Aardvark’s name comes from South Africa’s Afrikaans language and means “earth pig.” A glimpse of the aardvark’s body and long snout like a the pig, rabbit-like ears and a kangaroo tail—yet the aardvark is related to none of these animals. However, the aardvark is not closely related to the pig; rather, it is the sole recent representative of the obscure mammalian order Tubulidentata, in which it is usually considered to form a single variable species of the genus Orycteropus, coextensive with the family Orycteropodidae. Nor is the aardvark closely related to the South American anteater, despite sharing some characteristics and a superficial resemblance. The closest living relatives of the aardvark are the elephant shrews, along with the sirenians, hyraxes, tenrecs and elephants.
The aardvark is a living fossil. It is vaguely pig-like in appearance with big stout with an arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. The limbs are of moderate length. The front feet have only four toes — but the rear feet have all five toes. Each toe bears a large, robust nail its foot appears to be intermediate between a claw and a hoof. The ears are very long, the tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and the end of the snout bears a disc, which houses the nostrils. The mouth is small and tubular, typical of species that feed on termites. The aardvark has a long, thin, snakelike, protruding tongue and elaborate structures supporting a keen sense of smell.
An aardvark’s weight is typically between 40 and 65 kg. An aardvark’s length is usually between 1 and 1.3 meters, and can reach lengths of 2.2 meters when its tail (which can be up to 70 centimeters) is taken into account. The aardvark is pale yellowish gray in color,and often stained reddish-brown by soil. The aardvark’s coat is thin and the animal’s primary protection is its tough skin. The aardvark has been known to sleep in a recently excavated ant nest, which also serves as protection.
Aardvarks are nocturnal. They spend the hot African afternoon sleeping holed up in cool underground burrows dug with their powerful feet and claws. After sunset, aardvarks go dig for their favorite food termites using those claws that resemble small spades.
The aardvark digs through the hard shell of a termite mound with its front claws and uses its long, sticky, wormlike tongue to feast on the insects within. It closes its nostrils to keep dust and insects from invading its snout, and its thick skin protects it from bites. Thus it can root around termite and ant mounds without enhaling dirt and its thick skin protects it from insect bites.
Excerpts from Aardvark African Wildlife Foundation
Image courtesy of Beverly Joubert