The aardvark is a medium-sized, nocturnal mammal.
They are are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, except for the West and Central rain forest regions.
Aardvarks occupy grassland and savanna habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, preferring areas that have a large abundance of ants and termites year round.
The lifespan of aardvarks is up to 18 years in the wild and up to 23 years in captivity.
An aardvark’s weight is typically between 60 and 80 kilograms (130–180 lb). An aardvark’s length is usually between 105 and 130 centimeters (3.4 and 4.3 ft), and can reach lengths of 2.2 meters (7 ft 3 in) when its tail (which can be up to 70 centimeters (28 in)) is taken into account. It is 60 centimeters (24 in) tall at the shoulder, and has a girth of about 100 centimeters (3.3 ft).
Aardvarks have very thick skin and do not possess a fat layer. The thickness of the skin protects these animals from biting ants, and aardvarks may sleep in the ant nests they have recently excavated for feeding.
They are notable for their long nose, which is wider at the distal end, their squared-off head, and a tail that tapers off toward the tip.
The hair is short on the head, neck, and tail, but longer and darker on the rest of the body, especially the limbs. Hair is often worn off in adults, but apparent on the young.
Their limbs are modified for digging into the very hard termite mounds found in African savannahs. The nails are actually somewhere between true nail and hoof in form.
While aardvarks have teeth (unlike other anteaters), they lack incisors and canines.
The sticky tongue, extending to 30 centimeters (nearly 12 inches) from the small mouth, is then used to lap up the insects.
They seem to rely primarily on their sense of smell for locating prey.
The aardvark is nocturnal and is a solitary creature that feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites which it will dig out of their hills using its sharp claws and powerful legs. It can eat up to 50,000 insects each night; the only fruit eaten by aardvarks is the aardvark cucumber.
At night it travels 10 to 30 kilometers (6 to 19 miles), ambling along familiar paths in a zigzag fashion, pausing frequently to sniff and press its snout against the soil.
The running speed of an aardvark has not been officially documented but it is estimated to be able to run at speeds of which is around 38-42 km/h (23.5-26 mph).
The aardvark is known to be a good swimmer and has been witnessed successfully swimming in strong currents.
The aardvark excavates branching burrows, usually 2 to 3 meters (6.6 to 9.8 feet) long but sometimes up to 13 meters (42.6 feet), with several sleeping chambers. It abandons old burrows and digs new ones frequently, which thereby provides dens used by other species such as the African wild dog.
The aardvark is a rather quiet animal. However, it does make soft grunting sounds as it forages and loud grunts as it makes for its tunnel entrance.
The sexes associate only during breeding periods. After a gestation of seven months, one young weighing about 2 kg (4.4 lb) is born during the rainy season. At birth the claws are already well developed. The young stays in the den for two weeks, then follows its mother. By 14 weeks it eats termites, and by 16 weeks it is weaned. It can dig its own burrow by six months of age and will leave its mother before it is one year old.
The aardvark is currently listed as a species of least concern, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The aardvark is sometimes colloquially called “African ant bear”, “anteater” (not to be confused with the South American anteater), or the “Cape anteater” after the Cape of Good Hope.
The name “aardvark” comes from earlier Afrikaans (erdvark) and means “earth pig” or “ground pig”, because of its burrowing habits.
Aardvarks handle captivity well. The first zoo to have one was London Zoo in 1869, which had an animal from South Africa.
In African folklore, the aardvark is much admired because of its diligent quest for food and its fearless response to soldier ants.
The Egyptian god Set is usually depicted with the head of an unidentified animal, whose similarity to an aardvark has been noted in scholarship.
It is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, although other prehistoric species and genera of Tubulidentata are known.