Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Creature Feature: Aardvark.

Well, that's that. In an attempt to expand my vocabulary, I have procured a dictionary. This creature was the first word that came up after the letter "a," so why not make it today's animal? 

If you, like me, now have a song of "a-a-r-d-v-a-r-k!" running through your head, then you have probably seen the cartoon aardvark Arthur. Arthur does not look a thing like an aardvark (he used to); real aardvarks resemble crosses between pigs and kangaroos, or, if you prefer, the Egyptian god Set (although some would call Set a separate or composite beast). The English name comes from the Afrikaans "earth pig," i.e. "that piglike creature that digs in the ground all the time."

Above: Even older Arthur, personification of evil.

Aardvarks dig all night long. Their front feet, armed with four shovel-like nails, break up the earth excellently; their hind feet, which have five toes and webbing, kick sand out of the aardvark's way as it does its thing. Both sets of claws look like a transition stage between claws and hooves.

With their strange, efficient claws, aardvarks dig extensive burrowing systems that look more like they should belong to the aardvark's favorite foods: Ants and termites. These can be simple holes in the ground or networks with 20 entrances or more. The more complex burrows even have a 'toilet!' When these burrows are abandoned, animals such as bats, birds, hyenas and wild dogs use them for their own purposes.


The aardvark uses many adaptations to get at eusocial insects like ants and termites. Its ears can hear the scurrying of tiny insects beneath the ground and its piglike nose can sniff them out. Within the aardvark's long, tubular snout is a sticky tongue that laps up ants just like an anteater's. Although its long snout makes the aardvark look a little bit like the Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), this is just convergent evolution; maaany unrelated animals that eat ants and termites have evolved adaptations similar to those of the anteater.

If you had to guess what the aardvark was related to, you would probably have a hard time. A lucky shot might lead to 'elephant' - yes, the aardvark is another Afrotherian, albeit one of a kind. The aardvark is the only extant member of Tubilidentata, an order known for odd, rootless teeth that fall out and are replaced like a shark's or crocodile's. (The aardvark's only consistent teeth are towards its cheeks.) The aardvark has not even changed much since mammals first evolved placentas. As the only extant member of this nigh-extinct, strange-as-hell order, the aardvark is considered a living fossil.

Blazing Seth by *skorpiusdeviant on deviantART

Oh, and Satan in furry form.

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