africa. Namibia’s, Ivory Coast’s, and Ghana’s coastal regions are among the exceptions.
The hair on its head and tail is short, but the hair on its legs is longer. The bulk of its body hair is clustered in clusters of three or four hairs. The thick hair around its nostrils helps it flush out particulate matter when it digs. Its tail is thick at the beginning and eventually thins out.
Behavior of the Aardvark
Aardvarks will live up to about 23 years when they are kept in captivity. Predators such as tigers, leopards, cheetahs, African wild dogs, hyenas, and pythons are detected by their acute hearing. Aardvarks are also hunted for meat by some humans.
To elude attackers, aardvarks will dig quickly or sprint in a zigzag pattern, but if all else fails, they can strike with their paws, tail, and shoulders, sometimes flipping onto their backs and lying motionless except to lash out with all four feet. They are capable of causing significant harm to an attacker’s vulnerable areas. They can also dig to escape because they can dig incredibly quickly when pressed.
Diet of the Aardvark
The aardvark is a nocturnal, solitary animal that feeds almost entirely on ants and termites (myrmecophagy); the aardvark cucumber is the only fruit consumed by aardvarks. In reality, the cucumber and the aardvark have a symbiotic relationship since they eat the underground fruit and then defecate the seeds near their burrows, where they develop quickly due to the loose soil and fertile environment.
The time spent in the aardvark’s intestine aids the seed’s viability, and the fruit provides the aardvark with much-needed moisture. The vitamins and minerals in the plant provide beneficial nutrients to their otherwise rigid diet.
Fantastic Facts About the Aardvark
- African driver ants and red ants are the only ants aardvarks don’t consume.
Aardvarks only pair during the breeding season; after a seven-month gestation period, one cub weighing around 1.7–1.9 kilograms (3.7–4.2 lb) is born during May–July. The young have flaccid ears and many wrinkles when they are born.
When nursing, babies will nurse from each teat in turn. After two weeks, the skin folds vanish, and after three weeks, the ears can be held upright. Body hair begins to grow after 5–6 weeks. It can leave the burrow to accompany its mother after only two weeks, begins eating termites at nine weeks, and is weaned between three and sixteen weeks.
Young aardvarks can dig burrows at six months of age, but they will mostly stay with the mother until the next mating season, and when sexually maturity arrives at two years of age.
Conservation of Aardvarks
Aardvarks were thought to be in decline, but this could be because they are difficult to see. Because of their nocturnal and secretive habits, there are no definitive counts; however, their numbers appear to be stable overall. They are not considered common anywhere in Africa, but due to their wide range, they are able to maintain a sufficient population. Eastern, northern, and western Africa may see a slight decrease in population. The population of Southern Africa is not decreasing. The IUCN has officially classified it as a species of least concern.
Q & A About Aardvarks
Is it true that the Aardvarks are dangerous?
Their primary form of defense is to quickly escape underground, but they are also known to be quite aggressive when threatened by larger animals.
Why is an aardvark called an ant bear?
The aardvark’s name is derived from the Afrikaans/Dutch language and translates as “earth pig.” They eat ants mostly, so they are kind of “anteaters,” but with their gate look like bears from a distance. Aardvarks, are a distinct species from anteaters which are an South American species.
Is an armadillo the same as an aardvark?
The aardvark resembles a few other animals, including the anteater, armadillo, and pig, but it is not related to any of them. With its humped back and long snout, it resembles an anteater at first glance.