Behold the aardvark (Orycteropus afer), the "earth pig" of sub-Saharan
Africa. This fellow isn't a pig at all. He’s the single surviving species
of the Tubulidentata ("tubule-teethed") order and Orycteropopidae family
of mammals. Tubulidentata refers to the structure of his teeth. Unlike
most mammals, the aardvark has cheek teeth composed of hexagonal prisms of
dentin built up around tubules, and covered with cementum rather than enamel.
Much like his very distant South American cousins the anteaters (order
Pilosa and family Myrmecophagidae -- "eaters of ants"), the aardvark subsists
primarily on ants and termites. Aardvarks are mostly nocturnal, and they may
visit as many as thirty ant or termite mounds during a single night, digging
and feeding from each one for a short time before moving on.
The aardvark is built for digging. Note the unusual shape of the
claws, which resemble scoops or spoons. The genus name, Orycteropus, means
"shovel-footed" and alludes to this efficient digging morphology and
behavior. It is said that an aardvark can dig faster than a human with a
Other features contribute to effective digging. The snout is long, and the
nose has fleshy, circular nostrils which can close to keep the dirt out
during digging. The huge ears stay erect and above ground while the animal
digs, in order to catch the sound of any potential predator. Like the
anteaters, the aardvark has a very long, sticky tongue, used to
capture and hold ants and termites as he brings them into his mouth.
I was lucky enough to capture this photograph on a rare day when our male
aardvark was out in daylight. Usually, this guy lies inert in the doorway of
the aardvark building. More than once, I have also seen him propped upside
down in the corner of his yard fast asleep (photo courtesy of Carol Petrone).
Although the aardvark has an especially thick hide to help protect him from
biting insects, perhaps this is the best posture for preventing bites while
he's getting his beauty sleep.