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Aardvark

The aardvark is a medium-sized mammal that lives in Africa. It is known for its burrowing and as an insectivore. Burrowing because he digs to create burrows in which to live and rear its young. An insectivore because he feeds on insects. It roams over most of the southern two-thirds of the African continent, avoiding areas that are mainly rocky.

Description

The aardvark looks vaguely like a pig, but It has an arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. is pale yellowish-gray in color and often stained reddish-brown by soil. It's rear legs are longer than front legs. The front feet have four toes, while the rear feet have five toes. Each toe bears a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like, and appears to be intermediate between a claw and a hoof.

An aardvark is a rather heavy and large animal. It typically weighs between 80 and 180 lbs. An aardvark's length is usually between 3.4 and 4.2 ft. And when its tail of up to 28 in is taken into account, it can reach lengths of 7 ft 3 in. At the shoulder, it is up to 2 ft tall.

The aardvark's coat is thin, and the animal's primary protection is its tough skin. Its hair is short on its head and tail; however its legs tend to have longer hair. The hair on the majority of its body is grouped in clusters of 3-4 hairs. Its tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers.

When it digs, a lot of dirt can be flying around, so it's got heavy hair in its nostrils, to help protect it from all the debree flying around.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Tubulidentata is their teeth. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and regrow continuously. The aardvark is also born with two conventional pointy teeth at the front of the jaw. When these fall out, they are not replaced. Adult aardvarks have only cheek teeth at the back of the jaw. These remaining teeth are peg-like and rootless and are of unique composition. The teeth consist of 14 upper and 12 lower jaw molars.

Digestive system

The aardvark's stomach has a muscular pyloric area that acts as a gizzard to grind swallowed food up, thereby rendering chewing unnecessary.

Habitat and range

Aardvarks are found in sub-Saharan Africa, where suitable habitat (savannas, grasslands, woodlands and bushland) and food (i.e., ants and termites) is available. They spend the daylight hours in dark underground burrows to avoid the heat of the day. The only major habitat that they are not present in is swamp forest, as the high water table precludes digging to a sufficient depth. They also avoid terrain rocky enough to cause problems with digging. They have been documented as high as 10,500 ft in Ethiopia. They are present throughout sub-Saharan Africa all the way to South Africa with few exceptions. These exceptions include the coastal areas of Namibia, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. They are not found in Madagascar.

Living quarters

Aside from digging out ants and termites, the aardvark also excavates burrows in which to live; of which they generally fall into three categories: burrows made while foraging, refuge and resting location, and permanent homes. Temporary sites are scattered around the home range and are used as refuges, while the main burrow is also used for breeding. Main burrows can be deep and extensive, have several entrances and can be as long as 43 ft. These burrows can be large enough for a man to enter. The aardvark changes the layout of its home burrow regularly, and periodically moves on and makes a new one. The old burrows are an important part of the African wildlife scene. As they are vacated, then they are inhabited by smaller animals like the African wild dog, ant-eating chat, Nycteris thebaica and warthogs. Other animals that use them are hares, mongooses, hyenas, owls, pythons, and lizards. Without these refuges many animals would die during wildfire season. Only mothers and young share burrows; however, the aardvark is known to live in small family groups or as a solitary creature.

Ecology and behavior

Aardvarks live for up to 23 years in captivity. Its keen hearing warns it of predators: lions, leopards, cheetahs, hunting dogs, hyenas, and pythons. Some humans also hunt aardvarks for meat. Aardvarks can dig fast or run in zigzag fashion to elude enemies, but if all else fails, they will strike with their claws, tail and shoulders, sometimes flipping onto their backs lying motionless except to lash out with all four feet. They are capable of causing substantial damage to unprotected areas of an attacker. They will also dig to escape as they can, when pressed, dig extremely quickly. Their thick skin also protects them to some extent.

Feeding

The aardvark is nocturnal and is a solitary creature that feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites. They avoid eating the African driver ant and red ants. The only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber. In fact, the cucumber and the aardvark have a symbiotic relationship as they eat the subterranean fruit, then defecate the seeds near their burrows, which then grow rapidly due to the loose soil and fertile nature of the area. The time spent in the intestine of the aardvark helps the fertility of the seed, and the fruit provides needed moisture for the aardvark. This is one of many examples of interdependence in nature, which requires all systems in nature to exist at the same time.

Due to their stringent diet requirements, they require a large range to survive. An aardvark emerges from its burrow in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forages over a considerable home range encompassing 10 to 30 kilometres (6.2 to 18.6 mi). While foraging for food, the aardvark will keep its nose to the ground and its ears pointed forward, which indicates that both smell and hearing are involved in the search for food. They zig-zag as they forage and will usually not repeat a route for 5–8 days as they appear to allow time for the termite nests to recover before feeding on it again.

During a foraging period, they will stop and dig a "V" shaped trench with their forefeet and then sniff it profusely as a means to explore their location. When a concentration of ants or termites is detected, the aardvark digs into it with its powerful front legs, keeping its long ears upright to listen for predators, and takes up an astonishing number of insects with its long, sticky tongue—as many as 50,000 in one night have been recorded. Its claws enable it to dig through the extremely hard crust of a termite or ant mound quickly. When successful, the aardvark's long (up to 12 in) tongue licks up the insects; the termites' biting, or the ants' stinging attacks are rendered futile by the tough skin. After an aardvark visit at a termite mound, other animals will visit to pick up all the leftovers. Termite mounds alone don't provide enough food for the aardvark, so they look for termites that are on the move. When these insects move, they can form columns 33–130 ft long and these tend to provide easy pickings with little effort exerted by the aardvark. These columns are more common in areas of livestock or other hoofed animals.

On a nightly basis they tend to be more active during the first portion of the night time (20:00-00:00); however, they don't seem to prefer bright or dark nights over the other. During adverse weather or if disturbed they will retreat to their burrow systems. They cover between 1 and 3 mi per night; however, some studies have shown that they may traverse as far as 19 mi in a night.

Vocalization

The aardvark is a rather quiet animal. However, it does make soft grunting sounds as it forages and loud grunts as it makes for its tunnel entrance. It makes a bleating sound if frightened. When it is threatened it will make for one of its burrows. If one is not close it will dig a new one rapidly. This new one will be short and require the aardvark to back out when the coast is clear.

Movement

The aardvark is known to be a good swimmer and has been witnessed successfully swimming in strong currents. It can dig a yard of tunnel in about five minutes, but otherwise moves fairly slowly.

When leaving the burrow at night, they pause at the entrance for about ten minutes, sniffing and listening. After this period of watchfulness, it will bound out and within seconds it will be 33 ft away. It will then pause, prick its ears, twisting its head to listen, then jump and move off to start foraging.

If attacked in the tunnel, it will escape by digging out of the tunnel thereby placing the fresh fill between it and its predator, or if it decides to fight it will roll onto its back, and attack with its claws. The aardvark has been known to sleep in a recently excavated ant nest, which also serves as protection from its predators.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardvark

Image by MontageMan

This content is licensed under Creative Commons License

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