Aardvark
Overview
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. It is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, although other prehistoric species and genera of Tubulidentata are known.
It is sometimes colloquially called "antbear", "anteater", or the "Cape anteater" after the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

. The name comes from the Afrikaans
Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

/Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 for "earth pig" or "ground pig" (aarde earth/ground, varken pig), because of its burrowing habits (similar origin to the name groundhog
Groundhog
The groundhog , also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but...

).
Encyclopedia
The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. It is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, although other prehistoric species and genera of Tubulidentata are known.

Naming and taxonomy

It is sometimes colloquially called "antbear", "anteater", or the "Cape anteater" after the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

. The name comes from the Afrikaans
Afrikaans
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, spoken natively in South Africa and Namibia. It is a daughter language of Dutch, originating in its 17th century dialects, collectively referred to as Cape Dutch .Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see , , , , , .Afrikaans was historically called Cape...

/Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 for "earth pig" or "ground pig" (aarde earth/ground, varken pig), because of its burrowing habits (similar origin to the name groundhog
Groundhog
The groundhog , also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but...

). The aardvark is not related to the pig; rather, it is the sole recent representative of the obscure mammalian order
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

 Tubulidentata, in which it is usually considered to form one variable species of the genus Orycteropus
Orycteropus
Orycteropus is a genus of mammals in the family Orycteropodidae within Tubulidentata.The only living species of all Tubulidentata is the Aardvark .- Species :* Orycteropus afer - Aardvark* † Orycteropus abundulafus...

, the sole surviving genus in the family Orycteropodidae
Orycteropodidae
Orycteropodidae is a family of afrotherian mammals. Although there are many fossil species, the only species surviving today is the aardvark, Orycteropus afer. Orycteropodidae is recognized as the only family within the order Tubulidentata, so the two are effectively synonyms.The family arose in...

. The aardvark is not closely related to the South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

n anteater
Anteater
Anteaters, also known as antbear, are the four mammal species of the suborder Vermilingua commonly known for eating ants and termites. Together with the sloths, they compose the order Pilosa...

, despite sharing some characteristics and a superficial resemblance. The closest living relatives of the aardvark are the elephant shrew
Elephant shrew
Elephant shrews or jumping shrews are small insectivorous mammals native to Africa, belonging to the family Macroscelididae, in the order Macroscelidea...

s, along with the sirenians, hyrax
Hyrax
A hyrax is any of four species of fairly small, thickset, herbivorous mammals in the order Hyracoidea. The rock hyrax Procavia capensis, the yellow-spotted rock hyrax Heterohyrax brucei, the western tree hyrax Dendrohyrax dorsalis, and the southern tree hyrax, Dendrohyrax arboreus live in Africa...

es, tenrec
Tenrecidae
Tenrecidae is a family of mammals found on Madagascar and parts of Africa. Tenrecs are widely diverse, resembling hedgehogs, shrews, opossums, mice and even otters, as a result of convergent evolution. They occupy aquatic, arboreal, terrestrial and fossorial environments...

s, and elephant
Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

s. With their extinct relatives, these animals form the superorder Afrotheria
Afrotheria
Afrotheria is a clade of mammals, the living members of which belong to groups from Africa or of African origin: golden moles, sengis , tenrecs, aardvarks, hyraxes, elephants and sea cows. The common ancestry of these animals was not recognized until the late 1990s...

.

Description

The aardvark is vaguely pig-like in appearance. Its body is stout with an arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. The limbs are of moderate length. The front feet have lost the pollex (or 'thumb'), resulting in four toes, while the rear feet have all five toes. Each toe bears a large, robust nail
Nail (anatomy)
A nail is a horn-like envelope covering the dorsal aspect of the terminal phalanges of fingers and toes in humans, most non-human primates, and a few other mammals. Nails are similar to claws, which are found on numerous other animals....

 which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like, and appears to be intermediate between a claw
Claw
A claw is a curved, pointed appendage, found at the end of a toe or finger in most mammals, birds, and some reptiles. However, the word "claw" is also often used in reference to an invertebrate. Somewhat similar fine hooked structures are found in arthropods such as beetles and spiders, at the end...

 and a hoof. The ears are disproportionately long, and the tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and the end of the snout bears a disc, which houses the nostrils. The mouth is small and tubular, typical of species that feed on termite
Termite
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera , but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae, of the cockroach order Blattodea...

s. The aardvark has a long, thin, snakelike, protruding tongue and elaborate structures supporting a keen sense of smell
Olfaction
Olfaction is the sense of smell. This sense is mediated by specialized sensory cells of the nasal cavity of vertebrates, and, by analogy, sensory cells of the antennae of invertebrates...

.

An aardvark's weight is typically between 40 and(-). An aardvark's length is usually between 1 and(-), and can reach lengths of 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) when its tail (which can be up to 70 centimetres (27.6 in)) is taken into account. It is the largest member of the proposed clade Afroinsectiphilia
Afroinsectiphilia
The Afroinsectiphilia is a clade that has been proposed based on the results of recent molecular studies. Many of its orders were once regarded as part of the order Insectivora, but Insectivora is now considered to be polyphyletic and is, as a result, possibly obsolete...

