(summary from an article by Gaynor Siljeur, Wild Nature May 2019)
Despite being found throughout Southern Africa, the aardvark is rarely spotted as it mostly digs around for termites and ants at night. A sighting of this elusive creature is one you’ll never forget.
There is no other animal in the wild you can confuse with an aardvark. The ears of a rabbit, the snout of a pig, the body of a bear, the tail of a kangaroo… Its unique features make the aardvark truly one of a kind.
Weighing up to 70kg, its large body is covered by a coat of white or buff hair so sparse you can see the pink or yellow-grey skin showing through. Due to spending most of its time digging around in the dirt, the aardvark takes on the colour of the ground where it lives.
The snout has slit-shaped nostrils perfect for closing when the aardvark goes digging around underground for shelter and food. The animal uses its long tongue (up to 30cm!) to extend into holes in search of insects.
The aardvark’s size and hunched back may suggest that they don’t move that quickly, but don’t let that fool you. These animals are master excavators and can dig a 1m tunnel in an unbelievable five minutes.
The aardvark digs two types of burrows: shallow burrows for temporary shelter and larger burrows used for tunnel systems. The shallower tunnels are dug only a few metres below the ground with few entrances used for a couple of days at a time and for possible return later. The larger tunnel systems, which they use regularly, can extend up to 6m. Females also use these larger tunnel spaces to give birth in. Once inside these tunnels, the aardvark usually closes the entrance with loose soil, leaving a small gap for air at the top.
Aardvarks are nocturnal animals that are active during the night and rest during the day. They forage for 5-7 hours during winter and up to 9 hours during summer, making good use of their snouts to detect the underground termite and ant nests and scrape them open with their front claws. Their long sticky tongue can be protruded for about 20-30cm into these nests and withdrawn with the termites and ants sticking to it. Yum!
Fast fact: Did you know mice skeletons have been recorded in aardvark droppings? Scientists think the mice might have hidden in a termite mound and been scooped up with mouthfuls of earth while the aardvark was digging. (For more interesting facts please refer to the article by Gaynor Siljeur, Wild Nature May 2019.)