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What Do Aardvarks Eat? All About The Aardvark’s Diet

The aardvark is a fascinating animal that is known for its unique physical features, its ability to dig burrows, and its nocturnal behavior. Another interesting thing about aardvarks is their diet, which is primarily made up of insects – but not only. Aardvarks are highly specialized to eat insects, and they have various characteristics that reflect this specific diet.

In this article, we will take a closer look at what aardvarks eat and how they eat it, as well as their diet in captivity and how much they eat. So, if you’re curious about what these intriguing creatures like to snack on, read on!

What Do Aardvarks Eat? – The 4 Foods Making Up Aardvarks’ Diet

1. Termites

Aardvark diet - Termites

Termites are definitely the most important food source for aardvarks, and they make up the majority of their diet. A single aardvark can eat up to 50,000 termites in a single night, using its keen sense of smell to locate termite mounds.

Once it has found a suitable mound full of juicy termites, the aardvark uses its claws to dig into the hard outer layer. Once this is done, it just needs to use its long, sticky tongue to capture the insects inside. Despite the large number of termites it consumes, aardvarks are not going to eradicate these insects: they always leave enough termites for the colony population to rebound.

Termites provide a rich source of protein and other nutrients for aardvarks, and they are the staple of their diet.

2. Ants

Aardvark diet - Ants

In addition to termites, aardvarks also eat ants. However, they do not consume them as frequently as termites. Ants also provide a good source of protein and other nutrients for aardvarks. So they are a good alternative to termites when they are not available.

Just like what they do for termites, aardvarks locate ant colonies using their well-developed sense of smell, and they use their tongue to capture them. While ants are not as important a food source as termites for aardvarks, they are still a valuable and significant part of their diet in the wild.

3. Aardvark Cucumber

Aardvark diet - Aardvark cucumberSource: Wikimedia Commons

The aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humifructus) is a type of fruit that aardvarks eat occasionally. Also known as the African or wild cucumber, these fruits grow in the savannas of Africa and are high in water content. These plants are quite unique because they fruit underground. This phenomenon is called geocarpy, and it s very rare.

Aardvarks use their claws to dig up the fruit, and then use their powerful jaws to crack open the hard outer shell to access the fleshy interior. Aardvark cucumbers may not be a major component of the aardvark’s diet, but they do provide a good source of hydration. This is especially true during times when water is scarce.

4. Other Insects

Aardvark diet - Beetle

Termites and ants are by far the most common meals for aardvarks. But sometimes, it will also consume other types of insects, such as beetles and grubs. But again, these insects make up only a small portion of the aardvark’s diet. They are usually consumed when other food sources are scarce.

Beetles and grubs are often found in decaying logs or in the soil, and once again, it is aardvarks’ sense of smell and claws that enable them to locate and eat these insects. As other good sources of protein and other nutrients, these other insects help to supplement their diet in the wild.

How Do Aardvarks Eat?

What Are Aardvarks’ Adaptations to Eating Termites and Ants?

As we have seen, aardvarks have several physical adaptations that make them highly effective at feeding on insects in the soil. Their long, pig-like snout is one of these adaptations. It allows them to root through the soil and dig deep into termite mounds to access their prey.

As we have seen as well, they also have a really great sense of smell, which helps them to locate termite mounds and other insect colonies. Their strong claws are also particularly useful to dig into termite mounds or the soil.

The other adaptation that makes aardvarks so effective at feeding on insects is their long, sticky tongue, which can be up to 30 cm, or 12 inches, in length. Their tongue is coated with sticky saliva, which helps to trap insects and bring them into the aardvark’s mouth.

Insects are swallowed whole, and their stomach as some kind of gizzard which has the function of grinding all the consumed insects.

All of these adaptations work together to make aardvarks highly specialized – and effective predators of insects that live in the soil.

Do Aardvarks Ever Get Bitten by The Termites They Feed On?

Aardvarks are well adapted to feeding on termites and other insects and have several physical adaptations that help protect them from being bitten.

For example, aardvarks have thick skin and tough, rubbery lips that are resistant to insect bites and stings. They also have long, sticky tongues that they use to capture insects, which helps to keep them at a safe distance from the insects’ mandibles.

In summary, it is possible for aardvarks to be bitten or stung by insects, but their thick skin greatly minimizes the seriousness of the bites, and they are generally able to feed on termites and other insects without being harmed.

Aardvarks eatingSource: Julian Tysoe / Flickr

What Do Aardvarks Eat in Captivity?

In captivity, it is tough to replicate their natural termite and ant-based diet. In zoos, aardvarks are typically fed a semi-liquid diet which is a mix of mealworms, various fruits and vegetables, dog food, biscuits, and meat. This mixture provides the aardvark with all the nutrients they need and are a good substitute for their natural diet.

How Much Does an Aardvark Eat?

In the wild, aardvarks typically consume between 40,000 to 50,000 termites per night. They usually walk 4 to 10 km (2.5 to 6.2 miles) in a single night searching for their favorite food.

Final Thoughts

Aardvarks are amazing, and unique animals that have a highly specialized diet consisting mainly of insects, with termites being their primary food source. Aardvarks are well adapted to feeding on insects, with several unique physical adaptations that help them to locate, capture, and consume their prey.

Top image: Wikimedia Commons

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