. The aardvark is pale yellowish-gray in color and often stained reddish-brown by soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

. The aardvark's coat is thin, and the animal's primary protection is its tough skin. The aardvark has been known to sleep in a recently excavated ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

 nest, which also serves as protection from its predators.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Tubulidentata is their teeth. Instead of having a pulp cavity
Pulp (tooth)
The dental pulp is the part in the center of a tooth made up of living connective tissue and cells called odontoblasts.- Anatomy :Each person can have a total of up to 52 pulp organs, 32 in the permanent and 20 in the primary teeth....

, each tooth has a cluster of thin, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin (a modified form of dentine), with individual pulp canals, held together by cementum
Cementum
Cementum is a specialized calcified substance covering the root of a tooth. Cementum is excreted by cells called cementoblasts within the root of the tooth and is thickest at the root apex. These cementoblasts develop from undifferentiated mesenchymal cells in the connective tissue of the dental...

. The teeth have no enamel
Tooth enamel
Tooth enamel, along with dentin, cementum, and dental pulp is one of the four major tissues that make up the tooth in vertebrates. It is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance in the human body. Tooth enamel is also found in the dermal denticles of sharks...

 coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. The aardvark is born with conventional incisors and canines
Canine tooth
In mammalian oral anatomy, the canine teeth, also called cuspids, dogteeth, fangs, or eye teeth, are relatively long, pointed teeth...

 at the front of the jaw, which fall out and are not replaced. Adult aardvarks only have cheek teeth at the back of the jaw
Jaw
The jaw is any opposable articulated structure at the entrance of the mouth, typically used for grasping and manipulating food. The term jaws is also broadly applied to the whole of the structures constituting the vault of the mouth and serving to open and close it and is part of the body plan of...

, and have a dental formula
Dentition
Dentition pertains to the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. In particular, the characteristic arrangement, kind, and number of teeth in a given species at a given age...

 of:

Gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

tically speaking, the aardvark is a living fossil
Living fossil
Living fossil is an informal term for any living species which appears similar to a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives, or a group of organisms which have long fossil records...

, as its chromosome
Chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s are highly conserved, reflecting much of the early eutherian arrangement before the divergence of the major modern taxa
Taxon
|thumb|270px|[[African elephants]] form a widely-accepted taxon, the [[genus]] LoxodontaA taxon is a group of organisms, which a taxonomist adjudges to be a unit. Usually a taxon is given a name and a rank, although neither is a requirement...

.

Ecology and behavior

Aardvarks live in sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

, where there is suitable habitat
Habitat
* Habitat , a place where a species lives and grows*Human habitat, a place where humans live, work or play** Space habitat, a space station intended as a permanent settlement...

 for them to live, such as savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

s, grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s, woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

s and bushland
Bushland
Bushland is any area in Australia that is predominantly indigenous flora and fauna.Bushland is the term commonly used by conservation protection groups and other environmental groups as a blanket term for natural vegetation, which may cover any kind of habitat from open shrubby country with few...

, and available food (i.e., ants and termites). The aardvark is nocturnal and is a solitary creature that feeds almost exclusively on ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

s and termite
Termite
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera , but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae, of the cockroach order Blattodea...

s (formicivore); the only fruit
Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

 eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber
Aardvark cucumber
The aardvark cucumber , also known as aardvark pumpkin, is a kind of cucumber from southern Africa which fruits underground. It is reliant on the aardvark to eat the fruit in order to spread and re-bury the seeds of the plant.-Description:Cucumis humifructus is thought to be the only Cucumis...

. An aardvark emerges from its burrow in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forages over a considerable home range encompassing 10 to 30 km, swinging its long nose from side to side to pick up the scent of food. When a concentration of ants or termites is detected, the aardvark digs into it with its powerful front legs, keeping its long ears upright to listen for predators, and takes up an astonishing number of insects with its long, sticky tongue—as many as 50,000 in one night have been recorded. It can dig 2 feet in 15 seconds, but otherwise moves fairly slowly. Its claws enable it to dig through the extremely hard crust of a termite or ant mound quickly, avoiding the dust by sealing the nostrils. When successful, the aardvark's long (up to 30 centimetres (11.8 in)) tongue licks up the insects; the termites' biting, or the ants' stinging attacks are rendered futile by the tough skin. Its keen hearing warns it of predators: lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s, leopard
Leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

s, hyena
Hyena
Hyenas or Hyaenas are the animals of the family Hyaenidae of suborder feliforms of the Carnivora. It is the fourth smallest biological family in the Carnivora , and one of the smallest in the mammalia...

s, and pythons.

