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Saturday, 20 August 2011

An Animal That Digs A Hole Faster Than Several People Using Shovels

Africa is so fortunate to be home to many different species of wildlife, but regrettably several of these species are listed as “endangered” or “threatened”. One of the species that is not threatened, although there is evidence that human population expansion is having a negative effect, is the rather peculiar looking aardvark (Orycteropus afer) which can be found throughout the sub-Sahara Africa. The name “aardvark” comes from South Africa´s Afrikaans language and means “earth pig”.

Aardvarks are nocturnal and as such are rarely seen. They spend the hot African afternoon in cool underground burrows, and after sunset these animals are often found foraging out in the open, systematically covering the ground in search of their favorite food - ants and termites (the only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber). Aardvarks may travel long distances in search for food, often traveling as much as 10 km in a single night. They have acute hearing and a keen sense of smell to sniff out their prey. They use their powerful front claws to dig open ant and termite nests, and use their long, thin, sticky, worm-like tongues to feast on the insects within. Aardvarks can seal their nostrils to keep dust and insects from invading their snout. These animals have a very thick skin, and seem to be immune to insect bites. The aardvark´s skin is so tough that it also protects it to some extent from bites by predators. Aardvarks are very well adapted for digging. When alarmed, they will either run away or start digging a burrow. A single aardvark can dig a hole faster than several people using shovels.

Female aardvarks usually give birth to one cub each year. The young remain with their mother for about six months before moving out and digging their own burrows, which can be deep and extensive. Permanent burrows can be as long as 13 meters with several chambers and entrances.

Image from
(Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, covering an area of over 100,000 hectares)

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