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Aardvarks in the African Savanna

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Explore the mystery and beauty of aardvarks with this blog by Bushwise student Zander Kok, who wrote this blog based on his own research. Learn about their habits, behavior and role in the African savanna ecosystem, and gain a new appreciation for these unique creatures.

3 min read

Because they are nocturnal and rarely seen in daytime, an Aardvark is a very special and rare animal to see in the wild. In the winter months they get active before sunset because termites are less mobile in those months. So, it is an easy way for them to get a meal. 

An aardvark is a medium-sized animal that uses its claws to burrow into the ground. It has a pig-like snout and its tail looks almost rat-like. No other animal is related to the aardvark. It has short front legs with hoofed claws that it uses to burrow holes with, while its back is arched.  

Where did the aardvark get its name?

An image of an aardvark that has been edited to remove the background, so that the focus is entirely on this unique and rare species of the African bush.

The aardvark got its name because its species is known for digging large burrows. The word ”aard” is the Afrikaans word for earth, and the second part of its name “vark” is the Afrikaans word for pig because of its appearance and its pig-like snout. 

Aardvarks sometimes make a growling or sniffing sound. If an Aardvark is in captivity, then they do not make any noise, but they are always loud when digging. 

Male and females can be told apart by some colour differences. Females have a lighter tail, sometimes it almost looks white, while males are darker. They weigh 40-70 kg (130-180 lbs) and are about 60 cm (24 inches) tall. They can be up to almost two metres (6 feet) long, with their tails making up about a third of this. 

What do aardvarks eat?

The aardvark is known for eating termites and ants in the dry season. Aardvarks have also been found with pulp seeds and sweet melons in their stomach. They also sometimes eat cucumbers. The cucumbers that Aardvarks eat are known as the African cucumber and can be found in the woodlands of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. 

The aardvark uses its long claws to burrow into termite hills and then uses its long protractile tongue – which is covered in thick, sticky saliva – to trap its prey. Aardvarks actually have a distinctive smell due to this diet. This is because termites spray a foul-smelling chemical substance as a form of defense, which gets on the aardvarks and makes them a bit stinky!

Where do aardvarks live?

An aardvark crossing an open dirt road in the African savanna

Aardvarks live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and they prefer open bushveld and savannah areas. Aardvarks spend most of their day sleeping in their burrow holes underground. An aardvark’s home range is between 2-5 square kilometres. Aardvarks are really rare to see. The best chance to see one of them would be on a night drive in open terrain in the South African winter season. 

If you go on a night drive in open areas, look for termite hills. The aardvark mostly feeds at night and moves around 2-15 kilometres in five to ten hours looking for food. If it finds a nice nest to feed on, it will feed there for many hours. 

The aardvark’s mating season starts in July and lasts until September. A female aardvark’s gestation period is approximately 7 months.Young aardvark will stay with their mother until they are able to dig holes on their own which normally happens when they are 7 months old. 

What hunts aardvarks?

The aardvark has a few natural enemies – including honey badgers, dogs and all bigger predators. The young are sometimes caught by pythons and hyaenas, and lions sometimes try to dig them up. 

Unfortunately, the greatest danger that the aardvark faces is humans. They are killed in some places for meat and their hide can be used like leather. The hide was historically used by people from the Voortrekker days to make ox straps. They may also be targeted because they dig under fences and dam walls. Aardvarks are not considered endangered at the moment, but their total numbers are vulnerable and in some areas they have gone extinct. 

Learn about unusual, rare, and endangered animals on a Bushwise Professional Field Guide or Safari Guide course. Find out more and apply today!

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