An aardvark, meaning an earthpig, is a little nocturnal animal. They are mostly found in Africa. These peculiar animals are not known by many people. Sometimes they are also called “Cape Anteater”, referring to the Cape of Good Hope, or another name for them is the “African Antbear”.

The aardvark almost seems like a conglomerate of a few different animals. With an arched back, sparse hair, plus a snout-like nose — it’s easy to see why their name includes “pig”. But their ears are more rabbit-like, they have duck-like webbed feet, bear-like claws, and a kangaroo-like tail. And with a long tongue and fondness for ants, you would think they are cousins of the anteater. But they are not from the same family tree.

In the Maasai culture they believe it will bring you good fortune if you spot an aardvark. They live across Africa, but are mostly found south of the Sahara Desert.

Amazing Facts About Aardevarks 2

Unique and Curious Looking

The aardvark is one of a kind, being the only one of the Tubulidentata species order. Their name comes from the Afrikaans language and is derived from the reclusive little animal’s fondness of sheltering underground.

An aardvark can weigh between 60 to 80kg (130 to 180 pounds). They can grow up to between 105 and 130 cm (3.44 to 4.27 feet). When you include their tails, they are about 2.2m (7 feet 3 inches) long. This makes them the biggest member of the Afroinsectiphilia clade. Raised in captivity, an aardvark can live up to 23 years.

Made to Last by Mother Nature

The genetics of aardvarks are almost a living fossil. The chromosomes reflect an early eutherian arrangement, before more recent divergence of the modern taxa. And this ancient genome makes them the most closely related cousins of elephants. Aardvarks reproduce very slowly, with only one little earth pig born at a time. They are born inside the den and the mommy aardvark looks after the little one for a whole year.

Their teeth are very unique. They don’t have a pulp cavity. Each tooth is made up of a cluster of very thin, hexagonal tubes of vesodentin alongside each other. It’s basically a modified dentine. Cementum hold the teeth together. The teeth aren’t covered in enamel. An aardvark’s teeth are constantly worn down and regrowing.

Amazing Facts about Aardvarks

Photo by Science News

The Hunter in the Night

They are not fond of the sun and heat. During the day they prefer to hide in burrows under the ground, which the aardvarks dig out themselves. These burrows are far away from water and rocky terrain.

During one night’s scavenger hunt, an aardvark can consume up to 60 000 termites and ants. This great feat is achieved using their 30cm long sticky tongue. While extracting their food, an aardvark can close off its nostrils to prevent dust from entering, or ants crawling up its nose.

Aardvarks prefer eating ants, but there are only so many ants available to fill their tummies. So they are forced to also eat termites. The ant population is closely linked to seasonal changes. With its handy claws, an aardvark can demolish an entire termite mound. Which is an impressive feat, a mound can become close to concrete hard. The aardvark will slurp up the entire colony after breaking in, sometimes even snorting them up through its nostrils.

A rare daytime spotting of an aardvark

Compensating with a Unique Physique

Aardvarks can’t see very well. But although their eyesight is terrible, their keen senses of smell and hearing make up for the loss. They can hear a single sound from a long distance away. Aardvark claws are spoon-shaped and very sharp. They use them to borrow through the ground, as well as protection against predators. They can dig a burrow in a hurry, a very handy defence mechanism.

The Kings of the Underground

After eating all the inhabitants of a termite mound, they often make their burrows in it. Their underground homes are up to 13 meters long, and can have about seven different entrances. They like moving house often. And their abandoned burrows then become inhabited by warthogs, wild dogs, and pythons.

An aardvark territory can stretch for a few square kilometres. Oftentimes they don’t return to the same spot for up to seven weeks. This way the insect population can rebound a bit. The aardvark is thick skinned to protect it from the ant and termite bites. An aardvark can travel up to 16km during an evening of foraging, and sidestepping predators.

Amazing Facts About Aardevarks 1

Living On Their Own Mission

Because they are nocturnal, not much is known about these curious creatures. They are not very social and prefer to live a solo life. They only meet each other during breeding season. Again, due to their fondness of the dark, not much is known about how exactly they mate and what rituals they follow. A female aardvark is pregnant for seven months before giving birth to a solitary little aardvarkie.

The Pangolins are peculiar African and Asian mammals. Their bodies are covered with hard scales and they can curl up into a cute little ball in a defensive moment. Unfortunately they also have the title of world’s most trafficked animal. The name comes from a Malay word “penggulung”, meaning “one that rolls up”.

Once they have rolled up into a ball, it’s impossible to penetrate their sturdy scale shell. They look like something from a cartoon with a small head, long snout and surprisingly long tongue. Pangolins eat ants which they extract from inside the nests with their handy long tongue. Another name for this quirky little animal, is a scaly anteater. Depending on the species, Pangolins are between 40 to 50cm long, weighing on average about 1.5kg to 12kg. The Giant Pangolin weighs about 33kg.

#1 The Pangolin Endangered Stats

In total there are eight species, four African and four Asian. According to fossil discovery it’s speculated they may have originated in Europe. All eight Pangolin species are threated. They are listed in the IUCN Red List.

Species Scientific Name Endangered Status
Chinese Pangolin Manis Pentadactyla Critically Endangered
Indian Pangolin / Thick-Tailed Pangolin, Manis Crassicaudata Endangered
Sunda Pangolin / Malayan Pangolin Manis Javanica Critically Endangered
Philippine Pangolin, Manis Culionensis Endangered
Tree Pangolin / White-Bellied Pangolin, Phataginus Tricuspis Vulnerable
Long-Tailed Pangolin / Black-Bellied Pangolin, Phataginus Tetradactyla Vulnerable
Giant Pangolin / Giant Ground Pangolin Smutsia Gigantica Vulnerable
Cape Pangolin / Ground Pangolin / Temminck’s Ground Pangolin / South African Pangolin / Steppe Pangolin Smutsia Temminckii Vulnerable

Visit www.pangolin.africa for more information

#2 One of a Kind

Pangolins are the only mammals covered in scales. Their closest cousins are carnivores. The Pangolin is covered in sharp, overlapping scales from head to tail. The only areas uncovered are the sides of its face, inner legs, throat and tummy. These scales keep growing in the same way as hair. While they are digging and burrowing, the scales are ground down and then regrow again. The scales contain keratin, found in human fingernails. They make up 20% of the Pangolin’s body weight.

But many people around the world believe that the Pangolin scales hold special magical powers, even though they are basically the same as fingernails. In 2017 the Cameroon government confiscated 8 tonnes of Pangolin scales. That means about 15 000 animals were killed to harvest their scales.

#3 Carrying a Shield on Their Back

Pangolin scales are excellent to protect the little creatures from predators. There are very few hunters that can penetrate their shield of armour. It’s only the big cats that can take a shot at attacking a Pangolin such as a leopard, lion, or tiger. Hyenas sometimes succeed in breaking through the scales. Oftentimes the predators simply give up after a few attempts.

#4 Adaptations for Survival

Pangolins are professional ant hunters. They use their specialized noses to find the ants, sniffing out the underground ant hills. Once they start attacking an ant colony, they are able to close their nostrils and ears to prevent a counter-attack from the ants. This is done with the help of strong muscles, specially adapted to provide this skill.

#5 The Boniest Tail in All the World

Another unique body trait of the Pangolin, are their bony tails. They can boast with more vertebrae in their tails than any other animal. A few of the Pangolin species also use their tails to climb trees, and it can support almost its full bodyweight. These include the Indian, Philippine, and Sunda Pangolins. The tree-living Pangolin has a semi-prehensile tail. The females can also use their tails for carrying baby Pangolins. The black-bellied Pangolin wins the prize with 46 or 47 tail vertebrae.

