Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

Adult aardvark

(http://www.arkive.org/aardvark/orycteropus-afer/image-G34981.html)

  • Name: Aardvark
  • Latin: Orycteropus afer
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: Africa
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • AKA: Antbear, anteater, Cape anteater, earth hog, earth pig

Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)
  • Order: Tubulidentata (afrotherian mammals)
  • Family: Orycteropodidae (aardvark)
  • Genus: Orycteropus (aardvark)
  • Species: Orycteropus afer (aardvark)

Apperance

  • Length: Body – 3-5ft (90-150cm) Tail – 1.2-2ft (45-60cm)
  • Height: 2ft (60cm)
  • Weight: 100-170lbs (45-77kg)

The aardvark has a bulky body and a humped back. The head is long and narrow and ends in a pig-like snout. The ears are very long and can move independently of each other. The mouth contains 20 teeth which are located at the back of the jaw, they are unusual in that they do not stop growing and they have no roots or enamel. Its mouth also has a 1.5ft (45cm) long tongue which is thin and sticky.

The legs of the aardvark are short and powerful and end with webbed feet. The front feet have four toes and the back have five. The body has thick, pink-grey skin that protects the animal from insect bites and is sparsely covered with bristly hairs which are yellowish or brownish grey in colour.

Relatives

The aardvark is the only member in its taxonomic family.

Habitat & Distribution

Aardvarks can be found in all regions of Africa including dry savannahs and rainforests. Their habitat requirements include sufficient termites for food, access to water and sandy or clay soil. If the soil is too hard, they will move to areas where digging is easier.

Aardvarks are widely distributed in Africa, south of the Saharah. They range from Senegal, east to Ethiopia and south to South Africa. They are absent from the Namib Desert in south-western Africa.

Map showing the distribution of the Aardvark taxa

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Aardvark)

Diet

The aardvarks diet is primarily made up of ants, termites and other insects which it digs from the ground using its powerful forepaws and eat with its sticky, foot-long tongue. While foraging at night, the aardvark will press its nose to the ground and follow a zigzag motion to pick up scents of termite mounds and can cover an average of 6 miles in this manner. The same route will be repeated once a week. To obtain water, the aardvark will dig up and eat wild cucumber plants.

Behaviour

Aardvarks and solitary creatures and have never been found in large numbers. They are nocturnal and rely on their sense of smell to locate termites. In one night, they can cover 1.3-3 miles (2-5 kilometres) at a rate of 1,640 feet (500 meters) per hour.

Aardvarks are well known for their digging abilities and can burrow 3.3ft (1m) deep faster than a group of six adults with shovels. When digging, they will push dirt backwards with their claws and the tail will sweep it away. If threatened and cannot escape, the aardvark will lie on its back and fight with all four feet.

Reproduction

The mating season of the aardvark varies according to region. In some areas, these animals will mate in April to May and their offspring will be born in October to November, in other areas they females will give birth in May or June.

The gestation period of the aardvark is seven months and will give birth to one offspring at a time. The young are pink and hairless at birth and weigh approximately 4 pound (2 kilograms). The young will remain in the mother burrow for two weeks, after which it will follow her on the nightly search for food. The young aardvarks will live on their mother’s milk until around three months of age, at which they will be weaned onto solids.

The young leave the mothers burrow after six months but will build their own burrows nearby. The males will leave the mothers completely during the next mating season and the females will remain with their mother until her next young is born.

Adaptations

  • The aardvark has a long, snake-like tongue covered in sticky mucus. This is used to scoop up ants and other insects from their underground nests. A single aardvark can eat up to 50,000 insects in a single night using its tongue.
  • The aardvark has thick, powerful claws on its forelegs which are used for destroying ant and termite nests and for digging new burrows.
  • The aardvark has more olfactory lobes than any other mammal giving it advanced hearing and smell. These senses are used to detect insects in their underground homes and potential predators.
  • Aardvarks are nocturnal and solitary. This makes it difficult for predators to catch them as many only hunt during the day.

Threats

Aardvark numbers have been reduced in some areas throughout its range due to human activity and the destruction of its habitat. It is commonly hunted for its meant and other products. The skin, claws and teeth are used to make bracelets and charm, while the hairs are sometimes reduced to a powder and become a potent poison when added to beer.

The habitat of the aardvark is often lost to some forms of agriculture, for example, intensive crop farming. However, cattle farming is beneficial as it improves the habitat for termites. They are also persecuted as their burrows can cause damage to farming equipment, roads, dam walls and fences.

Their natural predators include lions, leopards, hyenas and pythons.

Conservation

  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

The aardvark population is currently in large numbers throughout its range and can be found in a number of large and well-managed protected areas. Therefore, there are is no need for any major conservation methods for this species.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Boar
  • Female: Sow
  • Young: Cub
  • Group: Pack, Grouping
  • Aardvark means ‘Earth Pig’ in Afrikanns.
  • An aardvarks claws are as strong as a pick axe.
  • When disturbed, an aardvark will squeal like a pig.
  • Aardvarks are the only animal in their order.

References

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