Bush rock stars: Aardvark

2014-07-21 16:32

While the South African bush may be famous for its Big 5, it's also home to a whole bunch of smaller creatures that slip under the average tourist's radar... and seem to prefer it that way.

Known as the Secret Seven, the Serval, Aardvark, Pangolin, Genet, African Wildcat, Civet and Porcupine are notoriously elusive, managing to escape the curious eyes of even regular bush visitors.

In the next few days we'll be featuring a series on these "bush rock stars" where we take a look at their quirky traits and secret super powers.

Aardvark

(Shutterstock)

One thing that seems to bind the Secret Seven together more than anything else, is the fact that they're all pretty weird looking. The Aardvark is no exception. With its big rabbit ears, kangaroo tail, overgrown mole claws and elongated piggy snout, it looks more like a figment of some preschooler's imagination than an animal of the African bush. 

Despite their comical appearance, Aardvark are highly skilled burrowers and catchers of minute insects.

They are sometimes colloquially called "African antbear", "anteater", or the "Cape anteater." 

Here are five amazing Aardvark facts:

- Contrary to popular belief, the closest living relatives of the aardvark are not anteaters (found in South America), but rather elephant shrews, Sea Cows, hyraxes, tenrecs, and elephants.

- An aardvark can eat 50,000 termites in one sitting.

- The Egyptian god Set is said (by some) to have the head of an aardvark or to be part aardvark.

- An aardvark's tongue can be up to 30.5 cm long and is sticky to help extract termites from the earthen mounds.

- Aardvark babies are called cubs and are born completely naked. They start growing brown fur during their first year of life. 

And a few must-knows for successful spotting:

(Stephanie Pilick/Dpa/AFP)

Size: Head and body - 109 to 135 cm, Tail 53 to 66 cm

Habitat: The only major African habitat that they are not present in is swamp forest. They are also not known to occur along the coast of Namibia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. 

Foraging habits: The aardvark is nocturnal and solitary, feeding almost exclusively on ants and termites. The only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber. An aardvark emerges from its burrow in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forages over a considerable home range encompassing 10 to 30 km, swinging its long nose from side to side to pick up the scent of food. When a concentration of ants or termites is detected, the aardvark digs into it with its powerful front legs.

Family life: Aardvarks mate only during the breeding season. After a gestation period of seven months, one cub weighing around 2 kilograms is born, normally during May-July. Little aardvarks are able to leave the burrow to accompany its mother after only two weeks, and start eating termites at 14 weeks. By the time they reach six months, they are able to dig their own burrows, but often stay with the mother until the next mating season.

 
Read more on:    animals  |  travel south africa
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