Aardvarks live in Africa, south of the Sahara. Their name is derived from the Afrikaans language of South Africa and means “earth pig.
A sight of the aardvark’s body and a long snout brings the pig to mind.
Through closer observation, it indicates that the aardvark also has other animal characteristics. It has rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo tail — yet the aardvark is not related to any of these species.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Tubulidentata
- Family: Orycteropodidae
- Genus: Orycteropus
- Species: O. afer
Aardvarks are nocturnal. They spend the hot African afternoon in cool underground burrows dug with their strong legs and claws resembling small spades. After dusk, the aardvarks made full use of these claws in the procurement of their preferred food — termites.
While foraging aardvarks in grasslands and forests, also known as antbears, may travel several miles a night in search of large, earthy termite mounds.
A hungry aardvark digs through the mound with its front claws and uses its long, oily, worm-like tongue to feast on the insects inside. It will close its nostrils to prevent dust and insects from breaking through its snout, and its thick skin protects it from bites. It uses a similar strategy for raiding the underground ant nests.
Aardvarks are quiet animal. Although, it makes soft grunting sounds as it forages and It makes a bleating sound if frightened. When it is threatened, it will make for one of its burrows. If no on one close it will dig a new one quickly.
The aardvark is known to be a good swimmer, and It can dig a yard of a tunnel in about five minutes, but otherwise moves relatively slowly.
In appearance, the aardvark is vaguely pig-like. Its body is stout with a prominently arched back and sparsely coated with coarse fur with the back legs longer than the forelegs. The front legs have missed the pollex (or ‘thumb’) resulting in four fingers, while the back legs are still five toes.
Each toe has a large, strong nail that is somewhat flattened which is shovel-like, which tends to be intermediate between a claw and a hoof. Whereas aardvark is known to be a digitigrade, it also tends to be a plantigrade.
This misunderstanding arises when it’s lying on its soles as it squats. The endosteal tissue called compacted coarse cancellous bone (CCCB) is a contributing feature to the burrow digging capability to aardvarks.
The stress and strain tolerance provided by the CCCB helps aardvarks to build up their burrows, eventually leading to a favourable habitat for plants and a number of animals.
The weight of the aardvark is usually between 60 and 80 kilograms (130–180 lb). Their length is normally between 105 and 130 centimetres (3.44–4.27 in) and can reach a length of 2.2 meters (7 in 3 inches) while the tail which can be about 70 centimetres (28 inches).
It is 60 centimetres (24 inches) tall on the shoulder and approximately 100 centimetres (3.3 ft ) tall. It is the largest member of the suggested Afroinsectifilia clade. The aardvark is pale yellowish-grey in colour, and the hair is also reddish-brown. The hair of the aardvark is thin, and the main defence of the species is the tough skin.
The hair on much of its body is divided into clusters of 3-4 hairs. The fur around its nostrils is thick to help the particulate matter filter out when it digs. Its tail is very dense at the base and is tapering steadily.
The very elongated head is set on a short, thick body, and the end of the snout bears a dome that contains the nostrils. It comprises a small, but full zygomatic arch. The head of the aardvark includes many special and distinct characteristics. One of the most defining characteristics of the tubulidentate is its teeth.
Rather than having a pulp cavity, each tooth is a cluster of small, hexagonal, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentine (a modified type of dentine) with individual pulp channels held together by cement. The number of columns depends on the size of the tooth, the largest of which is around 1,500.
The teeth have no enamel covering and are stripped away and continue to grow. The aardvark is born with traditional incisors and canines on the front of the mouth, which falls out and does not grow back. Adult aardvarks only have teeth at the rear of the jaw.
These remaining teeth are like a peg and rootless and have a special structure. The teeth are composed of 14 upper and 12 lower jaw molars. The nasal region of the aardvark is another special area, as it includes ten nasal conchae, more than any other placental mammal.
The sides of the nose are thick with fur. The tip of the snout is extremely mobile and passes by modified mimetic muscles. The fleshy tissue that separates its nostrils is likely to have sensory functions, although it is unclear whether they are olfactory or vibratory.
Its nose is made up of more turbinate bones than any other animal, between 9 and 11, relative to dogs of 4 and 5. Through a significant number of turbinate bones, the aardvark has more room for the moist epithelium, which is the position of the olfactory bulb.
There are nine olfactory bulbs in the nose, more than any other species. Its good sense of smell is due not only to the number of bulbs in the nose but also to the growth of the brain since the olfactory cortex is highly evolved.
The snout is like an elongated pig snout. The mouth is narrow and tubular, characteristic of a species that feeds on termites and ants.
The aardvark possesses a long, thin, snakelike, protruding tongue (up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long) and complex mechanisms that sustain a good sense of smell.
The very effective ears are disproportionately long, about 20–25 centimetres (7.9–9.8 in) long. The eyes are small to the ears, and they comprise only of the rods.
