The aardvark is unique to sub-saharan Africa and is the only living species of the Afrotherian mammals, as the rest are extinct. Fossils from the aardvark date back to 5 million years ago and have been found in Europe and Asia. It is also known as an ‘African antbear’, ‘anteater’ or the ‘Cape anteater’. ‘Aardvark’ is derived from the Afrikaans word ‘earth pig’ because it burrows in the ground.
It does resemble a pig in some ways as it is stout and has an arched back, but its snout is much longer than a pigs. They have very long ears that look out of place and a short, thick neck. The end of its nose is flat like a disc where its nostrils are. Due to the fact that it feeds on ants and termites, its mouth is very small. The aardvark also has a very long, thin tongue, like a snake and can be as long as 30 centimetres. The front feet only have four toes (the ‘pollex’ or thumb is missing). The rear feet have all five toes. Their toes have very strong nails and are shaped like shovels, obviously used for burrowing.
When the aardvark detects the insects in the ground with its strong sense of smell it burrows with its front legs and can consume a considerable amount of insects at one time with its sticky, long tongue. The aardvark is not perturbed by the insects biting or stinging as it has very thick skin. As it feeds it listens out for predators with its well-developed hearing. The predators include lions, leopards, hunting dogs and pythons.
They are nocturnal animals and live in burrows which are quite extensive and big enough for a human to enter. The aardvark changes its burrows frequently and other animals such as the African wild dog will take up residence. If the aardvark is under attack it will either quickly burrow its way out of danger or lie on its back and fight back with its strong claws.
Hopefully you will be able to spot one of these quirky creatures on your African budget safari!
Here is a clip on Aardvarks and their foraging behaviour.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons