Aardvark

Aardvark

[ Orycteropus afer ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH:

3 to 4 feet

TAIL LENGTH: 18 to 25 inches
WEIGHT: 88 to 143 pounds
WILD DIET: ants and termites
ZOO DIET: insectivore diet
DISTRIBUTION: throughout Africa, south of the Sahara Desert; although aardvarks are widely distributed, they are vulnerable to changes in local habitats that affect their very specific food preference; because of this, aardvarks have become extinct in some areas
HABITAT: grassy plains, bush country, woodlands, and savannah

 

One of a Kind

Animal combo platter
Aardvarks look like they are a mish-mash of a bunch of other animals. They have a pig-like body, a long tubular snout similar to that of an anteater, and ears that can only be described as donkey-like. They have been called "earth pigs" and "antbears" because of their confusing appearance. Taken all together, this combo platter of traits makes for a very unusual animal. "Unique" is an overused word, but not in the case of the aardvark.

Members only club
Aardvarks are exclusive members. They're the only living representative of their order, the tubulidentata ("tube-toothed"). Aardvarks are unusual animals in their habits as well as their looks. They are almost completely nocturnal and solitary, and are rarely seen in the wild. Aardvarks dig deep burrows in the ground, where they stay during the day. At night aardvarks come out and hunt for ants and termites, which are just about the only items on their menu. Such a limited diet makes them very susceptible to changes in the environment.

Eatin' ants is easy
Aadvarks are the enemy of ants and termites, and they are well equipped for finding, and then wreaking havoc on, the underground homes of these insects. A long, slender snout puts the aardvark's nostrils right at ground level, where a very sensitive sense of smell goes to work. Long, cupped ears point forward, listening for the slightest sound of insect activity. They sniff and listen in sweeping motions, zigzagging back and forth, until they locate the scent trail or sound of ants or termites.

When they detect something under the soil, aardvarks quickly begin digging. And can they dig! Muscular front limbs are armed with spoon-shaped claws, perfectly suited for digging. When the prey is uncovered, aardvarks slurp up the meal with their sticky, foot-long tongue. The stickiness comes from saliva, and allows them to lick up termites and ants by the dozens. One aardvark can eat 50,000 insects a single day! Aardvarks eat termites in the wet season, and in the dry season switch to the easier-to-find ants.

Night of the aardvark
All this eating takes place after dark because aardvarks are almost totally nocturnal. They sleep in their burrows during the day to avoid the hot sun. After dusk, aardvarks venture out to find food. Aardvarks have a system of burrows throughout their home ranges so they can hide quickly if lions or hyenas appear in the night. They do most of their foraging between dusk and midnight.

Can you dig it?
Burrows don't dig themselves. Aardvarks dig themand aardvarks are some of the best diggers around. They can dig a burrow big enough to disappear into in five to 20 minutes, depending on how hard the soil is. The aardvark's burrowing abilities benefit others, too. Animals of all kindsany that can fittake shelter in empty aardvark burrows to escape predators and severe storms.

Aardvarks at Brookfield Zoo
You can find aardvarks in their own building at Habitat Africa! The Savannah. Walk down the 31st street path; turn south just past Australia House and before you get to the savannah.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society