What Is an Aardvark and How Long Does It Live in Captivity?
An Aardvark is a mammal which grows to a length of 2 m (6 ft) and has a long, narrow head with a pig-like snout and long ears. Its four feet have strong digging claws. The aardvark’s name means “earth pig”, and was named by the early settlers from Europe who thought it resembled a pig. However, the Aardvark is not closely related to pigs.
The Aardvark is the only surviving member of the family Orycteropodidae and of the order Tubulidentata. The Aardvark was originally placed in the same genus as the South American anteaters because of superficial similarities which, it is now known, are the result of convergent evolution, not common ancestry. For the same reason, Aardvarks bear a striking first-glance resemblance to the marsupial bilbies and Bandicoots of Australasia, which are not placental mammals at all. The Aardvark is now placed in its own genus, Orycteropus.
The Aardvark’s body is stout with an arched back; the limbs are of moderate length. The ears are disproportionately long and the tail very thick at the base with a gradual taper. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and at the end of the snout is a disk in which the nostrils open. The mouth is typical of species that feed on termites: small and tubular.
The Aardvark has a long, thin, protrusible tongue and elaborate structures supporting a keen sense of smell. The Aardvark is a pale yellowish gray in color, often stained reddish-brown by soil. The 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 nest, so well does it protect them.
The most distinctive charactristic of aardvarks is their teeth. Instead of having a pulp cavities, aardvark teeth have lots of thin tubes of dentine, each containing pulp and held together by cementum. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. In adults, the only teeth are the molars at the back of the jaw.
The Aardvark is distributed across most of sub-Saharan Africa, and although killed by humans both for its flesh and for its teeth (which are used as decorations), does not appear to be threatened. It feeds by ripping open termites’ nests and licking up the insects with its long tongue. When a concentration of ants or termites is found, 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 has been recorded. It is an exceptionally fast digger, but otherwise moves rather slowly.
The aardvark is nocturnal and is a solitary creature and only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber. It spends the day living in large burrows, which it can excavate extremely quickly, coming out at night to feed. Main burrows can be deep and extensive, have several entrances, and can be as much as 13 meters long. The Aardvark changes the layout of its home burrow regularly, and from time to time moves on and makes a new one. Only mothers and young share burrows.
After a gestation period of 7 months, a single cub weighing around 2 kg is born, and is able to leave the burrow to accompany its mother after only two weeks. At six months of age it is digging its own burrows, but it will often remain with the mother until the next mating season. The Aardvarks can grow older than 20 years in captivity.