Top 10 Amazing Facts about Pangolins

Photo by BCM Class Blog

#6 A Sneaky Tongue

The Pangolin’s tongue is longer than its body and head! It is attached close to the pelvis, at the end of its ribs. This body feature is engineered to make them excellent ant hunters. Some Pangolin tongues can measure more than 40cm when fully extended.

#7 Another Unique Defence Mechanism

Pangolins use another tactic to deter other predators from showing an interest in them. They have a nasty smell similar to a skunk. It’s secreted from little glands near the anus. It is used both as a defence mechanism and to mark territory.

#8 Interesting Eating Habits

These intriguing little creatures don’t have any teeth. So Pangolins can’t munch their food properly. To counter this, they regularly swallow a few stones. Their stomachs are lined with keratinous spines and the swallowed stones then assist with the grinding of the food. This technique works similar to the gizzard of a bird.

Top 10 Amazing Facts about Pangolins

Photo by National Geographic Blog

#9 Versatile Travellers

Although many Pangolin species only live on solid ground, there are a few that traverse across land, trees, as well as water. They are very good swimmers. The Pangolin’s semi-prehensile tail works well to grip onto tree bark, as well as help with steering in the water.

#10 Build for the Hunt

Pangolins have sharp little claws, boasting with three per foot. These handy tools help them to tear an ant or termite hill apart, and also assist the tree dwelling Pangolins with better climbing skills.

When is World Pangolin Day?

On the third Saturday of February each year people across the world celebrate these curious creatures. World Pangolin Day was created to make people more aware of the plight of these little critters.

The African Wild Dogs are oftentimes misunderstood. There are only about 5 000 left in the wild, putting them on the critically endangered list. They are very effective predators, with an 80% hunting success rate, in comparison with the 30% success rate of lions.

Here are a few interesting facts about the illusive animals.

Interesting Facts about African Wild Dogs

#1 Peculiar Physique

The scientific name, Lycaon pictus, means “the painted wolf”. It refers to their multi-coloured fur, painted with yellow, brown, black and white spots. The dappled fur serves as a unique fingerprint for each dog, no two patterns are alike. The African Wild Dogs boast with a potent bite, their specialised molars evolved to give them the ability to effortlessly break bones and shear meat off a carcass.

They have a set of killer senses with excellent sight, smell and hearing. The dog’s large rounded ears can be swivelled around like radars because of the numerous muscles. Their long legs and a lean shape turns the dogs into formidable hunters. They also boast with rapid muscle recovery.

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#2 Dynamic Social Hierarchy

The African Wild Dogs are truly a social pack. They operate with a very altruistic system. As with all pack animals, the dogs operate under a strict hierarchy. The alpha breeding pair rule over the other subordinate pack members. Once new pups arrive on the scene, they are prioritized, even above the alphas. When they are old enough to fend for themselves, they join the hunting party, with first choice of the spoils. This ranking system ensures that they rarely fight about food.

If a member of the pack falls ill, is injured or elderly, and is unable to be effective as a hunter – the rest of the pack takes care of it. An example of this remarkable altruistic system was seen in Botswana. An alpha female lost a foreleg during a hunt. In any other animal pack system, it would have been a death sentence. But she remained top of the pack for a few years after the incident, still breeding and raising pups. Her pack took care of her.

#3 Nomadic Animals

The African Wild Dogs can travel up to 50km in a day. This means they have huge territories that can range between 400 to 1 500 square kilometres. The only time they remain in one area, is during denning.

Top 10 Interesting Facts about African Wild Dog

#4 African Wild Dogs Have Good Coordination

Their high hunting success rate is mainly attributed to their well-coordinated nature, as well as working together as a pack. Communication is very important and during a hunt they constantly update each other about their location as well as that of the prey. The excellent teamwork of the African Wild Dogs and their high intelligence give them the ability to adapt to scenario changes during their hunt.

