aardvark facts

13 Aardvark Facts About The Earth Pigs

Aardvarks are odd-looking mammals. They have a snout that resembles an anteater but with a tip resembling that of a pig. They even have rabbit-like ears and a tail like a kangaroo. Even though they have similar characteristics to these animals, they are unrelated. Their close living relatives are elephants and golden moles. Join us as we discover the most bizarre aardvark facts.

Related read: Anteater Facts.

13 Facts about Aardvarks

aardvark closeup
Photo by Theo Kruse Burgers' Zoo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY SA 4.0 (Cropped from original)

1. The Aardvark name means "earth pig."

Curious about where the name Aardvark came from? Well, this peculiar mammal got its name from the Afrikaans words "aard" (earth) and "vark" (pig), which combined means earth pig or ground pig2. When European explorers and settlers encountered this peculiar mammal during their travels to Southern Africa, they sought familiar terms to describe it.

The aardvark's unique appearance, with its elongated snout and burrowing habits, might have reminded them of a pig, leading to adopting the term "vark." Additionally, since the aardvark is primarily nocturnal and spends much of its time digging in the earth for food, the word "aard" (earth) was added to emphasize its association with the ground.

They are also known as "African ant bears" and "Cape anteaters." Despite the animals mentioned, discover the truth about their lineage through the aardvark fact below.

2. Despite their appearance, aardvarks are unrelated to pigs.

earth pig resting
Photo by Štolfa on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Despite their pig-like snout and burrowing behavior, they are not closely related to pigs or other similar-looking species. Instead, the 15 species of aardvarks are thought to have descended from ungulates (hooved animals) and belong to the order Tubulidentata, which refers to species with tube teeth1.

Furthermore, they are the only living species of this order and are closely related to elephant shrews, tenrecs, and golden moles. On the other hand, they are not closely related to South American Anteaters despite people often thinking they are.

Their long evolutionary history and impressive adaptations allow them to flourish in their African habitats. Their similarity to pigs is just a result of convergent evolution, meaning that animals with similar diets can have similar structures.

3. They are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.

These burrowing mammals live only in sub-Saharan Africa's savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands. They prefer sandy or loamy soils that enable them to burrow exceptionally well. Although they inhabit nearly two-thirds of the Southern African continent, they stay away from rocky areas because these areas hinder their burrowing.

4. They dig underground burrows.

Aardvarks are excellent diggers! They dig using their exceptionally sharp claws and strong front feet. Aardvark digs for two primary reasons: to find food and to create shelter.

These animals emerge from their burrows at night to hunt and dig into their prey's nests. They also dig complex burrows for daytime shelter. Aardvark burrows can be as long as 6 meters (approximately 20 feet) and have multiple entrances. Other species, such as African Wild Dogs, can use old burrows for shelter and turn them into their own homes.

Related read: Read more about other aardvark-like diggers in our armadillo facts and badger facts.

5. Insects occupy the majority of their diet.

aardvark in the wild
Photo by Kelly Abram on iNaturalist licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original)

Aardvarks, called caped anteaters, primarily consume ants and termites like anteaters. Their keen sense of smell allows them to locate the termite mound and ant hill. Aardvarks eat up to 50,000 insects in one night through their long snout and sticky tongues. 

However, unlike anteaters, they also eat aardvark cucumbers. The aardvark cucumber is an African plant rich in minerals and water. It's preyed upon by aardvarks, which help propagate the species through their dung. Their unique diet combination gives them proper nutrition and hydration since drinking in shared water sources is quite dangerous.

Additional fun fact: Insects can sting when they bite. So how do aardvarks protect themselves from insect bites? Their thick skin is the answer. 

6. They eat their food without chewing.

Did you know that aardvarks swallow their food without chewing? Since they have tubular teeth, they chew their food through their muscular stomachs.

7. They have four toes on their front feet and five on their hind feet.

Unlike many other mammals, Aardvarks have four toes on their front feet and five on their hind legs. Each toe has a strong, thick, and somewhat flattened nail-like hoof. The hooves act as a protective covering for the digits, preventing them from wearing down or getting damaged during the extensive digging process.

In addition to their digging prowess, the unique hooves provide stability and support when the Aardvark is walking or standing on uneven ground or excavating its underground burrow.

8. They mate during the rainy season.

aardvark walking
Photo by Av Marie Hale on Store Norske Leksikon licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Aardvarks have a mating season that usually occurs during the peak time of food availability, often before or during the rainy season. During this period, male aardvarks may engage in territorial displays and compete to mate with female aardvarks.

Once a female becomes pregnant, she carries the developing embryo for about seven months before giving birth to a single calf. A newborn baby aardvark can weigh up to 4.4 pounds.

At around three months old, young aardvarks can start eating solid food. By six or seven months, they are fully weaned, capable of fending in the wild, and can dig burrows on their own.

9. They communicate and maintain their social bonds.

Aardvarks, often seen as solitary animals, are friendly communicators. They use grunts, snorts, hisses, and screams to connect, bond, and signal threats. When sensing danger, aardvarks can produce a loud bark to warn others up to a kilometer away.

Since they love digging, the aardvark fact below mentions an adaptation to suit their lifestyle.

10. Aardvarks can close their nostrils while digging to avoid inhaling dirt.

aardvark
Photo by Theo Stikkelman on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Did you know that aardvarks can fully close their nostrils while digging or foraging? This helps them avoid inhaling dirt and debris, thanks to their coarse nasal hair and specialized sphincter muscle. Interestingly, even with their nostrils closed, aardvarks can still breathe through their mouths, preventing respiratory problems and making their food search more efficient.

11. Aardvarks have poor eyesight but have the strongest sense of smell among all animals.

Despite being nocturnal animals with poor eyesight, Aardvarks possess an extraordinary sense of smell that surpasses even that of dogs. Their olfactory ability is attributed to a large, sensitive olfactory bulb in their brains, which is responsible for processing smell-related information. This ability enables them to locate termite mounds accurately during nighttime.

12. Aardvarks live up to 20 years or more.

aardvark digging
Photo by Louise Joubert on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Aardvarks typically have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years in the wild. However, this can vary depending on various factors. Aardvarks face numerous challenges in their natural environment, impacting their lifespan. These challenges include shortages of food and water, competition with other animals, and susceptibility to predators and illnesses.

However, aardvarks can live longer in captivity due to the controlled environment and access to regular meals and medical care. Under proper care and conditions, aardvarks in zoos or conservation facilities may reach 20 years or more.

13. Their conservation status is of “least concern.”

The IUCN categorizes the aardvark as a species of "least concern," meaning their populations remain generally stable. Protected areas such as South Africa's Kruger National Park have many aardvarks.

However, aardvarks face challenges, including habitat loss due to agricultural development and a decline in insect prey because of pesticide use. In Zambia and Mozambique, the bushmeat trade threatens aardvarks, and some are also poached for their teeth, which are believed to have medicinal properties.

Although their populations are stable, spread the love and awareness for these creatures by posting these aardvark facts online.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with A.

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1

Melton, D. A. (1976). The biology of aardvark (Tubulidentata-Orycteropodidae). Mammal Review, 6(2), 75–88.

2

Ferrell, B., & Evans, K. O. (2019). Aardvark. In Springer eBooks (pp. 1–4).

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by MontageMan on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)
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