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Aardvark vs. Anteater: What Are Their Key Differences?

It’s true, aardvarks and anteaters look quite similar at first glance. But if you look closer, they reveal fascinating differences. These animals have adapted to their respective environments in different ways – and this results in significant differences in their physical characteristics, behavior, and diet.

In this article, we will compare aardvarks and anteaters and see what they have in common, and what are their key differences. We will explore their classification, physical appearance, habitat, behavior, dietary, and reproduction differences between the two. Ready to learn more about aardvarks and anteaters and what sets them apart?

Let’s go!

Aardvark vs. Anteater – An Overview

Are Aardvarks and Anteaters The Same Thing?

As we just established in the introduction, aardvarks and anteaters have some similarities in terms of their diet and physical adaptations. But no, they are not the same thing, they are different animals. They don’t even belong to the same families and have different physical characteristics, habitats, diets, and reproductive strategies.

Aardvarks are native to Africa and are the only living species in the family Orycteropodidae. Anteaters, on the other hand, are found in Central and South America and belong to two different families and three different genera.

Take a look at the chart below for an overview of their differences:

Aardvarks vs. Anteaters: A Comparison Table

Scientific nameOrycteropus aferMyrmecophaga tridactyla (Giant Anteater)
Cyclopes didactylus (Silky Anteater)
Tamandua mexicana (Northern Tamandua)
Tamandua tetradactyla (Southern Tamandua)
Size105-130 cm (3.44-4.27 ft), up to 2.2 m (7.2 ft)180 cm (5 ft 11 in) for the Giant Anteater
120 cm (3 ft 11 in) for the Tamanduas
35 cm (14 in) for the Silky Anteater
Weight50-82 kg (110-180 lbs)27-50 kg (60-110 lbs) for the Giant Anteater
4.5 kg (10 lbs) for the Tamanduas
175-400 g (6.2 to 14.1 oz) for the Silky Anteater
RangeSub-saharan AfricaCentral and South America
HabitatSavannas, grasslands, bushlands, woodlandsSavannas, grasslands, rainforests, wetlands
DietAlmost exclusively ants and termites, and sometimes a fruit called “the aardvark’s cucumber”Almost exclusively ants and termites
PredatorsLions, hyenas, leopards, wild dogsJaguars, pumas, harpy eagles, large snakes
ReproductionOne cub in October-November in the north of their range, or in May-July in the south. Gestation period is 7-8 months.One offspring at various times of the year depending on the species. Gestation period is 6 months for the Giant Anteater, 4.5-5 months for Tamanduas and the Silky Anteater.
Conservation statusLeast ConcernLeast Concern

1. Aardvark vs. Anteater: Classification

If you want to understand how animals are related to each other or how different they are, the first thing to look at is their classification. Scientists used to consider aardvarks and anteaters to be more related than they actually are. Both animals used to belong to a common order, Edentata.

But more recent studies have led to putting anteaters in an order called Xenarthra, which means “strange joints” in Greek. To keep it simple, this order includes animal species that have extra articulations in their spine, providing them with extra flexibility and strength. Aardvarks now belong to their own order, Tubulidentata, meaning “tubular teeth”.

The aardvark is the only living species in the order Tubulidentata and in the family Orycteropodidae. As for anteaters, there are four species of anteaters, split into two different families: Myrmecophagidae (giant anteater, tamanduas), and Cyclopedidae (silky anteater).

We can still find some common ground between them. Both the aardvark and the anteater are placental mammals. This means that they use an organ called the placenta to nourish the fetus.

Giant anteater
Giant anteater

2. Aardvark vs. Anteater: Physical Appearance

The aardvark and the anteater have distinctive physical characteristics that definitely show that they are not the same animal.

  • Aardvarks have a quite stocky body, vaguely resembling a pig, covered with thin, yellowish-grey fur. In contrast, anteaters have long and rather slender bodies, covered in coarse fur that is typically gray or brown in color.
  • If you put aside the silky anteater that is much smaller in size, aardvarks and anteaters have quite similar sizes, but in general, anteaters are a little smaller than aardvarks.
  • Aardvarks have long, pointed ears that can move independently. This way they can detect sounds from all directions, which is pretty handy to notice predators. They also have powerful claws on their front feet, which they use for digging their burrows in the ground.
  • It is interesting to note that giant anteaters and tamanduas have small eyes and quite poor vision, but they have a keen sense of smell. It is a characteristic that they share with the aardvark. The silky anteater, however, has quite large eyes that are useful to look for food at night.
  • Having a similar diet, aardvarks and anteaters share some other characteristics. For example, their front feet have long, curved claws that they use for tearing open ant and termite nests.
  • Another similarity: aardvarks have a long, pig-like snout with a mouth that houses their sticky, elongated tongue that they use to capture ants and termites. And of course, anteaters’ most distinctive feature is also their elongated snout we all know, which is used to capture insects.
  • Another similarity between the two is that they both use their long and sticky tongues to capture their prey. However, when it comes to teeth, aardvarks possess 20 tubular teeth that never stop growing, whereas anteaters have no teeth.

