South Africa’s Misunderstood Aardvark

South Africa’s Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is an unusual species known for its excellent digging skills and termite diet. The common name of Aardvark originates from Afrikaans and is translated as “earth pig”. Although it may resemble a pig, it absolutely no relation. In fact, the Aardvark has been classified into its own family of Orycteropodidae of the order Tubulidentata. Lets find out more about this fascinating, elusive African creature.

The Aardvark is a truly unique looking creature. It is easily identified by its long pig-like snout, broad build, elongated tubular ears, strong muscular tail, thick powerful legs and spade-like nails. Its sparse hair covers the grey-yellow skin of the Aardvark, ideal for camouflage. The hair lower down on the body darkens. Interestingly, the coloration of an Aardvark can vary according to the soil of its locality. The Aardvark’s back has a distinctive arch. As a member of the order Tubulidentata, the Aardvark has unusual teeth. The teeth do not have a pulp cavity, but are rather made up of thin tubes of dentine held together with cementum. As such, the teeth wear away continuously and regrow throughout life. Adult Aardvarks are left with only molars.

Aardvarks are found in a variety of habitats, chiefly limited by food availability. They are seen mostly in grassland areas, open woodland and sparse scrub. They are also known to take advantage of domestic stock farms where the grass has been trampled, making the Aardvark’s food sources easily accessible. Topping the Aardvark’s diet in dry months are ants, whilst termites are the feast of choice in the rainy season. The termite or ant nest is broken open and revealed by the digging action of the Aardvark’s powerful claws. After opening up the colony the insects along with larvae and eggs are picked up with the Aardvark’s long sticky tongue. This unusual species may also feed on other insects or the wild cucumber fruit.

Aardvarks are very secretive animals. Visitors to South Africa‘s game parks may be able to spot an Aardvark on a night game drive. These are not social animals and only come together to mate. Females tend to prefer to remain in a particular location whilst males tend to be more nomadic. Females excavate large burrow systems. Aardvarks cover several kilometers whilst seeking out sustenance for the day. On discovering an ant or termite colony, they tear it open and devour their share of tasty creatures. Their digging habits have made them unpopular with farmers as they do dig holes in roads and dam walls.

Predators of Aardvarks include lions, leopards and hyenas, whilst pythons may feast on their young. When pursued by a predator, the Aardvark speedily digs a hole to get away, quickly disappearing into the earth. They will defend themselves with their frightening claws or even somersault away by means of the tail. Aardvark are also used for food by some African tribes. Body parts from the Aardvark may also be used as charms to prevent illness and so forth.

Aardvarks are truly fascinating creatures and you will be delighted if you happen to spot one whilst enjoying your adventure travels in South Africa.