Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Aardvark

(Orycteropus afer)

Habitat and Distribution: Found underground in grassland and savanna habitats of sub-Saharan Africa

Size: 4-6 feet long (including 1-2 foot tail); 2 feet tall at shoulder; 88-180 pounds

Wild Diet: Primarily termites and ants

Predators: Humans, lions, hyenas, leopards, and pythons

Lifespan: 17-26 years in zoos

Reproduction: Usually one offspring is born, weighing about 4 pounds, after a gestation of 7 months. Twins are rare.

Behavior: Aardvarks are nocturnal and generally solitary, sometimes living in pairs. They are excellent diggers, excavating new burrows every morning to sleep in for the day. They walk up to 18 miles a night in a zig-zag path searching for insects. When they smell a termite mound, they use powerful nails to tear it open and a sticky, 10-inch tongue to grab the termites. When threatened, if an aardvark can’t dig a hole or dash off into an existing burrow, it may either sit up on its tail and hind legs, striking out with its front claws, or lie on its back and strike with all four feet.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The aardvark is not currently threatened, but its specialized diet and reliance on soils make it very vulnerable to habitat changes. Aardvarks are sometimes hunted for their meat and hide and have also been exterminated in many agricultural areas.

Did you know?

  • The word “aardvark” means “earth pig” in Afrikaans.
  • Abandoned aardvark burrows may be used by bats, ground squirrels, hares, cats, civets, hyenas, jackals, porcupines, warthogs, monitor lizards, or owls.
  • A dense mat of hairs around the aardvark’s nostrils filters dust as it digs.