Aardvarks


The name aardvark comes from a word meaning "earth pig." Although the aardvark, endemic to Africa, shares some similarities with the South American anteater, the two are not related. The last survivor of a group of primitive ungulates, the aardvark could more accurately be called a near-ungulate that has developed powerful claws.

Physical Charecteristics


The aardvark has a short neck connected to a massive, dull brownish-gray, almost hairless body that has a strongly arched back. The legs are short, the hind legs longer than the front ones. The head is elongated and ends in a long, narrow snout, with nostrils that can be closed. The long, tubular ears are normally held upright but can be folded and closed. The short but muscular tail is cone-shaped and tapers to a point. The thick claws on the forefeet are used as digging tools.

Habitat


Aardvarks are found in all regions, from dry savanna to rain forest, where there are sufficient termites for food, access to water and sandy or clay soil. If the soil is too hard, aardvarks, despite being speedy, powerful diggers, will move to areas where the digging is easier.

Behavior


Aardvarks are nocturnal, usually waiting until dark before they emerge from their burrows, although after a cold night, they may occasionally sun themselves. They leave a distinctive track from dragging their tails during which their travels average one to three miles but can range up to 18 miles a night. Aardvarks are seldom seen, but their presence in an area serves many other animals. Bats, ground squirrels, hares, cats, civets, hyenas, jackals, porcupines, warthogs, monitor lizards, owls and other birds use abandoned aardvark holes as shelter. The burrows vary from simple chambers with one entrance, to a complicated maze of galleries with 20 or more entrances. Aardvarks keep their burrows clean they deposit their dung in a hole away from the entrance, carefully covering it with earth.

As it is nocturnal and has poor eyesight, the aardvark is cautious upon leaving its burrow. It comes to the entrance and stands there motionless for several minutes. Then it suddenly leaps out in powerful jumps. At about 30 feet out it stops, raises up on its legs, perks up its ears and turns its head in all directions. If there are no sounds, it makes a few more leaps and finally moves at a slow trot to look for food.

Diet


Aardvarks specialized in eating termites as long as 35 million years ago. At night they go from one termite mound to another, dismantling the hills with their powerful claws. Insects are trapped by the aardvark's long protractile tongue, which is covered with a thick, sticky saliva. Sometimes the aardvark will press its snout against an opening in a mound and suck up the termites. Aardvarks, with their keen sense of smell, also hunt for the long columns of termites that move outside the mounds at night.

Caring for the Young


Aardvarks give birth to one offspring at a time. The pinkish, hairless newborn stays inside the burrow for about 2 weeks and then begins to follow its mother in her search for food. The young first eats solid food at 3 months of age and is suckled until 4 months.

At about 6 months the young male becomes independent and goes off on its own, while the young female stays with the mother until after the next baby is born. The young female may then dig its own burrow a few yards away from its mother but still joins her to forage for termites.

Predators


The adult aardvark's principal enemies are human (who sometimes kill it for meat), lions, hyenas and leopards; pythons also take the young. When in danger the aardvark takes to the nearest hole, or rapidly excavates one, pushing the dirt backwards with its feet and moving the dirt away with its tail. But if cornered, it defends itself by sitting up, using its tail, shoulders and foreclaws- or it will lie on its back and strike with all four feet.

Intersting Facts about Aardvarks


  • The aardvark has fewer teeth than most mammals. The teeth are columnar in shape, have no roots and do not grow simultaneously.
  • Although not thought to be teritorial, females seem to become attached to a particular place. The males wander more. Adult aardvarks are usually solitary, coming together only for mating.

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