In summary, aardvarks and anteaters have different physical characteristics that differentiate them from one another. However, having the same diet, they also share some physical characteristics that are adaptations to their diet, the most obvious one being their tongue. This is called convergent evolution: two species that are unrelated end up developing similar characteristics to adapt to similar situations.

AardvarkSource: ucumari photography / Flickr

3. Aardvarks vs. Anteaters: Range and Habitat

The habitat and range of aardvarks and anteaters are very different. They live in totally different parts of the world.

Aardvarks are native to Africa. They have a widespread distribution on the continent and can be found in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Aardvarks can be found in a variety of habitats, including savannas, grasslands, and woodlands. They are adaptable animals, but they largely prefer regions with sandy or clay soil that makes it easier for them to dig burrows and hunt insects.

Anteaters, on the other hand, are found in Central and South America. They also live in varied habitats such as tropical rainforests, and grasslands. Silky anteaters and tamanduas are arboreal (which means that they live in trees). As such, they have adaptations such as a prehensile tail.

4. Aardvark vs. Anteater: Behavior

Let’s now talk about their behaviors and lifestyles.

The first thing to note is that aardvarks are nocturnal animals (which means they are active at night). Anteaters are often nocturnal as well but can also be diurnal (active during the day). This mainly depends on the regions they live in.

One thing they have in common is that both aardvarks and anteaters are generally solitary animals, and spend much of their time foraging for ants and termites.

There is one significant behavior difference between the two though: aardvarks are excellent diggers and they use their powerful claws to dig burrows in which they sleep during the day. Anteaters, however, do not dig burrows at all.

Aardvarks are not really fast runners, but can move quickly and run in zigzags to escape a predator. They can also dig a hole to hide very fast. They have also been observed standing on their hind legs, using their tail to balance, to survey their surroundings or face a threat if they are cornered, showing off their powerful claws.

Similar behavior can be observed with giant anteaters. They are also able to stand on their hind legs, also using their tail to help them balance, as a defensive posture for when they are scared and feel threatened.

AardvarkSource: Tim Ellis / Flickr

5. Aardvark vs. Anteater: Diet

One of the most significant common ground between aardvarks and anteaters is their diet. Both animals primarily feed on ants and termites, and they eat a lot of them.

  • Aardvarks absolutely love termites, and they will eat up to 50,000 termites in a single night. As we have seen earlier, they use their strong claws to dig into termite mounds, and their long, sticky tongue to capture the insects. Aardvarks also eat ants, and occasionally some other insects such as beetles or grubs. Sometimes, they eat a fruit called “aardvark cucumber” as well.
  • Similar things can be said about anteaters, their main diet is ants and termites. They will also eat other insects such as beetles, moths, and bees, spiders once in a while. Some species of anteaters will also eat small vertebrates, such as lizards, and fruits. So we can say that the anteater’s diet is a little more varied.
  • Both aardvarks and anteaters have famously long, sticky tongues that they use to capture their prey, but the structure of their tongues is slightly different. Aardvarks have a narrow, elongated tongue that can reach up to 30 cm (12 in) in length, while anteaters have a much longer tongue that can be up to 60 cm (24 in) in length.
  • Both anteaters and aardvarks have a muscular gizzard in their stomachs (a bit like birds) that helps them grind up the insects they consume.

6. Aardvark vs. Anteater: Reproduction

Aardvarks and anteaters have different reproductive strategies.

Aardvarks do not have a definite breeding season. Males and females will meet only for a short time for mating, before going back to their solitary lifestyle. A single offspring is born after a gestation period of 7 months. The young aardvark will stay with its mother for about 6 months before it becomes independent and digs its own burrow.

Anteaters too breed at any time of the year and will just meet during the mating period. Like aardvarks, female anteaters will give birth to a single offspring, after a slightly shorter gestation period of 5 or 6 months depending on the species. The young anteater will remain with its mother for up to a year and climb on her back.

Both aardvarks and anteaters have a slow reproductive rate, with females producing only one offspring per year. This potentially makes them vulnerable to environmental and human disturbances. At this rate, it can take many years for populations to recover from any declines.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, aardvarks and anteaters may look similar at first glance, but they actually are very different animals that live in totally different parts of the world. They share some similarities in their diet, their snout, but they have different lifestyles and behaviors. A look at their scientific classification teaches us that they are actually totally unrelated.

1 Comment

    Posted April 28, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Very interesting. I thought they were cousins at first.


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