Ant bear, Earth pig, Cape anteater, Earth hog
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 elephant. The common name of the species, 'Aardvark', originates from the Afrikaans (South African) language and means "earth pig". The flexible snout of the animal is tubular in shape. Aardvark has a long and sticky tongue. The nostrils are covered with hair in order to protect from entering of dust when digging. The skin color of Aardvark varies from pale yellowish-grey to pinkish. However, due to burrowing in soil, their skin is usually stained, typically exhibiting darker grey or reddish-brown coloration.
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 this animal is areas of sandy soil, although it can live in very different environments such as grasslands, rainforests, savanna and woodland. On the other hand, the animal usually avoids dry areas as well as rocky grounds, which are hard to dig.
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 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. But before foraging, aardvark leaves its den in an unusual way: it stops at the entrance of the den to check if there are enemies around; then it comes out, jumps around repeatedly, looks around, jumps once more and finally leaves the den. Aardvarks are known to use grunts as a form of communication. In addition, they may bleat when threatened. Aardvarks 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 insectivores and myrmecophagous animals, aardvarks feed upon termites and ants. Meanwhile, ants make up the greater part of their diet.
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. 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 sexual maturity at 2 years of age.
in northern Africa: October-November, in South Africa: May-July
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 destruction of its natural habitat. On the other hand, the animal is hunted for its meat, while the skin, claws and teeth of 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, 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 in solid ground.