Aside from digging out ants and termites, the aardvark also excavates
Fossorial
A fossorial organism is one that is adapted to digging and life underground such as the badger, the naked mole rat, and the mole salamanders Ambystomatidae...

 burrows in which to live; temporary sites are scattered around the home range as refuges, and a main burrow
Burrow
A burrow is a hole or tunnel dug into the ground by an animal to create a space suitable for habitation, temporary refuge, or as a byproduct of locomotion. Burrows provide a form of shelter against predation and exposure to the elements, so the burrowing way of life is quite popular among the...

 is used for breeding. Main burrows can be deep and extensive, have several entrances and can be as long as 13 metres (42.7 ft). The aardvark changes the layout of its home burrow regularly, and from time to time moves on and makes a new one; the old burrows are then inhabited by smaller animals like the African wild dog
African Wild Dog
Lycaon pictus is a large canid found only in Africa, especially in savannas and lightly wooded areas. It is variously called the African wild dog, African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, painted dog, painted wolf, painted hunting dog, spotted dog, or ornate wolf...

. Only mothers and young share burrows. If attacked in the tunnel, it will seal the tunnel off behind itself or turn around and attack with its claws.

Aardvarks only pair during the breeding season; after a gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period of seven months, one cub weighing around 2 kilograms (4.4 lb) is born, and is able to leave the burrow to accompany its mother after only two weeks, and is eating termites at 14 weeks and is weaned by 16 weeks. At six months of age it is able to dig its own burrows, but it will often remain with the mother until the next mating season, and is sexually capable by the season after that.

Aardvarks live for up to 24 years in captivity
Captivity (animal)
Animals that live under human care are in captivity. Captivity can be used as a generalizing term to describe the keeping of either domesticated animals or wild animals. This may include for example farms, private homes and zoos...

.

The aardvark's main predators are lions, leopards, hunting dogs and pythons. Some African tribes also hunt aardvarks for meat. Aardvarks can dig fast or run in zigzag fashion to elude enemies, but if all else fails, they will strike with their claws, tail and shoulders, sometimes flipping onto their backs to lash with all fours. Their thick skin also protects them to some extent.

Mythology and popular culture

In African folklore, the aardvark is much admired because of its diligent quest for food and its fearless response to soldier ants. Hausa
Hausa people
The Hausa are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. They are a Sahelian people chiefly located in northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger, but having significant numbers living in regions of Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Chad and Sudan...

 magicians make a charm from the heart, skin, forehead, and nails of the aardvark, which they then proceed to pound together with the root of a certain tree. Wrapped in a piece of skin and worn on the chest, the charm is said to give the owner the ability to pass through walls or roofs at night. The charm is said to be used by burglars and those seeking to visit young girls without their parents' permission.

The Egyptian god Set
Set (mythology)
Set was in Ancient Egyptian religion, a god of the desert, storms, and foreigners. In later myths he was also the god of darkness, and chaos...

 is said, by some, to have the head of an aardvark, or part aardvark.

The villain (Cyril Sneer) and one of the heroes (Cedric Sneer) of the 1980s Gemini Award
Gemini Award
The Gemini Awards are annual television broadcasting industry awards in Canada.First awarded in 1986, the Geminis celebrate the achievements of TV members of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. Essentially, it presents awards for the best television productions in Canada. Awards are...

 winning animated television series The Raccoons
The Raccoons
The Raccoons is a Canadian animated television series which was originally broadcast from 1985 to 1991 with four preceding television specials beginning in 1980. The series was created by Kevin Gillis, and produced at Atkinson Film-Arts first-hand from 1984 to 1985, then at Hinton Animation Studios...

were aardvarks.

The main character of Arthur
Arthur (TV series)
Arthur is an American/Canadian animated educational television series for children, created by Cookie Jar Group and WGBH for the Public Broadcasting Service...

, an animated television series for children produced by WGBH
WGBH-TV
WGBH-TV, channel 2, is a non-commercial educational public television station located in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. WGBH-TV is a member station of the Public Broadcasting Service , and produces more than two-thirds of PBS's national prime time television programming...

, shown in more than 180 countries, is an aardvark.

One of the main characters of the 1969-1971 animated cartoon The Ant and the Aardvark
The Ant and the Aardvark
The Ant and the Aardvark is a series of 17 theatrical short cartoons produced at DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and released by United Artists from 1969 to 1971.-Production:...

is a blue aardvark voiced by John Byner
John Byner
John Byner is an American actor, comedian, and impressionist who has had a lengthy television and movie career. His voice work includes the cartoon series The Ant and the Aardvark, in which the title characters are voiced by Byner's impressions of Dean Martin and Jackie Mason,...

, doing an impersonation of Jackie Mason
Jackie Mason
Jackie Mason is an American stand-up comedian and movie actor.-Early life:Born Yacov Moshe Maza in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City....

. It depicts the Aardvark attempting, and failing, to catch and eat his antagonist, the Ant, also voiced by Byner impersonating Dean Martin
Dean Martin
Dean Martin was an American singer, film actor, television star and comedian. Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This", "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You", "Sway", "Volare" and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?"...

.

External links


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