Such an unusual and funny aardvark makes some people smile, others bewilderment. This is one of the oldest inhabitants of our planet, who, fortunately, has survived to our times and is the only representative of his eponymous detachment. The aardvark is a fairly exotic animal that inhabits the extremely hot African continent.
Origin of the species and description
The aardvark with its exterior is very similar to a piglet, only it has an elongated muzzle and donkey ears, as if a wizard from a fairy tale mixed up something and created such a perky creature. The aardvark acquired its name due to the unusual structure of the molars, consisting of dentin tubules that have grown together, have neither roots nor enamel, and their growth never stops.
The scientific name of the aardvark is translated from Greek as “burrowing limbs”. The Dutch, who arrived in Africa, called this animal “aard-vark”, which translates as “earthen pig”. It symbolizes the resemblance of the aardvark to a pig and its ability to dig holes. The tribes inhabiting the African space, for a long time, called the unusual pig “Abu Delaf”, which means “father of claws”, and the aardvark's claws are really powerful and remarkable.
At first, the aardvark was classified as an anteater, apparently due to some similarities, especially in the menu. Then scientists realized that this animal has nothing to do with anteaters. Little is known about the origin of the aardvark order. It has been established that this animal has family ties with elephants, manatees and hyraxes.
It is clear that the aardvark is the oldest representative of mammals. This is evidenced by the found prehistoric remains of this animal, which were discovered in Kenya. Scientists believe that these remains are more than twenty million years old. It is known that ancient aardvarks inhabited the south of Europe, Madagascar and the western part of Asia. Now they can only be found in Africa.
Aardvarks are thought to be a primitive form of ungulates. This conclusion is based not on external similarities, but on internal ones, including the structure of the brain, muscles and teeth. Zoologists suggest that this unique creature has practically not changed since ancient times and has survived to our time in its original form. The aardvark, by right, can be called a rarity, and it is also called African or Cape.
Appearance and features
The appearance of the aardvark is very extraordinary; it combines the features of several animals at once. The long muzzle of the aardvark is similar to that of the anteater. With its physique and funny snout, it resembles an ordinary pig, large ears are similar to those of a hare or donkey, their length reaches 22 cm. The aardvark's powerful tail is similar to the tail of a kangaroo. tail, which is more than half a meter in length. This exotic “pig” weighs about 65 kg, but there are specimens that are heavier – up to 90 kg. The females are slightly smaller than the males. Also, the female is distinguished by the presence of four nipples.
The thick-skinned aardvark does not have a rich and beautiful fur coat. Its body is covered with sparse coarse hairs, similar to bristles, which has a brownish-yellow color. The muzzle and tail are painted in white or pink tones, and the legs are darker in color. This animal does not need thick fur, because it lives on a hot mainland. The thick and rough skin protects it from the encroachments of all kinds of insects and even predators.
The strong and strong limbs of the aardvark, like powerful excavators, excellently dig the ground and destroy termite mounds. At the end of the fingers are large claws-hooves that serve as a defensive weapon against ill-wishers.
In general, the aardvark is strong enough, only he lacks a little courage. His sense of smell and hearing are simply excellent, and this is not surprising, because his nose and ears are visible from afar. The aardvark was let down only by his eyesight, which he has very weak, his small eyes see almost nothing during the day, and at night they distinguish only black and white shades. An interesting feature of the animal is that the aardvark is color-blind, this is how its eyes are arranged, the retina of which is equipped only with cones.
Special attention should be paid to the structure of his teeth, which has already been mentioned. The teeth are located in the back of the jaw, 4 or 6 pieces on each half. They stand solidly, in columns, inside each of which there are thousands of vertical dentinal tubules. Inside the tubules are nerve endings and blood vessels. Such unusual teeth are not covered with enamel and have no roots, but their growth is constant, because they wear out quickly.
Where does the aardvark live?
