Tubulidentata – Aardvark

Emerging from its burrow at sunset and foraging for ants and termites in sub-Saharan Africa

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.