The stomach of the aardvark has a muscular pyloric region that serves as a gizzard to grind swallowed food, making chewing unnecessary. Its cecum is large.
Both sexes emit a powerful fragrant secretion from the anal gland. Its salivary glands are strongly developed, and their output is what allows the tongue to remain tacky. In the inguinal zone, the female has two pairs of teats.
Genetically speaking, the aardvark is a living fossil, although its genes are heavily conserved, representing most of the early Eutheria prior to the divergence of the main modern taxa.
Aardvarks are present in sub-Saharan Africa, where suitable environments (savannas, grasslands, forest and bushland) and food (i.e. ants and termites) are available. They pass the daytime hours in hidden burrows to escape the heat of the day.
The only significant habitat they do not have is the swamp forest since the high water table prohibits them from digging to an appropriate depth.
They even dislike rugged conditions that can create drilling difficulties. They were recorded as high as 3,200 meters (10,500 ft) in Ethiopia. They are present all over sub-Saharan Africa, all the way to South Africa, with few exceptions.
These exceptions are the coastal regions of Namibia, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. They’re not found in Madagascar.
Ecology and Behavior
Aardvarks have been living in captivity for up to 23 years. Its keen hearing warns against predators: tigers, leopards, cheetahs, wild African dogs, hyenas, and pythons. Some people are still hunting aardvarks for beef.
Aardvarks will dig rapidly or sprint in the zigzag form to elude opponents. Still, if anything else fails, they can attack with their paws, tongues, and shoulders, often flipping on their backs lying motionless, except to lash out with all four feet.
They are capable of inflicting serious harm to the vulnerable regions of the assailant. They’re often going to dig to hide as they can, when pressed, dig incredibly quickly.
The aardvarks are nocturnal and are solitary animals who feed entirely on ants and termites (myrmecophagous); the only fruit consumed by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber.
In reality, the cucumber and the aardvark have a symbiotic relationship as they eat the subterranean fruit, and then defecate the seeds near their burrows, which then expand rapidly due to the loose soil and the fertile nature of the region.
The time spent in the intestine helps the fertility of the crop, and the fruit provides the moisture required for the aardvark. Owing to their strict dietary requirements, they require a wide variety of survival choices.
An aardvark typically emerges from its burrow in the late afternoon or shortly after dusk, and forages over a vast home range of 10 to 30 kilometres (6.2 to 18.6 mi).
When foraging for food, the aardvark holds its nose to the ground and its ears pointing upward, suggesting that both scent and hearing are involved in the hunt for food.
They zigzag as they feed and typically do not repeat the path for 5–8 days as they tend to give time for the regeneration of the termite nests before feeding on it again.
During the foraging phase, they avoid digging a “V” shaped trench with their forefeet and then sniff it profusely as a means of exploring their position.
As a concentration of ants or termites is found, the aardvark drills into it with its strong front legs, holds its long ears erect to listen to predators, and sucks in an astounding number of insects with its long, sticky tongue — as many as 50,000 in one night.
Its claws allow it to dig easily through the incredibly hard crust of a termite or ant mound. It stops the dust from being inhaled by sealing the nose.
When successful, they use their tongue to lick the insects; the tingling of the termites or the stinging of the ants is made pointless by the tough skin. During an aardvark visit to the termite mound, the other species will visit to pick up all the leftovers.
Termite mounds alone do not have enough food for the aardvark, so they’re hunting for termites on the move. When these insects move, they can form columns 10–40 meters (33–131 ft ) long.
Aardvarks pair only during the mating season; after a gestation cycle of seven months, a cub weighing roughly 1.7–1.9 kilograms (3.7–4.2 lb) is born during May – July. When born, young one has flaccid ears and a lot of wrinkles. Within two weeks, the skin folds vanish, and the ears will become erect within three weeks.
After 5–6 weeks, body hair begins to grow and becomes allowed to leave the burrow to accompany the mother after to seek termites at nine weeks and is weaned between 3 months and 16 weeks.
When aardvarks are 6months old, they become able to dig their own burrows, but mostly remains with the mother until the next breeding season. They become sexually active from around two years of age.
Aardvarks were believed to have dwindling numbers, although this can be because they are not easily seen.
There are no reliable counts because of their nocturnal and elusive habits; however, their numbers appear to be steady overall. They are not known to be widespread anywhere in Africa, but because of their wide range, they retain adequate numbers.
There may be a small drop in numbers in East, North and West Africa. The figures in Southern Africa are not diminishing. The official classification is of the least concern to the IUCN.
However, they are a species in a precarious situation since they are so dependent on such a particular food; thus, if a problem occurs with the abundance of termites, the species as a whole will be seriously affected.
Aardvarks treat captivity well. The first zoo to have one was the London Zoo in 1869, which had a South African animal.