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Aardvark (Earth Pig, Ant Bear)

Unlike any animal on Earth


Order: Tubulidentata

Family: Orycteropidae

Genus & Species: Orycteropus afer

APPEARANCE

The aardvark is perhaps Africa's most unusual animal. It's name means "earth pig" and yet is not even related to the pigs. The body is bulky and the back is humped, somewhat resembling that of a rodent with much less hair. The head is long and narrow, like that of an anteater, and ends in a pig-like snout. The ears are very long, like those of a rabbit, and can move independently of one another. The mouth contains 20 teeth situated near the back of the jaws. The teeth themselves are remarkable in that they continuously grow and yet lack both roots and enamel. Fine tubes radiate through each tooth; Tubulidentata means "the tube-toothed". The mouth contains another unusual feature: the long tongue. Somewhat like that of an anteater, the tongue is 1.5 ft (45 cm) in length, thin, and sticky. It is perfect for slipping between holes in termite nests and lapping up the insects.

The legs are short and powerful and end in webbed toes, four on each of the front feet and five on each of the hind feet. The toes end in long blunt claws excellent for digging burrows in the ground or holes in termite nests. The claws are stronger than the head of a pick-axe.

Aardvarks grow to body lengths of 3-5 ft (90-150 cm). The thick, hairless, rat-like tail grows to lengths of 1.5-2 ft (45-60 cm) and is used for defense. The shoulder height is 2 ft (60 cm). Aardvarks weigh 100-170 lbs (45-77 kg). Aardvarks are covered with a thick pink-grey skin that protects them from insect bites. The body is sparsely covered with bristly hairs a yellowish- or brownish-grey in colour. The leg hairs are darker than the body hairs. Long white hairs 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) long grow from the nostrils. These hairs, combined with folds of skin that cover the nostrils when the animal is digging, protects the nose from dirt clogs and insect attacks.

Aardvarks are powerful diggers. They can stand on their hind feet for short periods of time by resting on the base of their tail. They are not fast runners. Aardvarks have a life span of 10 years.

HABITAT

Aardvarks are found throughout Africa. They can be found from Egypt and Ethiopia south to the Cape of Good Hope, but are mainly found in the sub-Saharan areas. They prefer open woodlands, grasslands, and savannas with soft or sandy soils. They are plentiful wherever termites are found. Aardvarks are nocturnal, sleeping in temporary burrows during the day. They live solitary lives, getting together only to mate. They dig their own shelters, but sometimes will take over old termite nests. Their burrows are 10 ft (3 m) long and end in a sleeping chamber. Breeding burrows are more permanent and longer up to 40 ft (12 m). Abandoned burrows are taken over by aardwolves, crocodiles, pythons, porcupines, or various other small mammals and even birds.

FOOD

Aardvarks feed primarily on termites during the dry season and soft-bodies ants in the rainy season. They will travel long distances at night to locate food. When a termite nest is found, the aardvark will dig a small hole in its side and lap up the insects with its tongue. It will feed from the same nest for several nights. When food is scarce, aardvarks will feed upon other soft-bodies insects, small mammals, and fruit. In the zoo they are fed milk, eggs, ground meat, and pablum.

ENEMIES

Aardvarks have several natural enemies, including: dogs, pythons, cheetahs, leopards, lions, and ratels. Warthogs will eat the young. To protect themselves against such enemies, they have several lines of defense. They can run, dig a hole and hide in it, or defend themselves with their tail and long claws. Man is their worst enemy, killing them for food, their tough hide, or to be used as good luck charms. They are vulnerable to crop farming.

Aardvarks are not presently considered to be threatened.

BREEDING

Little is known about the breeding habits of the aardvark. One, rarely two, young is born in October or November after a 7 month gestation period. The young weighs 4-5 lbs at birth. It stays in the burrow for 2 weeks, after which it goes with its mother on nightly feeding trips. After 6 months it can dig its own burrow and leaves its mother shortly thereafter.

RELATIVES

The aardvark has no known relatives, and is the only species in its order.

RESOURCES CITED

1. "Aardvark" Funk & Wagnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia, pg 3 Vol 1, 1974, USA, BPC Pub Ltd
2. "Aardvark" Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, USA
3. www.geobop.com/Mammals/Tubulidentata/6.htm
4. www.phillyzoo.org/pz0089.htm
5. planetpets.simplenet.com/plntarvr.htm

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