(Orycteropus afer)

The name aardvark comes from the Afrikaans/Dutch term meaning “earth pig”. This name is very fitting as the aardvark resembles a medium to large size pig and is an accomplished burrower. Aardvarks are considered a keystone species by some biologists because so many other animals are heavily reliant on their burrows for shelter.

The aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is the only living representative of an entire order of animals, the Tubulidentata.

Urgent Conservation Actions
There are no specific conservation recommendations for this species.
Throughout Africa south of the Sahara.
Associated Blog Posts
23rd Mar 12
A baby aardvark was born in Antwerpen zoo in Belgium on the 6th of January, called ‘Nuru’, which means 'light' in Swahili. It is only the tenth baby...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Tubulidentata
Family: Orycteropodidae
The order Tubulidentata contains only one family, Orycteropodidae, of which the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is the only living species. There are 3 extinct genera, although some argue that one of these, Plesiorycteropus, represents a separate order. The fossils record for the Tubulidentata dates back to the Eocene (55-34 million years ago). In the Miocene (24-5 million years ago) Tubulidentata showed its widest distribution and greatest diversity, with 6 Euroasian and 5 African species of Orycteropus existing at this time. However, by the Pleistocene Orycteropus was limited to Africa and today the aardvark is the only remaining species and has been present in Algeria since the late Pleistocene (2 million to 10,000 years ago) until the present time.
Head and body length: 1,000-1,580 mm
Shoulder height: 600-650 mm
Tail length: 443-710 mm
Weight: A typical adult weighs 50-70kg
The aardvark has a large powerful body with an arched back. Its head and snout are elongated. It has a rounded muzzle similar to that of a pig. A typical adult’s head and body measurement is 1,000-1,580mm. The tail is muscular and thick at the base, measuring 443-710mm.  Shoulder height is between 600 and 650mm. A typical adult weighs 50-70kg, with males being slightly larger than females. The skin is pinkish and very thick; it appears to be impervious to insect bites and can even help protect the aardvark from an attack by a predator. The bristly hair is brown to grey in colour. Sensitive facial hairs, known as vibrissae, are present around the eyes and muzzle. The ears are tubular and capable of moving independently of each other. The long tapering tongue can extend up to 300mm. The legs are short and stocky. The feet are equipped with strong blunt claws suited to burrowing. The teeth do not grow simultaneously, the ones at front growing first and being replaced by others from further back in the mouth when they fall out.
The aardvark is an adept digger. It uses its powerful forefeet to dig and pushes the excavated earth away using its back legs and strong tail. It constructs three different types of burrow: shallow holes when hunting for food; temporary shelters; and extensive systems of tunnels when the young are born. The aardvark is regarded as a keystone species as the holes it digs are utilised by many other species, including snakes, lizards, hyenas and wild dogs. The aardvark is mainly nocturnal (or night-active) and it emerges from its burrow to feed in the dark. It moves between termite mounds in a zigzag pattern along a route that it follows regularly. The aardvark walks on its claws with its trail dragging on the ground. Its movements appear slow and awkward, yet it is capable of moving rapidly if alarmed. Its eyesight is poor but it has acute hearing and a good sense of smell. The aardvark tears into the nests of ants and termites, which are then gathered up using its long sticky tongue. Typically an aardvark travels about 10km a night. Both sexes have been reported to utilize a home range about 3.5km in diameter. Aardvarks are generally solitary but the young accompany the mother for a long time after birth. Sexual maturity is reached at about 2 years and gestation lasts 7-9 months. Usually one offspring is produced, occasionally two. The young remain in the burrow for about 2 weeks after which time they accompany the mother for several months.
Aardvarks occur in a variety of habitats including grassy plains, woodland and savannah. They prefer sandy soils but the main factor influencing their distribution appears to be availability of ants and termites.
The aardvark is a widespread species found in most of the sub-Saharan countries in Africa, wherever suitable habitat and food resources can be located.
Population Estimate
Although aardvarks are rarely seen, this is because of their elusive behaviour and not necessarily due to low numbers. A population estimate for the species is currently unknown.
Population Trend
Population trends are very difficult to assess. In southern Africa the population is believed to be stable aside from fluctuations occurring in response to natural variation of environmental conditions. In eastern, central, and western Africa, however, numbers may be declining as a result of human population increase and settlement expansion, habitat destruction and conversion into agriculture, and subsistence hunting (Nowak. 1999).
The aardvark is listed as Least Concern in the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The aardvark has no major threats. Minor threats include habitat loss due to agricultural conversion and subsistence hunting for meat. In some areas the hide of the aardvark is made into straps and bracelets and the claws used as good luck charms. The burrows can cause damage to faming equipment and in certain areas farmers have exterminated aardvarks. However, in areas where aardvarks have been removed termites have subsequently inflicted enormous damage on crops.
Conservation Underway
No conservation measures have been recommended at present.
Conservation Proposed

Baillie, J. and Groombridge, B. (compilers and editors) (1996). 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Boitani, L. (1998). African Mammals Databank - A databank for the conservation and management of the African mammals, volumes 1 and 2. Report to the Directorate-General for Development of the European Commission, Bruxelles. Project No. B7-6200/94-15/VIII/ENV. Istituto Ecologia Applicata, Rome.p>

Kingdon, J. (1997). The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, London, UK.

Lehmann, T., Vignaud, P., Likius, A. and Brunet, M (2005). A new species of Orycteropodidae (Mammalia, Tubulidentata) in the Mio-Pliocene of northern Chad. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 143 (1) : 109-131

Lehmann, T., Vignaud, P., Mackaye, H.T., and Brunet, M (2004) A fossil aardvark (Mammalia, Tubulidentata) from the lower Pliocene of Chad. Journal of African Earth Sciences 40 (5) : 201-217

Lindsey, P., Cilliers, S., Griffin, M. & Rathbun, G. (2006). Orycteropus afer. In: IUCN (2006). 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 18 May 2006.

Meester, J.A.J., Rautenback, I.L., Dippenaar, N.J. and Baker, C.M. (1986). Classification of Southern African Mammals. Transvaal Museum Monograph No.5.

Nowak, R.M. (ed.) (1999) Walkers Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Skinner, J.D. and Smithers, R.H.N. (1990). The mammals of the southern African subregion, second edition University of Pretoria, Pretoria. South Africa.

Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997). Field guide to the larger mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

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Forum comments
  1. macaws

    I have never heard of the Aardvark and so found the article on this mammal vey interesting! It was really strange that these mammals are also called “earth pigs” because they are accomplished burrowers. With all information about what you would possibly want to know about these rare species of mammals which are found in different parts of Africa, it has really helped me to learn about this curious mammal!

    Posted 6 years ago #

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