Aardvark

Update of post from February 8, 2014

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The aardvark is a weird looking mammal living in central and southern Africa. These animals look vaguely like pigs. I know its a bit of a stretch, but this similarity is how the aardvark got its name. The word “aardvark” comes from an Afrikaans word meaning “earth pig”. So even though you may not think they look much like pigs, evidently some people did.

These animals are different from pigs in many ways. First of all, they have an arched back while pigs have straight backs. They also have long snouts, large ears, long tails, and bristly hair on their legs. Another name this animal has is the ant bear. While they don’t look much like bears, they do love ants, but we will talk more about that later on.

Size

Aardvarks are somewhat large creatures. They can be 3.3 to 5.2 feet (100-158 cm) long from their nose to the base of their tail. This tail can add 28 inches (71 cm) to the aardvark’s total length. This would mean that the largest aardvarks could be 7.5 feet (2.3 m) from nose tip to tail tip!

These creatures, which stand 2 feet (60 cm) tall, also weigh quite a bit. Their weight obviously depends a lot on their size. The smallest adult aardvarks may be only about 88 pounds (80 kg), while the largest may be 220 pounds (100 kg)! Males are usually larger than the females.

Diet and hunting

Aardvarks are insectivores that are a lot like ant-eaters. Their favorite foods are ants and termites. Since these insects are so small and aardvarks are so large, they can eat over 50,000 of them each day! Actually, it would be each night because aardvarks are nocturnal creatures. Eating this many would be almost impossible if they hunted down individual ants to snack on, but luckily they have a better strategy.

In fact, they have two better strategies. The first is finding large groups of marching ants. They can then extend their long, sticky tongue and lick them all up.

Their second strategy involves finding a termite mound or ant hill. The aardvark can then dig into the insects’ home, devouring the scrambling food.

Burrows

Aardvarks are nocturnal animals, and during the day they escape the sun’s heat in their extensive burrows. These burrows can be up to 40 feet (13 m) long, and they may have multiple entrances and numerous chambers! These creatures have powerful legs and spoon-shaped claws that help them dig quickly. They are able to dig two feet (0.6 m) in just 15 seconds!

Habitat and range

The range map below shows the aardvark’s range. Depending on which sources you look at, this map may be slightly inaccurate. Some places say that they do not live in the area of eastern central Africa. This would actually make sense because this area is primarily rainforest, which is not the aardvark’s main habitat.

Where the aardvark does live is savannahs, woodlands, (less dense and drier than rainforests), and grassy plains. You may have noticed that they do not inhabit the northern portion of Africa. That is because this area is the Sahara desert, where very few animals can live.

Status, threats, and protection

The aardvark is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Redlist. There are not many natural threats to this animal, and in just a little bit I will explain why. The main problem aardvarks do have is when it comes to humans. As with most animals, habitat destruction plays a role in their life, but they are also hunted by humans. The main reason they are hunted is for their meat, but their skin, teeth, and claws are also used in bracelets and charms.

One of the reasons aardvarks are not threatened much by natural predators is because of their size. There are very few animals that can successfully attack and eat such a large animal. Such predators include lions, hyenas, leopards, and anacondas.

Those animals that can prey on aardvarks rarely do because aardvarks are pretty good at protecting themselves. I already mentioned that these animals are good at digging. This is actually their first line of defense. If they have enough time, they will dig into the ground to escape. They can completely cover themselves in just ten minutes!

If this strategy doesn’t work, it will stand on its hind legs or lay on its back. While this second one may not seem like a good strategy, it lets the aardvark’s sharp front claws confront the enemy. Aardvarks also have thick skin. While its main purpose is to protect it from ant bites while hunting, it is also a good protection from hungry predators.

Reproduction and young

There is no definitive mating season for these creatures. Aardvarks are mostly independent, and adults are almost never seen together except for when mating. After mating, the female has a gestation period of about 7 months. The time the female gives birth varies by location. Aardvarks in the northern part of the range usually give birth around October or November, while those further south often have their babies between May and July.

At this time, usually a single young aardvark is born. Twins do happen occasionally, but they are rare. Just two weeks after birth, the baby starts to accompany its mother on her nighttime hunting trips. In half a year, the young can dig for itself and then becomes independent. By the time it is just one year old it has reached its adult size!

In another year, the young aardvark will start mating. These amazing creatures can live to be 18 years old!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Aardvark – Montage Man
  • Aardvark range – Chermundy
  • Mystery animal – Public domain
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