Aardvark are small pig-like mammals that inhabit a wide range of different habitats across Africa, south of the Sahara. They are mostly solitary and spend their days sleeping in underground burrows to protect them from the heat of the African sun, emerging in the cooler afternoon in search of food.
Its name comes from the Afrikaans language in South Africa and means land pig, due to its long snout and pig body. Anteaters are unique among animals as they are the only surviving species of their animal family.
Until recently, it was widely believed that they were more closely related to other insectivores such as armadillos and pangolins, but this is not the case with their closest living relatives who were actually thought to be elephants.
Anteaters have a unique appearance among mammals (and indeed all animals) in that they display the physical characteristics of several different animal species. They have medium-sized, almost hairless bodies and long snouts that clearly make them look like pigs at first, with thick fur that protects them from the hot sun and even insect bites.
They can close their nostrils to prevent dust and insects from entering the nose. They have tubular ears, similar to those of a rabbit, which can stand upright but can also be folded to prevent dirt from entering when they are underground.
Aardvark have strong claws on each of their shovel-shaped legs which, coupled with the fact that their hind legs are longer than their front legs, makes them strong and capable diggers capable of digging large amounts of soil at an alarming speed.
Due to the fact that they spend most of their lives underground or hunt in the dark at night, they have poor eyesight, but can easily navigate their surroundings using their excellent sense of smell to find prey and detect potential dangers.
Anteaters are found in a wide variety of different habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, from arid deserts to humid forest regions. The only condition (besides having good access to plenty of food and water) is that they have good soil in which they can dig their vast burrows.
Despite being very adept at digging in sandy or clayey soils, the more rocky regions are more challenging to create their underground homes, so the horizon will shift to another area where soil conditions are more suitable for digging.
Their burrows can be up to 10 meters (33 feet) long in a home range that can be between 2 and 5 square kilometers. Their burrows often have multiple entrances and are always head first so they can easily identify potential predators using their keen sense of smell.
Aardvark are mainly solitary animals that only come together to mate and are never found in large groups. They live in underground burrows to protect them from both the hot day sun and predators.
Aardvark are nocturnal mammals that leave the safety of the lair only for cover of the night when they forage for food and water, often traveling several kilometers to find the largest termite mounds guided by their excellent hearing and smell.
Although they often have a large burrow made up of a vast network of tunnels, aardvarks are also known to quickly dig small temporary burrows where they can quickly protect themselves rather than having to return to their original home.
Aardvark has specific mating seasons that occur each year. Depending on the region where the anteater lives, the cubs can be born from October to November or from May to June in other areas. Known to have babies for most of the years, female anteaters give birth to a single cub after a gestation period that usually lasts around 7 months.
Newborn ears often weigh as little as 2 kg and are born pink-skinned and hairless in the safety of their mother’s lair. The little anteaters spend the first two weeks of their lives in the safety of the underground lair before starting to venture under the cover of the night with their mother.
However, despite accompanying the mother in search of food, they are not weaned until they are about three months old. The young anteaters live with their mother in their burrow until they are about six months old when they move to dig their own burrow. Although their life expectancy in the wild is not entirely clear, anteaters tend to live more than 20 years in captivity.
The aardvarks’ diet mainly consists of ants and termites, with termites as their preferred food source. However, despite this, they are known to eat other insects as well such as beetles and insect larvae. Aardvarks are designed to be insectivores, with strong limbs and claws that are capable of breaking through the tough outer shell of termite mounds very efficiently.
Once inside the mound, they use their long, sticky tongue to pick up the insects inside and eat them whole without chewing as they are then ground into their muscled stomach. One of the most distinctive features of the aardvark is the fact that they have spinal-shaped teeth that do not serve a functional purpose.
With some larger species of ants needing to be chewed, they use the incisors that are located towards the back of the mouth. Anteaters can also use the same techniques to penetrate underground anthills.
Despite the fact that anteaters are nocturnal animals that live in the safety of underground burrows, they are threatened by a number of different predators throughout their natural environment. Lions, leopards, hyenas, and large snakes (especially pythons) are the main predators of anteaters, but this varies depending on where the anteater lives.
Their main form of defense is to escape underground very quickly, however, they are also known to be quite aggressive when threatened by these larger animals. Anteaters use their strong, sharp claws to try to injure their attacker and kick the menacing animal with their powerful hind legs. Anteaters are also threatened by humans who hunt them and destroy their natural habitats.
Aardvark Interesting Facts
Aardvark uses their long, sticky tongues to lick up to 50,000 insects per night from inside termite mounds or underground anthills. Their worm-like tongues can actually grow up to 12 inches in length, which means they can reach more termites further in the mound.
Their love of insects made Aardvark also known as anteaters. Interestingly, aardvarks are also believed to get nearly all the moisture they need from their prey, meaning they actually have to physically drink very little water. Anteaters are believed to be one of the most prolific diggers in the world, with their strong limbs, claws, and shovel-shaped legs that help them move 60 cm of dirt in just 15 seconds.
Aardvark Relationship with Humans
Because they spend the hours of the day hiding in the safety of their underground burrows and only emerge under the cover of the night to forage for food, many people rarely see Aardvark. In some regions, however, they are hunted by people for food and are increasingly affected by the expansion of the human population as most of their natural habitats disappear to make way for growing settlements.
Aardvark Conservation Status
Today, Aardvark are listed by the IUCN as a species of lesser concern. Despite the fact that the population of gardens has certainly decreased in some countries, in others, their numbers remain stable and are often commonly found both in protected areas and in regions with adequate habitats.
However, they are increasingly affected by habitat loss, whether in the form of deforestation or expanding cities and towns. Due to their incredibly elusive nature, the exact population sizes are not fully understood.