home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Orycteropus afer (Aardvark, Antbear)

erdvark [Afrikaans]; Erdferkel [German]; orycterope [French]; muhanga, kukukifuku [Swahili]; isambane [isiNdebele, isiZulu, siSwati]; thakadu [Sesotho, Setswana]; sambani [Shona]; xomboni [Xitsonga]; thagalu [Tshivenda]; takalo [Lozi]; ungengu [Yei]; |Khuwub [Nama, Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Afrotheria > Tubulidentata (aardvarks)


Body Length 140-180 cm; weight range 40 – 70 kg

Rarely seen during the day, the Aardvark is one of Africa’s most bizarre and specialized animals and the only species in the order Tubulidentata (this name refers to characteristic and unique “tubule-teeth”). Its Afrikaans name means “earth-pig” and it resembles a pig in colouration, the sparse bristle-type hair, its long tubular snout and long ears. It has a heavily muscled tapering tail and powerful, stout legs with ending in digits with long spade-like claws. Aardvarks have a highly developed sense of smell.


The Aardvark has no incisor or canine teeth and continuously grows open rooted peg-like premolars and molars. The check teeth are not surrounded by enamel, but by cementum.

Dental formula:

I C P M = 20

Distribution and habitat

Occurs throughout South Africa, wherever termites occur, in a wide range of habitats. It generally prefers open woodland, sparse scrub and grassland.

General behaviour

Aardvarks are nocturnal and solitary, except when females are accompanied by a single young.


The Aardvark is adapted for digging to get at its favourite foods: termites and ants. It rips into the termite mound, once opened it uses its round, long sticky tongue to probe for the insects their larvae and eggs. Their well developed salivary glands and muscular gizzard-like stomach break down the food, so they do not need to chew.


  • Gestation period: seven months.
  • Females excavate extensive permanent burrow systems where the young are born. Males tend to excavate shallower temporary burrows that are used for refuge during the day. Studies suggest that the animals may range as far as 15 km during a 10 hour foraging period.


As a result of its elusive habits the aardvark is one of the least known terrestrial mammals.

Life span

10 years (in captivity)


Aardvark flesh is apparently similar to pork and the teeth and claws are also prized as trinkets and totems.


An interesting fact is that the Aardvark is one animal that appears to have benefited from the overstocking of farms with domestic stock. The trampling of the grass by the stock makes the grass more available to termites on which the aardvark feed.

Text by Denise Hamerton