The under appreciated animals podcast is a wildlife podcast all about shining a spotlight on the animals that don’t get talked about as often as they should be.
• what an aardvark ACTUALLY looks like
• why aardvark burrows are pretty amazing
• if an aardvark is an EDGE species
Music: Outdoors In Summer by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com
[intro music]Hello and welcome to the under appreciated animals podcast with Hatchling Makes. An animal themed podcast filled with fun facts about species that aren’t always the main feature in nature documentaries but are getting a chance in the spotlight because they are amazing and they deserve some attention too.
My name is Tash Hatcher and I am a wildlife artist and life long animal lover. I run a small business called Hatchling Makes where I sell wildlife inspired enamel pins and stickers and every sale helps to raise money for wildlife conservation!
In each episode of this show I’ll be chatting about a different under appreciated animal. From horseshoe crabs to cassowaries to rock hyraxes and everything in between. I’ll be sharing fun facts and telling you all about these incredible species from where they’re found to what they eat to just what makes them so special. And hopefully by the end of the episode you’ll love them just as much as I do.
Before we go any further I do want to add in a tiny disclaimer! I am not a wildlife professional in any way shape or form. I am just an extreme animal lover, but I will do my very best to research these creatures to the best of my abilities so I can bring you their stories as accurately as possible.
So without further ado, let’s dive on in to todays episode!
Phew! First episode nerves. Before we get into the episode I just wanted to say thank you so much for tuning in and listening! I know you have your pick of podcasts and to have you choose this one, really means a lot to me.
I don’t want to get too sentimental too early into this so let’s dive on into our first episode of this show, and today we’re shining a spotlight on… the aardvark!
Now you may be thinking, why are we starting off this podcast with an episode about aardvaarks? Well, when I was thinking about which animal I should do first, I thought about highlighting my favourite animal - but let’s be honest that’s a long list. And then I thought maybe I should focus on the most endangered animal in the world but I felt like that would have been a really heavy topic to start this podcast off with. So instead we’re going with the aardvark and its because “aardvark” is the first word in the English dictionary and to quote The Song Of Music - “let’s start at the very beginning”. It is a very good place to start after all. 🤣
So in todays episode we’re going to cover everything to do with aardvarks. Where they live, what they eat, how big they get, all that kind of stuff with some fun facts thrown in here and there. So let’s get cracking!
Now if you’ve never seen an aardvark then describing one is pretty tricky cause it’s sort of a mish mash of a bunch of animals put together. And if you’re thinking “oh I know what an aardvark looks like. I’ve seen Arthur” well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Arthur looks nothing like an actual aardvark! Absolutely nothing against Arthur I’m sure it’s a great tv show! But the animators definitely took some artistic licenses with designing.
An actual aardvark has got a sort of a long pig like snout and then ears of a rabbit, then their body is almost hairless and they have a really thick skin and it’s shaped a little bit like a pig, and they have this long tail that’s kind of reminiscent of a kangaroo. If you are listening to this and going - this sounds so weird, Tash. I can’t picture this at all, then I do also have my own illustration of an aardvark which is the artwork for this episode if you want to see what they really look like!
So hopefully now you’ve got an idea of how they look like. Honestly I think they’re so charming and so interesting to look at, I could spend ages talking about what they look like cause I just think they’re super cute.
Now aardvarks are pretty big animals! They can grow up to about 110 to 135cm long, and that’s not including the tail! That’s about 43 to 53 inches, so that’s pretty big! Weight wise they come in at about 40 to 80 kg which is about 110 to 180 lbs. So for comparison, an average domestic house cat is 4 to 5kg which is about 8 to 10 lbs. That means you need around 16 house cats for every aardvark. I really hope I’ve done the math right there. Maths is not my strong suit!
So aardvarks are pretty hefty animals - and that always throws me cause in my head I imagine them to be really cute, really small like a bit more like a meerkat size and then you see them and they’re actually pretty massive!
I mean we’re not talking like the size of an elephant or the size of a whale, but not the size you imagine an aardvark to be when you imagine one in your head.
And don’t get me wrong they’re still really cute but I think cause we only generally see them when we go to zoos so not that often - at least not as often as I would like - or we only see them in nature documentaries so we don’t really get an idea of the actual scale of these animals sometimes.
So I’m going to throw in a little fun fact here - I love a good fun fact! So this one is that the name “aardvark” is actually an Afrikaans word that means “earth pig” and when you look at an aardvark it’s just the most apt name for it because it’s not quite a pig but not quite anything else and so I don’t know it just fits!
Now if you’re wanting to go see one of these adorable creatures in the wild then you need to head to Africa. Aardvarks are found in grasslands, and in bushlands, actually loads of different habitats, but all in sub Saharan African - which if you didn’t know what that means, it’s basically anything below the Sahara desert. So if you imagine a map of Africa and then about a quarter of the way down, draw an imaginary line and everything below that line is where you could potentially find an aardvark.
And when you think about it then aardvarks having those big long rabbity ears makes a lot of sense because they live in such a dry and hot climate and so similar to a fennec fox, they can use those ears to dispel and get rid of their excess body heat to keep themselves cool.
So one of the coolest things about aardvarks, and this is another little fun fact for you, is that they have really strong claws on their two front feet and they kind of form little spades that they can then use to dig. And so they’re great diggers and can dig really elaborate burrows which have got long tunnels and separate sleeping chambers and massive entrances, and everything!
And then that digging skill comes in really useful when they need to hide from predators - so they can dig and hide themselves in the ground really really quickly. So if an aardvark is threatened it can just dig down and vanish.
So let’s just jump back to the burrows cause I find this really interesting. And I feel like I’ve said everything is interesting so far but I really do find it so fascinating - I’m going to guess that cause you’ve gotten oh 5 minutes into the podcast you feel the same so yay!
So aardvarks dig new burrows pretty regularly and then they abandon their old burrows. But then their abandoned burrows are then used by other animals as shelter which I personally think is just the epitome of the whole animal kingdom cause everything depends on something else and it all works together and I just find this so so amazing.
So warthogs, and hyenas, and snakes, and all sorts of birds, and lizards, and even pangolins have been found to repurpose old, abandoned aardvark burrows! I mean imagine coming across an aardvark burrow but then there’s actually a hyena inside there! Like it just blows my mind a little. And this actually is really important fact because it means the aardvark is classed as a keystone species because it has such a wide impact on the natural environment and on the ecosystem.
So without aardvarks digging these burrows that would make lives so difficult for these other animals. In fact I was just watching a documentary about a leopard that was chasing a family of warthogs and the warthogs took refuge in an abandoned aardvark burrow! And it was just so interesting to watch, these warthogs survived and they were able to hide in the burrow and then dash out and run off before the leopard could catch them even though the leopard was staking out the burrow.
I mean it was just so fascinating to watch this documentary and see warthogs using aardvark burrows in this way. Even though I did feel a little bit bad for the leopard but I was really pleased that the warthogs were able to hide and then get away safely at the end. It was just such a heartwarming moment It was so lovely. Anyways I digress!
Now I found one single article on the edge of extinction website, which is the home of EDGE, and it was an article written in 2012. And if you don’t know what EDGE is it stands for evolutionarily - ooh I can’t say that word. Evolutionariry - nope I can’t [laugh]. distinct and globally endangered. They’re basically species that’s broke off the evolutionary tree so long ago and forged its own path that they have very few to no close relatives. So if these species were to go extinct then we’d lose them forever. So a great example of this is the vaquita dolphin, it’s just totally unique.
So this article said that aardvarks were the world’s most evolutionarily - I said it that time! - distinct mammal with the highest score on the scale of how EDGE classifies how distinct an animal is.
But I couldn’t confirm this information anywhere else, I could only find it written in this one article and I couldn’t find aardvarks in the EDGE database of animals anywhere - under mammals or under focal species, I just couldn’t. Now normally if I can’t confirm information I wouldn’t mention it, but if aardvarks are an EDGE species then that’s a really important fact to know.
So if you are listening to this and you have any sources that aardvarks are an EDGE species other than the edge of existence website, please let me know, get in touch because I love to highlight an EDGE species and I think it’s super important to mention whenever there is an EDGE species cause again if we were to lose these animals we would lose them forever.
What we do know is that aardvarks are the only member of their scientific family which I will not be pronouncing here cause I can’t, and I don’t want to butcher the pronunciation like I did earlier!
