With its rabbit ears and a tail like a kangaroo’s, the aardvark looks like an imaginary creature. Its name translates to “earth pig” in the Afrikaans language, probably referencing its long, pig-like snout and habitual burrowing.
Containing ten nasal bones – more than any mammal – the snout is used to sniff out prey and its nostrils can be closed when eating and burrowing. An excellent digger, the aardvark can burrow underground in a matter of minutes.
Appetite for ants
Nicknamed antbear for its appetite for ants and termites, the aardvark can consume as many as 50,000 insects in a night. 30cm long and covered in sticky saliva, its ribbon-like tongue is used to reach into the winding tunnels of termite mounds and ant nests.
As for insects that it can't reach even with its tongue, it pushes its snout against the hole in the mound, using it like a vacuum cleaner to suck insects nearer before slurping them up.
The only living tube-toothed animal, their teeth grow continuously and are worn down as the aardvark chews. The teeth have a mostly flat shape, perfect for crunching through insects.
But most of the time, aardvarks do not need to chew, relying on their strong stomach muscles to break down their food. Scientists believe they have retained their teeth to bite through the skin of a cucumber that is their main source of water (aptly named the aardvark cucumber).
Together, we protect wildlife
Ark for the aardvarks
Aardvarks are hunted for their meat. Their skin, teeth and claws are made into ornaments and sometimes used in folk medicine. Farmers and ranchers see their burrows as a nuisance and may kill any aardvarks on their property. Our aardvarks are a part of the European Studbook (ESB) which involves coordinated efforts by participating zoos to ensure the species’ future survival. Transfer of individuals between these zoos is based on genetic compatibility.