Aardvark

Dig large subterranean burrows that other animals can hide in during fires, hence preventing wildlife deaths

Ondrej Prosicky

Oh! Aardvark! This solitary nocturnal creature, whose name translates to ‘earth pig’ in Afrikaans, is indeed the sole representative of its order, Tubulidentata. With an appearance that seems to borrow features from various animals, the aardvark possesses a distinctive tail that echoes the kangaroo’s, ears that could rival a rabbit’s in length, a snout reminiscent of a pig’s, and an appetite for ants and termites that parallels that of an anteater. Yet, it stands alone, unrelated to any of these creatures; its closest living relatives are thought to be elephants, with which it shares a more ancient lineage.

The aardvark’s uniqueness extends beyond its appearance. Its feeding strategy showcases convergent evolution at its finest. The aardvark’s long tongue and robust claws are not a case of inherited family traits but rather a result of analogous development. Such adaptations arose independently to meet similar environmental challenges, making the aardvark a living testament to evolutionary processes.

They reside in a range of habitats, from grasslands and woodlands to savannas, avoiding the arid desert. Aardvarks are quintessential diggers, using their powerful forelimbs to excavate extensive burrows for resting, rearing young, and escaping the harsh African heat. These burrows, often reused by other animals, play a pivotal role in the ecosystem.

With a diet almost exclusively comprising ants and termites, the aardvark’s feeding habits have a significant impact on the insect population and, therefore, on the control of these species in their native habitats. Aardvarks consume thousands of insects in one night with their sticky tongues, contributing to the balance of their ecosystems.

Despite their elusiveness, aardvarks have a critical role in their environment. They are considered ecosystem engineers, as their burrowing activities aerate the soil and provide habitats for other species. These nocturnal mammals are also indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Their presence signifies a robust insect population and, by extension, a thriving environment.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2014
Benin
2014
Botswana
2014
Burkina Faso
2014
Burundi
2014
Cameroon
2014
Central Af. Rep.
2014
Chad
2014
Congo-Brazzaville
2014
Côte D’ivoire
2014
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2014
Djibouti
2014
Equatorial Guinea
2014
Eritrea
2014
Eswatini
2014
Ethiopia
2014
Gabon
2014
Gambia
2014
Ghana
2014
Guinea-Bissau
2014
Guinea
2014
Kenya
2014
Lesotho
2014
Presence Uncertain
Liberia
2014
Malawi
2014
Mali
2014
Mauritania
2014
Mozambique
2014
Namibia
2014
Niger
2014
Nigeria
2014
Rwanda
2014
Senegal
2014
Sierra Leone
2014
Somalia
2014
South Africa
2014
South Sudan
2014
Sudan
2014
Presence Uncertain
Tanzania
2014
Uganda
2014
Zambia
2014
Zimbabwe
2014

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No