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Orycteropus afer [or ik ter' uh puhs af' er]
"Aardvark" comes from South Africa's Afrikaans language and means "earth pig," a reference to the animal's pig-like body and snout. It also boasts rabbitlike ears and a kangaroo tail, although the aardvark is related to none of these animals.
An adult aardvark is about 6 feet long, including a 2-foot tail, and stands about 2 feet high at the shoulder. The feet have very strong claws -- four on the front feet and five on the hind feet.
Distribution and Habitat
Aardvarks are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara. They live in virtually every habitat, from dry savanna to rain forest, where there is sufficient access to water and sandy or clay soil.
Habits and Behaviors
Aardvarks are nocturnal, solitary, and secretive. It is possible to spend years in their natural range without ever seeing a single aardvark.
The aardvark's powerful limbs and sharp claws allow it to burrow into earth with incredible speed. This it does if disturbed away from its home burrow.
The burrow is 3 to 4 yards long, with a sleeping chamber at the end. Each aardvark has several burrows, some of them miles apart.
On any given night an aardvark may travel anywhere from one to eighteen miles in search of food.
The aardvark's principal food is termites. It uses its sharp claws to rip through the wall of termite nests. At this disturbance the termites swarm, and the aardvark can use its slender 18-inch tongue to literally "pig out." Tough skin on its nostrils helps protect the aardvark from termite bites. It can also close its nostrils to prevent termites from getting into its nasal passages. As well as tearing open nests, the aardvark will seek out termites in rotten wood or while they are on the march.
In addition to termites, an aardvark will also eat other soft-bodied insects and some fruit.
The single young is born in midsummer in its mother's burrow. It will begin accompanying its mother on feeding trips after about two weeks, and is able to dig its own burrow at about six months.
This page was last updated on January 24, 2017.