John T. Willis

Monday, November 09, 2009


Most encyclopedias and dictionaries begin with "aardvark" in alphabetical order. From childhood, I have always been intrigued by aardvarks--I guess by the word and the shape of the animal.

Aardvarks are widespread throughout Africa. Aardvark--Orycteropus afer [afer is from Africa]--is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native in Africa. People call this creature "antbear," "anteater," "Cape anteater" from the Cape of Good Hope, "earth hog" or "earth pig." "Aardvark" is from the Afrikaans or Dutch meaning "earth pig" or "ground pig," because early settlers from Europe thought it looked like a domesticated pig.

However, the aardvark is not related to the pig. Instead, it is a sole recent representative of the obscure mammalian order Tubulidentata, the most distinctive characteristic is their teeth. The closest relatives of the aardvark are the elephant shrews, sirenians, hyraxes, tenrecs, and elephants. The aardvark's teeth do not have a pulp cavity. Rather, each tooth has a cluster of thin, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin, with individual pulp canals, held together by cementum. The teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away and re-grow continuously. The aardvark is born with conventional incisors and canines at the front of the jaw, which fall out and are not replaced.

The body of the aardvark is stout with an arched back and is sparsely covered with coarse hairs. The limbs are of moderate length. The front feet has lost the pollex or "thumb", resulting in four toes, but the rear feet have all five toes. Each toe has a large, robust nail which is somewhat flattened and shovel-like, appearing to be between a claw and a hoof. The ears are disproportionately long, and the tail is very thick at the base and gradually tapers. The greatly elongated head is set on a short, thick neck, and the end of the snout has a disc, which houses the nostrils. The mouth is small and tubular, typical of species that feed on termites and ants. The aardvark has a long, thin, snakelike protruding tongue and elaborate structures supporting a keen sense of smell.

The aardvark weighs from 50 to 65 kilograms, and it is 1 to 1.3 meters long, reaching to 2.2 meters including the tail. This creature is pale yellowish gray and often stained reddish-brown by soil. Its coat is thin and its primary protection is its tough skin. Often the aardvard sleeps in a recently excavated any nest to gain protection from its predators.

An aardvark emerges from its burrow in the late afternoon or shortly after sunset, and forages over a long home range covering 10 to 30 kilometers, swinging its long nose from side to side to pick up the scent of food. When it detects a concentration of ants or termites, it digs into it with its powerful front legs, keeping its long ears upright to listen for predators, and takes up an astonishing number of insects with its long, sticky tongue--as many as 50,000 in one night. The aardvarks' claws enable it to dig through the extremely hard crush of a termite or ant mound quickly, avoiding the dust by sealing the nostrils. The ants and termites cannot bite the aardvark because of its thick skin.

The aardvark excavate deeply into the ground. Only mothers and young share burrows. It attacked in the tunnel, it will seal the tunnel off behind itself or turn around and attack with its claws. The gestation of aardvarks is seven months, and produce a single cub. The little cub can leave the burrow after two weeks, and soon eats termites and ants in large number.

I have an idea that God had a lot of fun creating the aardvark. Think of all these characteristics and behaviors. This is just another example of God, our marvelous Creator and Sustainer. I hope YOU appreciate the aardvark and all of God's works. Just look around, and you will be amazed. Let me hear from YOU. Share YOUR ideas with others.

John Willis


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