Tuesday, December 20, 2011


On Friday Mom went to an estate sale, and she bought an aardvark.  She thought at first that she was buying an armadillo, but the more she looked at it, the more she decided it was an aardvark instead of an armadillo.  And one reason she thought this was because the animal was carved out of that soapstone stuff that people in Africa make carvings out of to sell to tourists.  There was a zebra at the sale, too, carved out of the same kind of stone, but Mom did not buy it.  She only bought the aardvark.

Mom's aardvark
Well, when I saw Mom's aardvark, I became inspired to write about aardvarks in my blog, so I did some research and I learned that aardvarks live in most parts of Africa, except not in the Sahara Desert.  There are lots of them, so they are not in any danger of going extinct.

The scientific name for aardvarks is Orycteropus afer, which is Greek for "digging-footed from Africa."  The name aardvark is an early Afrikaans word, and it means "earth pig" or "ground pig."  The animals were called this because they live in burrows in the ground, and also they look a little like pigs, even though they are not even remotely related to pigs.

Other names for aardvarks are "antbear" or "anteater," but aardvarks aren't related to the South American anteater either.  In fact, aardvarks don't have any close relatives at all, so that may be why they don't have family reunions.  Their closest relatives are elephant shrews, sirenians, hyraxes, tenrecs, and elephants.

Aardvarks have tough skin with some coarse hair on it.  Their toes have wide, flat nails that are really good for digging.  Their long snouts have a flat sort of disc at the end where the nostrils are.  The aardvark's mouth is shaped like a tube, and its tongue is like a long, sticky worm that can be 12 inches long.

The whole reason aardvarks are made like this is so they can dig termites out of their mounds and eat them.  Termites and ants are almost the only things that aardvarks eat, which frankly, does not sound like a very yummy or well-balanced diet to me.  But aardvarks seem to do fine on it.  Adults weigh between 110 and 180 pounds, and they live as long as 23 years in captivity.

Termite mounds can be really tall!
In Africa, where the aardvarks live, it gets very hot, so during the day they stay in their burrows where it is cooler.  Then at night they come out and look for termites.  Aardvarks don't have very good eyesight, but they can hear really well, so they are always listening for predators.  Also they have a great sense of smell, and they can sniff out termite mounds or ant colonies.  During the night, aardvarks usually go an average of 1 to 3 miles while hunting, but sometimes they go as far as 18 miles in one night.

This mound got dug into, probably by an aardvark.
When an aardvark finds a termite mound, it digs in very quickly and starts snarfing up the termites.  The aardvark can close its nostrils to keep dust out of its nose, and its thick skin protects it from insect bites.  Aardvarks can dig 2 feet deep in only 15 seconds, even though they move much more slowly when they are just walking around.  During one night, an aardvark can eat as many as 50,000 termites or ants.

Real aardvark burrows have much smaller openings.
This one is probably in a zoo.
Besides eating termites, digging burrows is something that aardvarks also do a lot of.  They usually have a main burrow, which is big and has lots of escape routes.  And then they may have several smaller burrows where they can just hang out during the day.  When they are sleeping in their burrow, they close up the entrance with dirt, so it doesn't even look like there is a burrow there.  Abandoned burrows are used by smaller animals such as the African wild dog.

Aardvarks live by themselves unless it is mating season.  After mating, a female aardvark waits 7 months and then one cub is born that weighs about 4 pounds.  After 2 weeks, the cub can leave the burrow and follow the mother.  By 14 weeks, it is eating termites, and it is weaned by 16 weeks.  At 6 months, a cub can dig its own burrow, but often a cub will stay with its mom until the next mating season.

The main predators of aardvarks are lions, leopards, hunting dogs, and pythons.  Also there are some African tribes that hunt aardvarks for their meat.  If an aardvark is trying to get away from a predator, it can dig a burrow really fast, or else it can run in a zig-zag way.  Sometimes it will use its claws, tail, and shoulders to defend itself, and its thick skin also helps protect it.

In African folklore, the aardvark is admired because of how hard it works to find food, and also because it is not afraid of soldier ants.  Some African magicians make a charm out of parts of the aardvark, mixed with the root of a certain tree.  A person who has this charm is supposed to be able to go through walls or roofs at night.  Burglars like to use this charm, and so do young men who want to visit girls without the permission of the girls' parents.

I think aardvarks are funny-looking, and it might be interesting to have one at our house, but Mom says we do not have enough termites to feed an aardvark, or at least she hopes we don't!


  1. Dear Piper,
    I am so serious,
    EVERYTIME I think of writing something, you post it in your blog, we must think the same!!! I was going to write that aardvarks were a type of bunny and write a whole fable on it which is why aardvarks have bunny ears. It scares me the first time when I saw snoopy on charlie brown on Cannel 7 but of course I never make people learn enough- that's your job I just show them the character and if they're interested then they can do the research themselves. Ha! I'm so Lazy- I am so interested in aardvarks but I never got around to write about them so THANKS :D anyway is your mom's aardvark REALLY made of SOAP???? And at first I was silly enough to think that your mom REALLY bought an aardvark after reading a few sentences.

    Lucky, your telepathic friend (SOMEHOW)


  2. Hi Piper, it's Squirrel. I have a question for you... Have you ever had a dog at the rescue you work at that was really aggressive toward other dogs? Were you able to do anything?
    The reason I ask this is because I found a dog I am interested in adopting. My dad called the humane society he's at today, and apparently they found him in a trap and he is really aggressive toward the other dogs. Do you think there's any hope for him?
    Haha, well, I guess that was more than one question... Sorry about that. :)
    I have a friend who absolutely LOVES aardvarks. I am sure he would have loved to have a soapstone aardvark!!

    Can't wait for more,
    (P.S. If you want, you can reply to this on one of my blogs. Just so you don't take up too much space!!)

  3. Dear Lucky,
    I guess it's true that great minds think alike, which is a saying or something. I think the ears on aardvarks look a lot like bunny ears, but they are not as soft and fuzzy. It would be great if you wrote a story about aardvarks and bunnies.

    The aardvark carving my mom bought is made of soapSTONE, which is a type of rock. I don't know if it has anything to do with actual soap or not. I guess you will have to look it up if you want to know more!

    Love, Piper

  4. Dear Squirrel,
    Sometimes dogs who are dog-aggressive do fine if they live in a house where there aren't any other dogs. You still have to be careful if you take them out anyplace where other dogs are around. Also, some dogs have a fear-aggression when they first meet another dog, but once they get to know that dog, they are okay being around it. Or another possibility is that a dog has what is called "barrier aggression," which means that if there is a fence or kennel door between the dog and other dogs, it will act like it wants to fight. But if the dog gets to meet other dogs out in the open, it is much friendlier.

    So yes, there is hope for a dog-aggressive dog, but it can be a tricky situation to deal with, and the owner will probably always have to be really, really careful about where the dog goes. It's usually not a good kind of dog for first-time dog owners or families with young children to adopt.

    Your friend, Piper