#5 Agile Hunters

Most African predators rely on their stealth to hunt. But the African Wild Dogs have other tricks up their sleeves. They are streamlined for high stamina chases. The hunt usually starts with the pack forming a line, to better move and cover ground. When the prey has been targeted, the dogs will start to approach and test the defences, pinpointing a weak target.

When the target is secured, they will start to threaten the herd and force it to separate. Next, the chase begins, focusing on the targeted animal. The pack will enclose the animal, blocking any escape routes. They start operating like an Olympic cycling team. If the dog at the head of the chase starts tiring, it will pull back, and another dog will take its place. The prey eventually becomes too exhausted to continue, a few kilometres into the hunt. But the African Wild Dogs have excellent stamina and teamwork on their side, and the take down happens effortlessly.

Another tactic they use, is to force a herd towards a source of water, such as a river or lake. In Africa large bodies of water means lurking crocodiles, and most African wildlife are afraid of venturing into deep water. Sometimes the prey is brave and takes the chance of diving into the water. But mostly they panic and turn back towards the pursuers. Other times the African Wild Dogs use a tactic borrowed from lions, with one hunter flushing out the prey and driving it words the others awaiting ambush.

Top 10 Interesting Facts about African Wild Dog

Photo by Flickr

#6 Few Natural Enemies

In the African wild, only lions are the African Wild Dogs’ main threat. A high population of lions means a low population of the dogs. Not many other predators are a threat to them. The hyenas will try to steal their kill, but won’t deliberately hunt the adult pack members.

Humans, on the other hand, are a very real threat to the African Wild Dogs. Although there are no concrete evidence to support the belief, they are seen as pests. Only in desperate times would they attack livestock. And till this day, there are no noted incidents in Africa of wild dog attacks on humans. But because farmers see them as vermin, they shoot the dogs when they see them near their livestock. And sometimes they will even track them down and poison the whole pack.

Other threats they have to deal with include diseases like rabies, which they usually contract from domestic animals. Because they are such social animals, one rabid wild dog will infect the whole pack, wiping it out entirely.

#7 The African Wild Dog Is Crepuscular

This means they are mostly active at twilight, the period before dawn and again after dusk. This is the best time for the African Wild Dogs to pursue their prey because it’s the time they are most active. And the darkness gives them the upper hand to hunt effectively, perfectly camouflaged because of their dappled fur. This has a two-fold advantage, hiding them from both their prey and predators.

Interesting Facts about African Wild Dogs Pups

#8 Strong Focus on Relationship Values

The alpha pair remains monogamous and are usually the only ones to breed within the pack. Sometimes a beta pair will also produce a litter, but then they are either adopted or killed by the alpha pair. A litter can range between 4 to 12 pups.

They have an unusual tradition of the sexually maturing males staying within the pack territory. And the mature females will travel far and wide in search of a potential mate. This is a great countermeasure against inbreeding.

Top 10 Interesting Facts about African Wild Dog

Photo by African Sky

#9 Strange Genetics

Although the ancient ancestor of the African Wild Dogs is the wolf, they are no longer genetically compatible with any other canid. So unlike domesticated dogs that can be subjected to selective breeding, this is not possible with their wild counter parts.

They used to populate the whole African continent but are now limited to South and East African countries. Their population density is most in the Selous Game Reserve and Okavango Delta. The East African wild dogs are a little smaller than the South African dogs. There are five subspecies, namely the East African wild dog, the West African wild dog, the Chadian wild dog, the Somali wild dog, and the Cape wild dog.

#10 Can’t Be Domesticated

For centuries people have tried to tame the African Wild Dogs, but without luck. They remain naturally distrusting of people, or in fact of any animals outside the pack. Domesticated dogs have certain characteristics in common, including a willingness to be touched by a person. Combined with curiosity and pure luck, humans were able to domesticate dogs. But African Wild Dogs remain weary of humans, and will most likely remain undomesticated.