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Aardvark Fact File

Aardvark Fact File

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)
Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)
Warwick Hendry

 

Prepared by Lawrence Alroy

Vital statistics: On average an adult aardvark can reach a height of 60cm, its tail measuring 50-65cm, and weighing 50-65kg. Its lifespan varies between 18 and 23 years.                                                                                 

Widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and not currently considered endangered, its location is influenced by the existence of termitaria and ant nests.

 Description: A word picture of an aardvark conjures up a solitary, humpbacked, tough-skinned, bulky-bodied, nocturnal, insectivorous mammal which digs vast underground burrows - some large enough for a human to explore. Its most prominent features include long ears, a slim head that tapers to an elongated snout, a sticky tongue which measures up to 30cm when extended, powerful limbs with large claws and a long, strong tail. 

Each attribute equips it eminently for its lifestyle - underground by day and foraging by night. Its acute hearing gives timely warning of approaching enemies - leopard, hyaena or wild dog  - while its sense of smell is superbly developed to detect insect larvae buried as deep as 30cm in the earth. It can use its claws and tail in defence and the tough skin protects it from insect bites.

Diet: Termites are its preferred food, trapped by the sticky tongue once a termite mound has been breached - 50,000 can be consumed by an aardvark in one night’s feasting. In lean times it will feed on fruit and other insects.

Burrows and Breeding:  One offspring is produced annually in a permanent, spacious burrow. With its legs and claws adapted for rapid digging, the aardvark frequently creates other tunnels to act as escape routes from its enemies such as leopard and hyaena,(who also use these as shelters from time to time), while smaller mammals like jackal, warthog or  porcupine adopt them as their homes.