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Anteaters and Aardvarks

Aside from ants, the only natural predator of a termite colony are some very unique animals . . . aardvarks and anteaters. Despite their common taste for ants and termites and their similar feeding behaviors and appearance, these two creatures are not even remotely related to each other. In fact, they come from entirely different continents! Here's some information on these unique animals.

What is an aardvark?

Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) are NOT Anteaters! Aardvarks are the only animal in the order Tubulidentata. (That means they are not related to any other animals, which makes them really unique!) The aardvark is found throughout much of Africa. Primarily nocturnal, it lives in burrows and feeds mainly on ants and termites. The aardvark is up to 2.3 m (7.5 ft) long, including the tail. It has an arched back, a tubular snout, and large, upright ears. It uses specialized, chisel-shaped claws to break open the hard clay of termite nests and then uses its sticky tongue to capture the insects. Unlike the anteater, the aardvark has teeth. The female generally gives birth to one offspring. Aardvarks carry their young for about seven months before they are born. (Summarized from various sources.)

According to Robert Henderson's text QOP Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins both the aardvark and the aardwolf dig in the earth for termites and ants, the former somewhat resembling a pig, the latter a little like a striped wolf. Thus the Boers in South America named them, respectively, the aardvark (from the Dutch aard, "earth," plus vark, "pig") or "earth pig," and aardwolf, or "earth wolf."

(Used by permission of the author)

For more information on aardvarks visit the following site:


ORDER: Edentatata FAMILY: Myrmecophagidae GENUS: Myrmecophaga

RANGE:  Giant anteaters inhabit swampy areas, humid forests and savannahs in Central and South America, from Southern British Honduras to Northern Argentina.

DESCRIPTION:  The length of the head and body is usually 3 to 4 feet with the tail length usually 2 to 3 feet. The body is narrow. Adults usually weigh 23 to 39 pounds. Anteaters are gray and have a diagonal back stripe which is black with white borders.

DIET: Termites and ants are favorites. Termite and ant mounds are ripped apart with the anteater's long claws and then the eggs, cocoons and ants are picked up with the long, sticky, saliva-coated tongue. Anteaters also eat beetle larvae and, sometimes fruit, in the wild. Their usual zoo diet is eggs and milk beaten together, meal worms and ground beef.

BEHAVIOR: Giant anteaters walk with their noses close to the ground and with the side and knuckles of their hands on the ground. They seem to be constantly in search of food and to have no permanent resting place. They seem to be active mainly during the daytime in uninhabited areas and during the night in densely inhabited areas. Except for females with young, anteaters are usually solitary. They take to water easily and can swim across wide rivers. Although they are powerful diggers, giant anteaters do not construct burrows, but merely seek secluded spots in which to curl up, tucking their head between their forelegs and then covering their head with their fanlike tail. When in danger, they react by retreating in a slow, clumsy gallop. They do not fight unless forced to. When fighting, they use their hands to grasp and claw their adversary.

ADAPTATION: Anteaters' powerful claws, hands and long extensible tongues are used as instruments for food gathering. They have three large claws and one small claw on each hand. Each foot has five relatively small claws. Their salivary glands appear to secrete only when they are feeding. Their tongue can be extended as much at 23 inches. It is coated with a sticky saliva to which termites, ants and insects adhere. Their jawbones are long and delicate and they have no teeth.

BREEDING AND GROWTH: The female bears only one young after a gestation period of about 190 days. The mother carries the youngster on her back and they remain together until she becomes pregnant again. Anteaters have lived for fourteen years in captivity.

Information provided by the Fresno Zoological Society

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