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Kingdom:
Animalia
Phylum:
Chordata
Class:
Mammalia
Superorder:
Afrotheria
Order:
Tubulidentata, Huxley, 1872
Family:
Orycteropodidae, Gray, 1821
Genus:
Orycteropus, G. Cuvier, 1798
Species:
O. afer
Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is an African nocturnal and burrowing mammal. It is the only species left from the order of Tubulidentata. Orycteropus is Greek for digging footed and afer means Africa. For the name Aardvark, aardvark is African for “ground pig”. However, they are not related to anteaters, armadillos or pigs. The closest relatives to the aardvark are elephant shrews, manatees, hyraxes and they grow to a length of 1.3 meters (2.2 meters when the tail is included), and could weigh between 40 to 60 kilograms.
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Distribution of Aardvarks in Africa

HABITAT


ENVIRONMENT
Aardvarks are found mainly in primarily savannas, deserts or arid. However, some Aardvarks had adopted to the life of grasslands, bushlands, woodlands and also tropical rainforests. They mainly live on plateaus and also on sand, clay or sometimes, in mud when living forests.
According to the United Nations Environmental Program, Africa is being affected greatly by deforestation, twice the world rate, which is why Aardvarks get their resources mainly from land, not from trees like their ancestors.

RESOURCES
Aardvarks live on lands where there is a sufficient source of food such as termites and foods, and sandy soil for burrowing. However for Aardvarks that do not live in Savannas, the areas they live in usually have a large source of water and clay soil for burrowing.The map illustrates the range of Aardvarks in Africa. If there are no ant or termite mounds or nests around, Aardvarks could also eat a fruit known as the Aardvark Cucumber or the Aardvark Pumpkin. It is the only fruit that is eaten by the Aardvark and it is grown underground. As the Aardvark is a burrowing creature, it is easy for it to access the fruits.
CLIMATE
The weather in Africa ranges from 38 degrees to 48 degrees at day; however, Aardvarks have many adaptations to survive the heat of the Savannas for example, having a think sheet of hair or living in burrows
Another reason the climate is a threat to many animals is that only 8% of Africa experiences 10-12 months of rainfall and 92% of Africa experiences climatic contrast, for example, a shortage of water.

PREDATORS
Another threat to Aardvarks and many other animals in Africa is fierce predators, such as lions, leopards, pythons and African Wild Dogs which invade burrows of Aardvarks, which forced the Aardvark to develop clever techniques of defense.

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ADAPTATIONS


Aardvarks are very clever animals and could adapt to the harsh environments of Africa easily. Because of their adaptations to the environment, they are the only species now surviving in the Tubulidentata order as other prehistoric members of the Tubulidentata order failed to survive in their habitat. Aardvarks are also classified Least Concerned for their conservation status.

STRUCTURAL ADAPTATIONS: EVOLUTION

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Aardvarks are known to be 40 to 60 kilograms, while its ancestor the Malagasy Aardvark is estimated to be 6 to 18 kilograms.
Environmental Pressure: The Malagasy Aardvark had a light weight as their main source of food was ants and termites that live up on trees, which means the Malagasy Aardvark had the ability to climb. However, deforestation occurred and there was a rapid decline in the amount of trees. (As mentioned in previous article, since the arrival of humans, Madagascar has lost over 90% of its original forest). The Malagasy Aardvark was not large and strong enough to break into a termite or ant mound. Consequently, they became extinct. However, their next generation, the Aardvark adapted to its environment by increasing in size which gave them the ability and strength to break open termite nests, and consume the same types of food.

STRUCTURAL ADAPTATION: FRONT CLAWS

Aardvarks have strong shovel like front claws. Each toe bears a flattened shovel like nail. As they are nocturnal and they have limited time to hunt, their powerful claws are vital to dig up the solid crusts of ant and termite mounds. The aardvark is one of the world's fastest diggers, and has the ability to dig 2 feet in approximately 15 seconds.The video on the left features some footage of an Aardvark digging a burrow. As they live in Africa and there are many dangerous predators in their habitat. When chased by a predator, the Aardvark runs in a zigzag pattern to elude enemies, and their shovel like claws provide a strong grip for them. If they fail, their claws could serve as a weapon that could even defend themselves from predators. If a mother was in the burrow, it would use her claws to quickly seal the burrow to prevent the wild dog from intruding and killing the young. Another animal that is similar to the Aardvark regarding digging into colonies of ants are armadillos. They dig into the ground to find colonies of ants that are built underground, and they also have a long snout and a long tongue like the Aardvark that ants stick to.

