The aardvark is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘earth pig’. It is similar to a pig in that it has a similarly shaped body and of course, a long snout. It also has rabbit-like ears and a tail like a kangaroo. The aardvark is, however, not related to any of these animals. They are the last surviving members of a group called ‘primitive ungulates’. Their skin is pinkish-grey or greyish-brown with a very thick hide that protects it from insects.
These nocturnal mammals can get up to 110cm long, excluding the tail, which can get to 60cm long. Their shoulder height is on average 60cm. They have four digits on their forefeet and five digits on their hind feet, all of which have long, claw-like nails. They have very few and unique teeth, which in adults are found at the back of the jaw. These teeth are unique in that they are not attached to the jaw, and continue to grow throughout the aardvarks’ lifetime. The teeth aren’t covered in enamel like other mammals (including humans); instead they are covered by a cement-like layer.
The aardvark spends its days feeding on termites and other insects. Feeding at night, they follow a path among the termite nests, sweeping their snout along the ground. They travel up to 16km at night in search for food, using their claws to tear open termite mounds and their long tongue with its a sticky saliva to catch insects. They have very poor eyesight but excellent hearing, and are also very good swimmers.
There is no breeding season as such for the aardvarks. Gestation lasts for seven months where one young is produced. The young aardvarks are born hairless and pink and stay in the burrow for about two weeks before going outside with their mothers.
The aardvark is a solitary mammal that spends its days sleeping, curled up in a tight ball in an underground burrow that has been dug with its powerful claws. Their forefeet are used as spades, which loosen the dirt, while the hind feet push the dirt back out of the hole. The burrow isn’t just used for sleeping. It is also made to find food, and provide a place for their young to be safe. The burrows can get up to 13m long underground and often have several different entrances. Warthogs and jackals often take over old aardvark burrows once the aardvark’s abandon them.