AARDVARK
Fact Sheet


Avg. Adult weight
40 - 65 kilograms *
Height at shoulder
0.4 - 0.65 meters **
Total length
1.4 - 2.2 meters **
Tail length
0.45 - 0.6 meters
Lifespan
Approx. 13 years
Gestation
Between 235-258 days
Single baby born during winter months in Southern African regions.
Food
Mainly ants and termites
* Data based on 31 aardvarks observed in Zimbabwe (Smithers & Wilson 1979)
** Data from Shoshani et al. (1988)





Generalities

The aardvark - Orycteropus afer - is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, family Orycteropodidae; it is the only mammalian order to contain a single extant species. The name Tubulidentata means "tube of teeth" and refers to the unique microstructure of its teeth. Indeed, each tooth consists of thousands of vertical tubes of dentine agglutinated. The genus name - Orycteropus - means "digging foot" (see Lehmann, 2007).

Aardvarks are sparsely scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It has been suggested that the Egyptian God Seth was associated with the aardvark (Frechkop, 1946). This would imply that aardvarks occurred in northern Africa in historical times. Rarely seen, these solitary nocturnal creatures roam the savannah plains night after night in search of ants or a tasty termite mound to help satisfy their appetites. But aardvarks have also been spotted in the forest of Gabon (e.g. Pagès, 1970). There are 18 possible sub-species of extant aardvark but little is known about the actual intra-specific variability (or polymorphism) of Orycteropus afer (see Shoshani et al., 1988, Lehmann, 2006).

The oldest-known fossil reveals that aardvarks lived about 20 million years ago in Africa (Kenya). Moreover, numerous extinct species, aged between 15 and 3 million years, have also been discovered in Europe and Asia. Aardvark diversity was greater in the past than at present, with up to four genera described (Lehmann, 2006). Recent genetic studies (increasingly supported by morphological and palaeontological studies) have suggested that aardvarks are closely related to the dassies (hyraxes), elephants (proboscideans), golden-moles (chrysoclorids), manatees and dugongs (sirenians), tenrecs, and more closely the elephant shrews (macroscelids) (e.g. Stanhope et al., 1998; Springer & Murphy, 2007; Nishihara et al., 2007).


Main threats

Declining natural habitat (aridity, urbanisation).
Leopard, lion, hyena (preying on young), and snakes.
Man: eating aardvark flesh as bush-meat or using parts of the animal as curios and charms.


Aardvarks are not listed by CITES and are considered as Least Threatened by the IUCN, although we still lack fundamental information about the ecology of this species. The ecological importance of the aardvark is beginning to be understood, but as their natural habitat declines in some regions, a simple, yet integrated ecological system may be lost.