Aardvark

Orycteropodidae Aardvark Family

There is one family in this order, containing a single species that lives in Africa. Its relationship to other mammal groups is obscure.

The name of these unusual mammals comes from the Afrikaans words meaning "earth pig", but aardvarks are not related to pigs, in spite of their appearance.

The aardvark is a solitary, nocturnal, insect-eating animal. The aardvark’s appetite is huge, and it can consume up to 45,000 ants in a single night. With its strong front claws, the aardvark rips the nest apart, probing inside with its long, sticky tongue and drawing the insects into its mouth. Its sight is poor, but its other senses are excellent, it has large ears, which are normally held upright, and highly specialized nostrils for sniffing out its prey. Dense hair surrounds the nostrils and seals them off when the aardvark digs. It uses its powerful forelimbs to smash the nests of the termites and ants that are its main food. It sweeps up the prey with its long tongue. Aardvarks also use their claws to create underground burrows, digging tunnels up to 13 m (43 ft) long. Once abandoned, these may be colonized by a host of other creatures, but the aardvark keeps the entrance closed when living there.

The word aardvark means "earth-pig" in Afrikaans, reflecting both the burrowing habits and pig-like features of this unusual animal. It has long ears, an elongated snout, a shaggy body and powerful tail. It folds its ears back while making its burrows.

The female gives birth to a single young after a gestation of 7 months. The offspring is suckled for 4 months.

Distribution: Occurs across much of Africa below the Sahara, but not in west-central parts or the Horn of Africa. Prefers lightly wooded areas.

Habitat: All regions with termites. Woodland, savannah, grassland and shrubland.

Weight: 40 - 65 kg (88 - 143 lb).

Length: 1.7 - 2.2 m (5.6 - 7.2 ft).

Maturity: Around 2 years.

Gestation Period: About 7 months.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs after about 4 months.

Diet: Termites and ants, using its tongue measuring up to 30 cm (12 in); also eats aardvark cucumbers, to provide fluid.

Lifespan: Around 10 years; up to 23 in captivity.

Status: Common.

Ears

Tall yet quite slender, the ears can be moved independently to help detect possible predators, especially when the aardvark is feeding.

Tail

This is largely hairless and hangs down, very broad at its base and tapering to the tip.

Snout

The snout has a disc-like structure at the tip, where the nostrils are located. The mouth is small.

DEFENSIVE STRATEGY

If cornered, the aardvark rolls over so it can lash out with the claws on its front and hind feet.

Gallery of Aardvark