Overview

Brief Summary

The order Tubulidentata includes just a single living species, the Aardvark (Orycteropus afer). Aardvarks were at one time thought to be closely related to anteaters, tree sloths, armadillos, and pangolins. It eventually became clear, however, that the similarities on which these associations were based are the result of convergent evolution independently shaping the morphology (body form) of these different animals for similar functions, such as feeding on ants and termites. As their distinctiveness was recognized, Aardvarks were eventually moved to their own genus (Orycteropus), then their own family (Orycteropodidae), and eventually, in the early 20th century, their own order (Tubulidentata).

Molecular phylogenetic studies have revealed that Aardvarks belong to the broad mammal clade known as Afrotheria, a group that includes elephants, hyraxes, sirenians, sengis, and tenrecs and golden moles.

Aardvarks typically swallow their food without chewing, but the stomach has a thick muscular wall that helps to crush swallowed food. The tongue is long and tubular and can be extended to twice its "resting" length, allowing it to reach far into ant tunnels. The powerfully built body is well suited to digging, as are the long, sharp claws on the front feet.

Aardvarks are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa in a range of habitats from semi-arid deserts such as the Kalahari and Karoo regions and throughout savanna regions to (at least to some degree) the rainforests of West Africa. The key requirements for Aardvark habitat are an adequate supply of ants and termites and soil amenable to burrowing. Aardvarks occur at elevations as high as 3200 m in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia and do not appear to be limited by the occurrence of water. Unoccupied Aardvark burrows are often used by other animals.

Aardvarks are solitary and nocturnal and spend most of their time eating or sleeping. Because of their habits, Aardvarks rarely interact with humans. Farmers sometimes kill them because their deep burrows can injure livestock or damage farm equipment and Aardvarks sometimes burrow into the earth walls of water storage dams, causing leaks. In Central and West Africa, Aardvarks are killed for the bush meat trade. They are also killed for curios and for charms in traditional medicine. Despite these threats, populations are believed to be stable at least in southern Africa, where the bushmeat trade is not a big factor.

(Taylor 2011 and references therein)

  • Taylor, W.A. 2011. Family Orycteropodidae (Aardvark). Pp. 18-25 in: Wilson, D.E. & Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

The Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is the only living species in the order Tubulindentata. They are in the family Orycteropodidae.

Aardvarks are nocturnal mammals that are native to sub-Saharan Africa although they are very versatile in their housing choices. They can be found in many regions, as long as there are sufficient termites for food, access to water and sandy or clay soil. The name comes from the language of Afrikaans and translates to "earth pig" because of it's burrowing habits. The aardvark can dig two feet in the matter of 15 seconds. The aardvark feeds on almost all ants and termites. It can live up to 24 years in captivity.

The body of an aardvark is very stout and short and is sparingly covered in course hairs. The front feet has four toes, while the rear feet have five toes. Each toe has a shovel like nail which is useful in their burrowing. On the end of their elongated head there is a long snout. The underside of the snout houses the mouth which is small and tubular which is typical of animals that feed of ants and termites. The aardvarks body is a yellow-grey color which is often stained by reddish-brown soil. The length of the aardvark is typically between 1 and 1.3 meters (3.3 and 4.3 feet) but when the tail is taken account, the aardvark can be up to 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) long. The aardvarks weight is typically between 40 and 65 kilograms (88 and 140 lbs). 

The aardvark helps humans by reducing the ant and termite population eating away farmer's crops. They play a huge economical importance by reducing crop damaging termites by up to 60%. Although very beneficial, the aardvark is also unpopular among farmers due to their burrowing tendencies. The huge holes and burrows dug can damage dam walls and seriously damage vehicles and tractors. Abandoned termite mounds opened up by aardvarks may be used as hideouts for other types of animals. Smithers (1971) recorded 17 species of mammals that home in aardvark burrows and some of those mammals even depend on only these shelters, as they cannot make them themselves. A concern amongst farmers is that these burrows are used as homes for two other species;warthog and jackal, who are unpopular among farmers. 

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Orycteropodidae is recognized as the only family within the order Tubulidentata, so the two are effectively synonyms.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Reproduction

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:6
Specimens with Sequences:6
Specimens with Barcodes:6
Species:1
Species With Barcodes:1
Public Records:3
Public Species:1
Public BINs:2
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Barcode data

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