Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)


Class:   Mammalia
Order:   Tubulidentata
Family: Orycteropodidae
Size: Length: 3 to 7 feet (0.9 to 2.1 m)   Height: Up to 26 inches (65 cm)
Weight: 90 to 145 lbs (40.8 to 65.7 kg.)
Diet:  Mainly ants, plus termites, fruit and rodents
Distribution:  Africa south of the Sahara
Young: One, or sometimes twins
Animal Predators: Lions, hyenas and leopards. Pythons may attack young aardvarks
IUCN Status:  No special status
Terms: None
Lifespan: Up to 23 years in the wild; 10 years in captivity



·       Aardvark means “earth pig” in Afrikaans.

·       Scientists have found 5-million-year-old fossils of aardvarks in Europe and Asia.

·       The aardvark is also called an African ant bear.

·       Aardvarks are very strong swimmers.

·       When frightened, aardvarks make a grunting or bleating sound.

·       Aardvarks became popular with children in the late 1990s due to “Arthur,” the animated aardvark (although he looks nothing like a real-life aardvark).



Aardvarks look like pigs with a long snout and ears like a rabbit. They have short legs with five toes on the hind feet and four toes on the front ones. Aardvarks have a long, sticky tongue that can extend up to 18 inches (45.7 cm) to pick up insect prey. Their tough, pinkish-grey skin is sparsely covered with bristly hair. They have 20 rootless teeth that keep growing throughout their lives. Their chisel-shaped claws enable them to break through the clay of termite nests and strong forefeet to burrow through soil. Although aardvarks move around using their four limbs, they can stand on their hind feet by using their tail for balance. 



Aardvarks dig burrows that are typically six to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) long. Their burrows consist of a tunnel with numerous chambers and several different entrances in case they suddenly need to escape a predator.


Feeding Habits

The main diet of aardvarks consists of ants and termites. At night, aardvarks snuffle along the ground with their long noses, searching for insects as they go from termite mound to termite mound. While foraging, aardvarks cover a strip of ground about 98 feet (30 m) wide in a zigzag path with the ears directed forward. Ants, termites and other insects are trapped on aardvarks’ long, sticky tongues. Aardvarks sometimes eat mice, as well as wild cucumber (also known as aardvark pumpkin), which contains a fair amount of water. Aardvarks are powerful and fast diggers, pushing back dirt to find food or to dig a burrow. 



Aardvarks are polygamous animals, and the male takes no part in raising the young. Gestation lasts seven months. The pink, hairless newborns weigh approximately four to five pounds (1.8 to 2.2 kg) and remain in the burrow for about two weeks before making their first appearance outside with their mother to forage. They nurse for four months, although they begin to eat solid food at three months of age. At six months, the young aardvarks leave to dig their own burrows. Females burrow near their mothers’ burrows and join them at night to forage for food. Females have an average of two offspring in their lifetime. 


Aardvarks are mainly nocturnal and sleep curled up inside a burrow during the day. They are solitary, coming together only to mate. When confronted, aardvarks defend themselves with their tail, shoulders and claws or by lying on their backs, enabling them to strike out with all four feet. Aardvarks have excellent hearing and at the slightest unfamiliar noise they will make a dash for their burrow. Their eyesight is not very good, however, and when panicked, aardvarks sometimes bump into things. An unusual behaviour of aardvarks is the burying of feces, which they do regularly in shallow excavations four inches (10 cm) deep. This may be to avoid detection by other aardvarks. 



Aardvarks are not of conservation concern.








Aardvark Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US