Environmental Pressure: The environmental pressure that might have caused it is most likely to be the disappearance of trees since the arrival of humans. The Aardvark had to have strong claws to rip open mounds of ants and termites that are on the ground, instead of licking from termite nests on top of trees.

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PHYSIOLOGICAL ADAPTATION: TEETH
Termites have a hard exoskeleton
Termites have a hard exoskeleton

One of the most distinctive features of an Aardvark is its teeth. They do not have a pulp cavity for each tooth, but instead, replaced by a series of parallel small tubes vasodentin (a modified form of tissue in tooth) and a substance called cementum which holds the teeth together. The teeth have no enamel (the hardest substance maintain the tooth in good health) coating, which results in their teeth wearing out very quickly and also re growing very quickly. This is important as one of the main food source for Aardvarks are termites.
Environmental Pressure: The exoskeleton of a termite is chitinized, which means hardened with a substance known as chitin. Termites have hard exoskeleton protein to chew through wood and other hard surfaces, which creates difficulties for predators to chew termites. Aardvarks eats 50, 000 termites in one night, which is why re growing healthy and strong teeth assists the Aardvarks with breaking the exoskeleton of the termite. Without this adaptation, the teeth would slowly wear out, and the Aardvark would not be able to continue consuming the same foods.

PHYSIOLOGICAL ADAPTATION: NOSE

Aardvarks have a long and sensitive nose. The Aardvark would swing its nose side to side to pick up the scent of a food source. When they are waving their pig like nose around, they take deep breaths and sucks a large amount of air in, which gives them precise predictions of where a nearby food source would be. After it finds a mound and starts digging into it, it’s nostrils would seal together with a dense mat of hair to prevent the dust and dirt from getting in. Again, this adaptation would assist the Aardvark to find food sources in the harsh environments of Africa. The video (next to strong front claws) shows some footage of an Aardvark moving around and sensing the environment with his nose. Although the Aardvark lived in the Bronx Zoo, they smell to find directions and also a area which is safe for them to start burrowing.
Environmental Pressure: This might be caused as the land is getting more empty since the arrival of humans, and as Aardvarks expand their burrows, they have found it difficult to look for a small ant mound. They have a bad sense of sight, which is why their sense of smell developed to assist the animal in locating a nearby food source. Although they could also locate a termite nest from their hearing abilities, they could not locate fruits like the Aardvark cucumber, which is found underground.

BEHAVIOUntitled-6.jpgRAL ADAPTATIONS: HABITAT

Aardvarks are burrowing creatures. The excavate burrows in soil or mud. However, each Aardvark only has one main burrow, where breeding takes place and where the new born babies are raised. All other burrows are temporary and scattered around the land, which is where mothers live. Separate burrows are built so if a predator discovers one burrow, it would not be able to lead the predator to enter the main burrow and capture its young. As Aardvarks are inactive during the day, they need a cool place to rest. Burrows of Aardvarks could measure up to 10 metres long and its home range of 2 to 5 kilometres square
Environmental Pressure: The most likely environmental pressure that caused this is that they are nocturnal and it is almost impossible for the Aardvark to sleep on the land during the day under the heat of the Savanna. Their body temperature would rise rapidly if sleeping on land which would cause many heat related diseases and also dehydration.

REFERENCE AND IMAGE SOURCES

  1. Britannica, E. (1994). Aardvark. In Encyclopedia of Britannica (pp. 3-4).
  2. Dennis, N. (n.d.). Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) emerging from burrow at dusk, Tussen Die Riviere Game Reserve, Free State Province, South Africa.
  3. Dennis, N. (n.d.). Aardvark (Orycteropus afer), Tussen Die Riviere Game Reserve, Free State Province, South Africa.
  4. Dinet, V. (n.d.). Madagascar-Part 4. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from Homepage of Vladamir Dinet: http://dinets.travel.ru/madagascar4.htm
  5. Joubert, B. (n.d.). Aardvark Sniffing the Ground.
  6. Open Group. (n.d.). Aardvarks. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from Open Group: http://www.opengroup.org/austin/aardvark/aardvark.html
  7. Penn State University. (n.d.). Climate of Africa. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from Penn State University: https://www.courses.psu.edu/test/test100_hkr/AFIM/Main_HTML/M_CL.html
  8. Ray, J. (2011, June 10). What is an Aardvark. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from Green Answers: http://greenanswers.com/blog/243351/what-aardvark
  9. Wikipedia. (2011). Aardvark. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardvark