A rather unusual mammal, the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is a solitary, nocturnal creature, cleverly adapted to a life of digging. They inhabit savanna and bushland habitats in sub-Saharan Africa where they consume an insectivorous diet. They use their powerful front legs and shovel-shaped claws to dig into the nests of ants and termites, and then proceed to use their long, thin tongue to catch and consume huge numbers of their favourite prey.
Although the aardvark looks like some sort of pig, this appearance is superficial as they are unrelated, in fact the aardvark has no close relatives alive today (being the only extant organism in the order Tubulidentata). The aardvark is a bizarre looking creature with its arched back, long ears, blunt claws and extensive snout but these features are the reason the aardvark thrives on the African plains.
As nocturnal mammals, they spend much of the day snuggled up in underground burrows – created using their specialised claws – and this allows them to stay cool in the blistering heat of the African savanna. They have a few natural predators, including lions, leopards, African wild dogs and hyenas, but aardvarks have thick skin (literally) so have some tactics to evade predators. When being pursued by a threat, they will quickly dig or run in a zigzag fashion to escape their attacker but if all else fails, they will desperately fight with their claws, hoping to hang on to their life for a few more precious minutes.
Aardvarks are secretive by nature and therefore not often seen by humans. However, their numbers thankfully appear to be stable and they are coping well with our changing world.