Category: Wildlife

Aardvark, anteater – What’s the difference? Quite a bit, as it turns out. While sometimes mistaken for each other, despite living on separate continents and really looking nothing alike, these two animals are often confused for one another or believed to be close relatives. It would be the equivalent of assuming all human vegetarians came from the same family. The considerably hairier Anteaters – found in Central and South America – are closely related to sloths. The African aardvark, which is so pig-like that its name translates to earth-pig in Afrikaans, has a limited family and its closest relative is the elephant shrew and, oddly, the elephant itself. Their similar habits and physical traits are an example of convergent evolution, where two unrelated species evolve comparable qualities completely separate from one another. This generally happens when they live in equivalent terrain or seek the same prey, as is the case here.



Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia Phylum - Chordata Class – Mammalia Superorder - Afrotheria Order - Tubulidentata Family - Orycteropodidae Genus – Orycteropus Species – Orycteropus afer

Common Names – Cape anteater, anteater (incorrect), African ant bear, antbear


Aardvarks appear to have the body and snout of a pig, the ears of a rabbit, the face of a shrew, and the tail of a very large rat. They have four toes on each front foot and five on each hind foot. Each toe is equipped with a large, spade-like claw that is specially designed for digging in the baked earth that comprises termite or ant mounds. The claw is actually considered to be an intermediate between a claw and a hoof. They can weigh up to 180 pounds and stand over four feet, with 140 pounds and a bit over two feet being more common. Aardvarks can be found in nearly all of Africa south of the southern reaches of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan. Within that massive region, they will live anywhere from savannas to rain forests, as long as there are sufficient termites or ants. Lifespans of 10-20 years are common in captivity, but the exact number is unknown for the wild. Poor eyesight does not seem to be a deterrent for these animals as they more than compensate with their fine senses of smell and hearing.


Females produce an average of one offspring a year beginning at the age of two. Otherwise solitary animals, aardvarks come together briefly for mating and then separate again. A seven month gestation results in a 3-5 pound hairless baby covered with wrinkles and with floppy, pinkish ears. The nursing baby can leave the burrow in a few weeks and begin eating termites after 8-9 weeks. The baby is weaned at three months and it will leave its mother after 6-12 months.


Aardvarks are solitary and nocturnal, spending the hot African days in extensive burrows and coming out at night to travel miles if necessary to find termite mounds. When they come upon a mound, they act quickly so that they can trap as many termites as possible – up to fifty thousand. They will dismantle the top of the mound, digging as much as two feet in fifteen seconds and then use their 12 inch tongue covered with sticky saliva to extract the insects. Their nostrils can close to protect against debris or insects from entering the sensitive nasal passages and their skin is thick enough that even large soldier ants cannot do them much harm. While they are technically classified as omnivores, aardvarks will exclusively eat termites and ants unless they are forced to seek other nourishment. Predators include larger cats such as lions as well as hyenas and pythons. Flight is their first defense, either by running in an irregular pattern or by digging, but they will use their claws as a defense as well.


The order tubulidentata has only one surviving member – the aardvark. The order first appeared in the Paleocene, about 65-70 million years ago and spread through Eurasia but most were extinct by the end of the Pliocene, about 2-5 million years ago. Fossils of aardvarks have been dated from 5 million years. Present status While there are no definitive numbers on current aardvark stocks, they are not considered to be under threat. Being solitary, secretive, and nocturnal, they can be difficult to track, but the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has them listed as least concern. Unless there is a serious decline in termite numbers, there is no belief that aardvarks are in danger.


Thomson Gale's Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia by Rudi, PhD van Aarde

East African Mammals In The United States National Museum: Rodentia, Lagomorpha, And Tubulidentata by Ned Hollister The Rise of Placental Mammals: Origins and Relationships of the Major Extant Clades edited by Kenneth D. Rose, J. David Archibald National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife by Peter C. Alden, Richard D. Estes, Duane Schlitter, Bunny McBride The Wildlife of Southern Africa: New Edition by Vincent Carruthers