We also know that there’s only one species of aardvark and their closest relatives are thought to be dugongs, hyraxes and elephants! And that is according to excellent Animal Diversity Web which - side note - I discovered thanks to Ellen and Christian Weatherford from the Just The Zoo Of Us podcast, so go listen to them, they’re great, and they are one of the inspirations for me starting this podcast so yeah, make sure you go give them a listen!
So aardvarks are mammals and they give birth to one pup at a time. But they’re also nocturnal and because of that there’s not a lot known about their mating behaviours. What we do know is that they are fairly solitary animals unless they’re a mum raising a young! So baby aardvarks stay in the burrows for around two weeks before they start going out to forage for food which brings us quite nicely onto, what does an aardvark eat?
Aardvarks are insectivores and they mostly eat ants and termites and they have a very long sticky tongue, a bit like an anteater or pangolin. And then they use their spade like claws that we were talking about earlier to tear open termite mounds and they don’t hanging around when they do that, they can dig 2 ft in about 15 seconds. 2ft is about half a metre. I can imagine for a termite that’s a pretty terrifying thing to have happen to you. Your home is being destroyed and then before you can process what’s happening you’ve been eaten by an aardvark! So yeah amazing fact about aardvarks, but not so great if you’re a termite.
Whilst I was researching aardvarks for this episode, I came across a website called the African Wildlife Foundation and they said that aardvarks will sometimes just push their snout up against an opening of a termite’s nest and sort of slurp up the termites. Now I don’t know how accurate that is but if I was an aardvark that’s probably something I would do. I imagine it a little like an aardvark who can’t be bothered to tear open the termite mound, like I’ll just stick my nose in this hole and have a little snack! Like fast food but for aardvarks. I mean I can see the appeal!
So I wanted to talk a little about the conservation status of aardvarks. Now they’re classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List - and that’s because they have a fairly stable population. Actually in protected areas like in national parks they have really thriving populations which is amazing. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t face threats and sadly - like a lot of the animals I’m going to highlight in this show - those threats generally are because of human interaction.
So farmers don’t particularly like aardvarks because they dig their burrows and obviously that leaves holes everywhere. So they have been known to kill aardvarks sometimes, but then that causes termite populations to then explode and then destroy the farmers crops - so it’s a bit like karma.
Aardvarks are also hunted by humans and considered a food source, and this is not the type of podcast where we’re going to criticise local cultures or beliefs, this is just a sad fact that unfortunately aardvarks are hunted for food.
Aardvarks also have natural predators like hyenas, lions and leopards as well.
And then on top of all of that, if the aardvarks manage to avoid being hunted, being killed cause they’re considered pests, being prey for other larger animals, they’re also suffering from a loss of their own prey. Ants and termite populations can be victim to pesticide use which obviously then impacts the aardvarks cause they can’t eat.
So even though populations are stable to sort of semi quote Kermit the frog - it ain’t easy being an aardvark.
And so on that note I’m going to wrap this episode up here. I hope you enjoyed hearing me rambling on about aardvarks! Honestly they’re one of my favourite animals - but if you know me or you’ve followed my work for a a long time you’ll know I that I say that a lot. [laugh]
Thank you so much for listening to my first ever full podcast episode.
Until next time, take care folks.
[music plays under Tash talking] Thank you so much for listening to the under appreciated animals podcast. I hope you found this episode fun and interesting and if you did then please reach out! Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
If you love animals and would like to help support this podcast, you can check out my website for my small business, Hatchling Makes, which you can find at hatchling makes dot com or if you head to the show notes I’ll leave a link there. It’s got wildlife inspired enamel pins, and stickers, and stationery and all that good stuff. Plus 10% of every sale is donated to wildlife conservation.
Also if you have a moment to leave me a review I would be super grateful! That really helps me to know that I’m sharing the animal stories that you want to hear!
You can also discover more under appreciated animals by listening to other episodes which are available wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe whilst you’re there so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. New episodes will come out every other week on a Friday.
I’m also taking animal suggestions so hop on over into the show notes to find out how to do that if you have an animal you’d like me to highlight on this show! Bonus points if you mention one that I have never heard of before!
That’s all from me until next time take care folks!