The Life and Times of the Baby Aardvark

Aardvark baby in a bucketPhoto:
Image: Benjamin Haines

The aardvark is an animal only found in sub-Saharan Africa. Its strange looks can probably be attributed to the fact that it is a living fossil – yes, the aardvark’s chromosomes reflect much of life before modern taxonomy. Let’s see how life begins for little aardvarks because guess what, as placentals, they are more closely related to us humans than marsupials. Ready for pics that’ll make you go cuuuuuute?

A six-week-old aardvark baby:
6-week-old aardvarkPhoto:
Image: vinniecfp

After a pregnancy of six months, aardvark mothers give birth to a single baby, rarely two. The cubs weigh between 1 and 2 kg at birth and gain weight rapidly, often ten times their birth weight in two months. They feed exclusively from the mother until they are 14 weeks old and then start their staple diet of termites and ants.

Pst, mama, lend me your ear. Where is it?
Mother and baby aardvarkPhoto:
Image via afrika meine tierklinik

At six months of age, aardvarks are able to dig their own burrows and start living separately but will often stay close to the mother until her next mating season.

Amani, one of two aardvark babies at Detroit Zoo, at the age of six months:
6-months-old AmaniPhoto:
Image: Patti Panda

And Erdferkel (German for aardvark), the second baby at the zoo, born 23rd May:
Erdferkel at Detroit ZooPhoto:
Image via zandavisitor

At two years of age, aardvarks will start mating. They pair only in breeding season and though some animals may have their burrows close together, most aardvarks are loners. At 1,65 m long (5 to 6 ft), 60 cm tall and weighing 50 to 70 kg (90 to 145 lb), grown aardvarks can compete with humans in size.

Related? Not really:
Not a pigPhoto:
Image via hip2b2

If the aardvark looks in parts like a pig, anteater or even kangaroo, then it has to do with the convergent evolution of these mammals rather than an actual relationship. Sometimes you see pictures of furry aardvarks – except those are not aardvarks but anteaters that have been attributed wrongly. Aardvarks have only coarse, patchy hairs.

Spot the aardvark? No, it’s an anteater! Here at National Zoo in Washington, DC:
Anteater mother and babyPhoto:
Image: PauerKorde

For the last time, I’m a joey, not an aardvark!
Kangaroo babyPhoto:
Image via baby animal photos

In case you were wondering – the aardvark’s name is not a sloppy way of pronouncing awkward but Afrikaans/Dutch for “earth pig” because that’s what the animal reminded early European settlers in Africa of.

The most striking of the aardvark’s strange features is its long snout with a short and tubular mouth, typical for ant- or termite-eating species. The aardvark’s sense of smell is extraordinary and it can be found wherever there are termites. In fact, if food is rare, the aardvark can travel distances of up to 30 km in one night to find the nearest ant hill. It is also an exceptionally fast digger whose strong front paws can crack even the sturdiest termite mound.

Mama, it’s my turn now!
Aardvark mother and babyPhoto:
Image: Scotto Bear

With its long, sticky tongue, an aardvark can pick up an astonishing number of termites, up to 50,000 in one night! That’s quite an appetite and a lot of protein.

Speaking of which, the aardvark is the only living representative of the Tubulidentata species, meaning tube teeth: Instead of enamel-covered teeth with a pulp coating, aardvarks have thin, parallel tubes with pulp canals that wear away and regrow continuously.

So small now but already a voracious eater:
Aardvark babyPhoto:
Image via blufftontoday

As nocturnal, solitary and shy creatures, it is not surprising that most images of aardvarks are taken in zoos. In the wild, they disappear back into their burrows at the slightest indication of a disturbance. Their natural predators are lions, leopards, hyenas and pythons but, though admired in African folklore, they are also sought after by some tribes for their heart, skin, forehead and nails, used for charm making. Farmers are not too happy when they sight an aardvark on their property because as strong diggers, they can really create havoc in a freshly sown field.

Last but not least here’s quite a funny video of two Orycteropus afers at the Philadelphia Zoo. One is going wild with a plastic bucket and the other is jumping on the, er, opportunity to show what other uses that long aardvark snout can be put to.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4