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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Getting To Know The Aardvark

Updated: May 29

This blog about aardvarks was written by Kathleen-May Wessels. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.

Read time: 4 mins

The aardvark is an animal that is often overlooked – which might be because they are very shy and nocturnal. But they are interesting and unique animals. So unique in fact that they are the only animal in their order, Tubulidentata. 

Built for survival

Aardvarks have poor eyesight and are colour blind. Thankfully, they have a highly developed sense of smell and hearing, which they use to listen and sniff with their pig-like noses flat against the ground in search of ants and termites. Once they find a termite mound, they start to dig. 

Aardvarks rely heavily on their ability to dig. It is their first line of defence as they use their skills to either flee into the nearest burrow or make a new one in a matter of minutes – which is an impressive sight to see! They dig burrows for shelter and protection and they also dig to find their food. 

Aardvark digging in the wild

Aardvarks are highly adaptable. They do not need water, so the only requirement for their survival is a food source – which is usually termites or ants. 

Their fur is usually the colour of the soil that surrounds them, which protects them from predators, and they can protect their ears while digging by folding them backwards. They also hardly ever make a sound, only growling and sniffing.

The surprising strength of aardvarks 

Aardvarks have incredible strength. A farmer in the 1980s hit an aardvark with his Toyota Cressida and thought it had died from the impact. So because aardvark meat is considered a delicacy by some, he loaded it into his car. Once he arrived home, he decided to leave the aardvark in his trunk for the night. 

Through the night, the aardvark regained consciousness, and ripped through the back seat, destroyed the dashboard and forced open the doors to escape! Imagine the incredible strength of this seemingly small shy creature.

termite mounds are strong! But Aardvarks can still dig past them

They use this strength to dig into termite mounds – which you can bend a pickaxe on if you tried the same thing – then stick their saliva covered 30 cm long tongue into the hole and lap up the critters that stick to the wetness of their tongue.

Although this sounds like the easiest method to get food, it does not always go this well. There are times when they are attacked by soldier ants. The aardvark then has to make a choice – either dig further or cut its losses and run away. Sometimes the aardvark’s response is to rub itself against trees in an attempt to remove the pain.

Aardvark cucumbers

Aardvarks are also considered a key species in an ecosystem. They regulate the termite numbers. They also leave behind a lot of empty and abandoned burrows which provide shelter and homes for a number of animals. Warthogs rely on aardvark burrows for shelter. Many other animals and plants need aardvarks too – such as the aardvark cucumber. 

There is a rather strange symbiotic relationship between the aardvark and the aardvark cucumber. This cucumber grows and ripens underground – a process known as geocarpy. Aardvarks are the only creatures known to eat these cucumbers and love to eat them for their water content. They then deposit the seeds in other locations where the seeds use the nutrients in the feces to grow again. In this way, the cucumber is completely dependent on the aardvark for survival.

Cucumis humifructus AKA, aardvark cucumber growing

It is very important to learn about these animals as a guide in order to share the amazing impact one creature can have on an ecosystem. It is also important to understand that although aardvarks are tough, their numbers are decreasing because farmers kill them due to the destruction they cause while digging for termites. 

Without aardvarks, there would be too many termites. Animal species that rely on their burrows will also decrease. It is important that we understand not only the fragility, but also the regenerating ability of nature.

Experience and learn more of the unusual out here at Bushwise – the next chapter of your adventurous life begins now!


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