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Aardvark

Appearance

The aardvark is a unique animal which shares features with many animals while being related to none of them. At one end of their large, round body is the head which tapers to a point at the end of a long snout. This end resembles to the snout of a pig. Within the nose is a large amount of hairs to help keep out dust. On top of the head are a pair of large rabbit like ears.

At the other end of the body is a short, thick, muscular tail. This can measure between 53 and 66cm (21 and 26in) long.

Across the body they have a coat of short, stiff hairs which are a light color. These hairs may be colored tan, brown or black.

Inside the mouth they have a long tongue which may measure up to 30.4cm (12in) long and is an adaptation to help them catch ants.

Their back legs are longer than the front legs. On the front legs they have an impressive set of claws which are used for digging.

An average aardvark will measure 1-1.5m (3-5ft) long and stand 0.6m (24in) tall at their shoulder. Their weight can vary from 39-82kg (88-181lbs).

Diet

The aardvark is an insectivore. Most of their diet is compromised of ants and termites though on occasion they eat other insects such as beetle larvae. They will use their long claws to rip open a termite mound or underground ant nest and then lick up the insects with their long tongue.

Insects are swallowed whole and then ground up in their muscular stomach.

While foraging they can close their nostrils to prevent dirt or insects entering the snout and their thick skin provides protection against bites.

Most of their required water comes from their food but they will drink water where available.

Aardvark

Scientific Name

Orycteropus afer

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

39-82kg (88-181lbs)

Length

1-1.5m (3-5ft)

Height

0.6m (24in)

Lifespan

23 years

Diet

Carnivorous

Range

Africa is the native home of the aardvark. Here they can be found in the following countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Habitat

They make their home in a wide variety of habitats including forest, rainforests, woodlands, savanna, shrubland and grassland. Aardvarks avoid areas with very rocky terrain as they are hard to dig in.

Aadrvarks shelter in burrows which they can dig up to 10m (33ft) in to the ground. They can dig 1m every 15 seconds. These burrows can be extensive complexes with multiple openings.

Once they are finished using their burrow it can become a shelter for a range of other species including insects and other mammals.

Aardvark

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Reproduction

Aardvarks only come together for a brief period of time to mate each year.

Following a successful mating the female will give birth to a single infant. This is born after a 7 month old gestation period. She gives birth in her burrow.

After a few weeks the baby can leave the burrow and by 8 weeks old they start to have their first taste of termites. By 3 months old they wean off milk.

The young become independent between 6 and 12 months old. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years old.

Behavior

Aardvarks are solitary and will only come together for mating.

They are primarily nocturnal but may emerge during the day to sit in the sun. During the rest of the day they rest in their burrow which helps them to avoid the heat of the day.

The aardvark has limited eyesight. As such when leaving the burrow they stand motionless at the entrance for a short period until they can hear no noises of predators or threats.

Aardvark

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the aardvark include African lions, leopards, hyenas and pythons.

Their primary defense is to run away or dig in to the ground. They may also attack a threat with their large claws.

Humans hunt them both for food and their body parts. The teeth are used as charms and are believed to prevent illness. They may also be used for medicinal purposes.

As humans expand their population they are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation from roads.

Quick facts

The aardvark is also known as the antbear.

Aardvark is an Afrikaans word which means ‘earthpig’ or ‘groundhog.’

Initially it was thought that the aardvark was a relative of the anteaters in South America but they are not related and instead the closest relative of the aardvark are shrews and elephants.

The earliest found fossils of an aardvark is from 20 million years ago.

Aardvark

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Photo Credits

Top

Under License

Middle One and Two

Louise Joubert / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Bottom

By Scotto Bear from North Beach, MD, USA – aardvarks, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3622805

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK


Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

African Wildlife Foundation. 2020. This Insect-Eater Belongs To The Same Group Of Mammals As The Elephant.. [online] Available at: <https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/aardvark> [Accessed 16 October 2020].

National Geographic. 2020. Aardvark. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/aardvark/> [Accessed 16 October 2020].

DK Find Out!. 2020. DK Find Out! | Fun Facts For Kids On Animals, Earth, History And More!. [online] Available at: <https://www.dkfindout.com/us/animals-and-nature/aardvark/> [Accessed 16 October 2020].

Carnegie Museum of Natural History. 2020. A Is For Aardvark – Carnegie Museum Of Natural History. [online] Available at: <https://carnegiemnh.org/a-is-for-aardvark/> [Accessed 16 October 2020].

Taylor, A. & Lehmann, T. 2015. Orycteropus afer. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41504A21286437. Downloaded on 15 October 2020.

Ltd., S., 2020. Safaripedia | Aardvark. [online] Safariltd.com. Available at: <https://www.safariltd.com/safaripedia/aardvark> [Accessed 16 October 2020].

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