Although the ancestors of aardvarks were distributed across different continents, now this one and only representative of the aardvark order has a permanent place of residence only within the sultry African continent. These amazing creatures settled south of the Sahara, with the exception of the jungle located in Central Africa. It is known that the populations that previously lived in the Nile Valley and in the highlands of Algeria have completely died out.
Aardvarks prefer a more arid climate, so they eschew large forests located on the African equator, because. it often rains there. These animals do not like swampy and too stony places, because it is difficult to dig holes on such soils. In the mountain ranges, the aardvark cannot be found higher than 2 km in height. These unusual animals choose the African savannas, where it is convenient to dig huge tunnels in which aardvarks prefer to sleep during the daytime, leading a rather secretive and mysterious life, about which scientists still know little.
What does the aardvark eat?
To thoroughly eat, the aardvark chooses the night time, when he feels most safe, and do not forget that during the day he is almost blind. The menu of this animal is as exotic as it is, its main dishes are ants and termites. The aardvark does not disdain and various larvae of other insects, eats locusts, there are other orthoptera in its diet. Rarely, but still, mushrooms, a variety of juicy fruits and berries may be present on the aardvark menu.
On average, a mature aardvark consumes about 50,000 different insects per day. The language of this animal is very similar to the language of the anteater, therefore their diet is identical. The length of this organ is very impressive. If we take into account the length of the muzzle of the aardvark, then its tongue is even longer, because it can protrude from the mouth by 25 cm. The unusually long tongue has great mobility and is covered with viscous saliva, which, like glue, attracts all kinds of insects, sometimes even the most microscopic.
An interesting fact is that captive aardvarks have a more varied menu. They do not refuse meat, milk, eggs, they love various cereals. People fortify their food with specialized vitamin supplements.
These funny mammals have a special talent associated with taste preferences. Aardvarks are the only seed dispersers of cucumber plants, which belong to the gourd family and mature deep underground. Animals, like experienced diggers, pull them out of the depths and eat them with pleasure, thereby enabling the plant to spread to other territories. No wonder the aardvark was nicknamed the “earth pig”.
Character and life features
The aardvark is a very secretive and mysterious creature, little is known about its life activity, because. it has not been studied enough. He is cheerful and active at dusk, and during the day he prefers to take refuge in a hole where he sleeps sweetly, after getting wet during the night. Sometimes the aardvark allows himself to enjoy sunbathing, he does it at dawn and not far from his shelter.
Aardvark is a tireless and skilled digger who is able to break through huge underground corridors. In this he is helped by powerful front paws with two pairs of fingers, on which there are strong claws-hooves, raking the ground no worse than a shovel. Hind limbs and tail discard already loosened soil.
Shelter for the aardvark is not one tunnel, but a whole excavated labyrinth at once, the corridors of which can reach up to twenty meters in length. Sensing a threat, the animal can hide in one of the many sleeves of its shelter. Such a house also saves from the scorching African sun, in the aardvark's hole the climate is always comfortable, the temperature does not rise above 24 degrees with a plus sign.
Abandoned aardvark burrows become wonderful havens for animals such as:
- porcupine .
At night, the aardvark often travels more than twenty kilometers, going in search of food in the form of termites and ants. Sensitive hearing and sense of smell help him a lot. And the most powerful claws-hooves can easily destroy any anthills and termite mounds.
Speaking about the character and disposition of the aardvark, it can be noted that he is very modest, meek and a little cowardly. The animal listens carefully to the environment all the time. Any suspicious sound causes the aardvark to seek cover in a hole or burrow into the ground if no other shelter is nearby. This exotic animal is very slow and clumsy.
Scientists suggest that each individual occupies a certain territory, the size of which is from two to five square kilometers, and aardvarks prefer to adhere to it. It is impossible not to mention one more skill of the “earth pig” – it can swim perfectly, although it lives mainly in arid territories.
