Aardvarks are relatively large animals that can weigh between 65 and 80 kilograms with a length of up to two meters, as adults. They have a vaguely pig-like appearance with short, stubby legs, beady, black eyes, long snout and ears, and a prominently arched back.
At a glance, you will also notice their pale, yellowish-grey coat. However, this is often reddish-brown because they spend most of their time in burrows.
Aardvarks have a small, tubular mouth that houses a long, thin tongue, which can be as long as 30 centimeters. The long tongue is a feature that is characteristic of animals that feed primarily on ants.
If you thought that dogs have a sharp sense of smell, you haven’t met an aardvark yet. This mammal has one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom.
Their disproportionately long ears allow aardvarks to have an exceptional hearing ability, while their shovel-shaped claws give them excellent digging capabilities.
You might also want to know that the animal’s teeth do not have an enamel coating, which means that they wear out quickly. However, they regrow continuously.
Range & habitat
Aardvarks are native to Sub Saharan Africa, and prefer the grasslands and woodlands for a reason; this is where they are most likely to find food. However, you can also find them in rainforests. You are unlikely to spot one in one of Africa’s deserts, or in marshy areas.
One aardvark can consume as many as 50,000 ants or termites in one night. The animals have been on this diet for over 35 million years, and it remains their primary food choice.
One ant hill is hardly enough to satisfy the aardvark, and, as such, they prefer looking for entire colonies, which can be up to 40 meters long. When attacking an ant or termite mound, aardvarks start by digging at the mound’s base with their front claws.
Once its victims begin escaping, the aardvark sticks out its long tongue and captures them with the help of sticky saliva. Aardvarks will also feed on other types of insects, such as locusts, occasionally.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Aardvarks are primarily nocturnal creatures – meaning that they are active at night – and lead solitary lives. They feed exclusively on ants and termites. However, they have a favorite fruit that is known as the aardvark cucumber that they feed on occasionally.
Shortly after sunset, an aardvark usually emerges from its burrow to forage and can cover a range of up to 30 kilometers in a single night. They swing their long noses from side to side to pick up scents of insects.
When an aardvark picks up the scent of an ant or termite colony, it uses its sturdy front legs and tough, long and bent claws to dig into the mound while keeping its long ears upright to pick up sounds from above ground to avoid predation from leopards, lions, hyenas, and even pythons. When under attack from predators, aardvarks look for burrows to hide in or run erratically to try to elude their attackers. If that does not work, they will flip onto their backs and lash out with their claws.
The aardvark’s tough skin render stinging attacks from their prey ineffective while sealing its nostrils to prevent the entry of dust and insects. While the aardvark is a fast and powerful digger, it is quite slow in movement.
In addition to digging out ant and termite mounds, the aardvark utilizes its powerful claws to excavate the tunnels where it hides and sleeps in. These animals have several burrows within their home range; however, they have a main den that they use for breeding. An aardvark’s shelter is deep, extensive, and with several entrances. It can be up to 13 meters long.
Nonetheless, aardvarks will change the layout of their burrows regularly or even abandon them altogether. Their old tunnels usually become the refuge of other animals, such as the African wild dog.
Fun aardvark facts
- Aardvarks are considered a keystone species.
Keystone species are animals that play a critical role in balancing the ecosystem they are a part of. When you eliminate a keystone species, therefore, that ecosystem is likely to collapse. A great example of keystone species is lions. Without these predators, there would be an overpopulation of prey animals, such as wildebeest. This would result in a decrease in food availability for grazers.
- Aardvarks are terrible pets
They can never be good pets, as their nocturnal activities would not only keep you up at night, but you will also no longer have a backyard due to the constant digging. Humans have never attempted to domesticate aardvarks.
- An Aardvark is the main character of a long-running comic book
Most comic book fans have met Cerebus the Aardvark, who is a short-tempered antihero that lives among humans. The comic book “Cerebus” spans nearly three decades and published almost 300 issues.
Meet the aardvark
Aardvarks are intriguing, shy creatures, which is what makes them fascinating. They are so elusive that they were once considered vulnerable to extinction. However, unlike Africa’s most endangered species, they are now classified under the least concern category. Aardvarks can live up 23 years in the wild, and play a critical role in controlling the population of ants and termites.
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