The word ‘aardvark’ is derived from an old Afrikaans word which literally means ‘earth-pig’. Aardvarks are native to Africa and are one of the most unusual living mammals. Their closest relatives are not South American anteaters, as once thought, but elephants, hyraxes, sirenians (such as dugongs and manatees) and tenrecs.
Aardvarks are bizarre-looking creatures. They look at bit like pigs with rabbit-like ears and kangaroo-like tails. Their powerful legs and claws help them dig and burrow, which are behaviours that are essential to their lifestyle.
Aardvarks have an excellent sense of smell and their long, prehensile snouts are excellent at searching for ants and termites in the soil. To stop dust and insects getting in their nose, they seal their nostrils shut with their thick nose hairs. Aardvarks also have distinctive teeth, but they don’t really use them to chew. Instead, they swallow food whole and grind it up in their specialised stomachs.
Aardvarks don’t see in colour, which isn’t a problem because they are nocturnal. They spend most of the day alone, sleeping in their burrows to avoid temperature extremes and predators. Aardvarks sometimes travel several kilometres and visit up to 200 ant or termite colonies in one night, looking for food. Since their prey is very small, they can eat up to 50,000 insects in a night!
At times, Aardvarks cause problems for farmers because livestock have been known to fall into Aardvark burrows. As a result, farmers tend to shoot Aardvarks on sight. Aardvarks are also hunted for the bush meat and traditional medicine trades, but are not considered threatened at present due to their widespread distribution.