The Aardvark - Out on an Evolutionary Limb
A bit of everything
The aardvark has donkey-like ears, a tail like a rat, looks a bit like a kangaroo and is about as heavy as a man. It can dig faster than six men with spades, thanks to its big claw-tipped feet and keeps its rather large frame going on a diet of ants and termites, with the occasional side of aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humofructus).
Scientists believe that the aardvark may be related to a diverse array of creatures such as pangolins, elephants, dassies, moles and manatees – maybe.
One of a kind
With lack of evolutionary fossil evidence to the contrary, few scientists have speculated as to the origins of the aardvark. If almost seems like this bizarre mammal just appeared one day. Hence the aardvark remains alone in the ancient order of Tubulidentata, meaning 'tubule style teeth'.
This classification refers to the lack of enamel or a pulp core in its teeth. Instead, each tooth is filled with over a thousand thin, upright, parallel tubes of dentine.
Diligent in its search for food and fearless in the face of aggressive soldier ants, the aardvark approaches mealtimes with an admirable staying power. When encountering a line of these insects on the move, which can stretch for up to 40m, the aardvark simply gets to work with its agile tongue and works its way down the line.
When confronted with a termite mound, the aardvark will patiently listen and sniff to determine which part of the nest is the closest to the surface, before getting busy with its powerful claws to dismantle it.
A rare sighting
Although aardvark are not endangered, they are not often seen while out on safari. These are solitary, nocturnal animals and it is lucky sighting to come across one sunning itself outside of its burrow during the daytime.
Ask your ranger if he knows of any aardvark burrows that you can visit during your night drive, and perhaps spot an aardvark emerging for its evening activities.