Social structure and reproduction
Aardvarks are little studied, but it is believed that these animals prefer an isolated, solitary existence, they do not form strong family unions. Zoologists also did not notice a special mating season; when observing aardvarks, mating took place at different periods of the year. For individuals living in captivity, cubs are usually born in February, March or June. In nature, it depends on the habitat of the animal.
The female's pregnancy lasts about seven months. Almost always, a single baby is born to a mother, extremely rarely twins are born. Babies have a length of a little more than half a meter and weigh about two kilograms. Their hairline is completely absent, and their skin is a pinkish tint. A long-nosed mother feeds her offspring with milk until the age of four months. Even at this time, the female feeds the cub with ants, accustoming him to this food almost from birth. Upon reaching four months of age, a caring mother begins to teach her child to get food so that he becomes independent.
It is interesting that the cubs begin to crawl out of the hole at the age of two weeks. And when they turn six months old, they begin intensive burrowing training, although they still live in their mother's shelter.
Only in a year the young growth becomes outwardly identical to adult individuals, and aardvarks reach puberty by the age of two. In wild, difficult, natural conditions, aardvarks live up to 18 years, and in captivity they can live up to 25.
Natural enemies of aardvarks
The aardvark has a lot of enemies, because it is quite a tasty prey for large predators. The animal does not have a ferocious and courageous disposition, therefore it is constantly on the alert, catching any slight rustle. The aardvark is always ready to dash into its hole or burrow into the ground to get away from the threat.
The main natural enemies of the “earth pig” can be considered:
- spotted hyenas;
- hyena dogs.
If a collision cannot be avoided, then the aardvark goes on the defensive, defending itself with its powerful forelimbs, or with a strong tail. It is good that these modest creatures have rather large dimensions and a thick skin, so small predators cannot approach them. Aardvark cubs can be caught eating a python for lunch.
An interesting fact is that, experiencing the strongest fright, an aardvark begins to moo loudly and specifically, although usually he only sniffles and grunts slightly.
One of the most dangerous enemies of the aardvark is a man who exterminates these peaceful animals because of pork-like meat, skins and teeth, which are used to make various accessories and jewelry. The number of these ancient animals is not exactly determined at the moment, but tends to decrease, so people should think about their sometimes selfish interests.
Population and species status
At different times, the aardvark was destroyed for various reasons. The Dutch and the British, who came to Africa, killed aardvarks because they dug huge holes, where horses often fell and were badly injured. Many indigenous Africans ate and still eat aardvark meat, which is very similar to pork. Also, African peoples made bracelets from the skin of aardvarks, and amulets from the claws, which, according to their belief, brought happiness. Foreigners dressed strong and thick animal skin for the production of belts and harnesses. So, gradually, the population of aardvarks decreased, which is happening today.
As already noted, the specific number of aardvarks has not been established, but one thing is clear – it is steadily decreasing. So far, this unusual mammal is not threatened with extinction, but people should not neglect the fact that the “earth pigs” are getting smaller and smaller. An increasing number of territories where the aardvark once lived are being taken by people for personal needs. In those areas of Africa where fields are actively cultivated, the aardvark is almost completely exterminated, people believe that it harms agricultural land, breaking through deep underground passages.
It is always bitter to realize that we, humans, are a significant reason for the decline in the population of any animals, including the aardvark. Many species have long disappeared from the face of the Earth, so we cannot allow the most ancient representative of the entire kingdom of mammals to be threatened with destruction.
In conclusion, I would like to add that a person sometimes does not think about what benefits this or that animal can bring to him. If we talk about the aardvark, then it (the benefit) is simply huge, because this extraordinary creature maintains relentless control over the number of termites that can cause irreparable damage to cultivated land.
Turning to the prehistoric past of the aardvark, we can assume that this an extraordinary detachment of animals overcame many difficulties and cataclysms, but, nevertheless, survived to our times, practically unchanged in appearance. So, let's make sure that this is the most authentic, oldest, living fossil — the aardvark, remained safe and sound and lived for more than one millennium, delighting others with its funny and slightly fabulous appearance.