This edited article about the Aardvark originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 717 published on 11 October 1975.
A strange-looking animal emerged from its burrow on the South African veld just as dusk was falling. It had the snout of a pig, the ears of a donkey, the claws of a bear and the tail of a kangaroo. Its name was Aardvark, which means ‘earth-pig’ in the Africaans language. Although it was six feet (1.8m) long and powerfully built it was a timid creature and never left its underground home in daylight.
Now the aardvark was hungry and looking for food. It moved slowly through the night, keeping a watchful look out for the enemies it feared most – apart from man, these were lions and other big cats, wild dogs and pythons. At any sign of danger it would rapidly burrow down into the earth, but if cornered it was prepared to fight by rolling on its back and striking out with its claws and tail.
It travelled for some miles before finding what it was looking for – a towering 12 foot (3.6m) mound of baked clay, a termites’ nest. The aardvark attacked the mound with its powerful front claws and succeeded in ripping open a small hole near the ground.
The disturbed termites came swarming out and the hungry animal used its long sticky tongue to lap them up, then swallowed them by the hundred. A very tough skin and the ability to close its nostrils protected it from the attacks of the fierce ‘soldiers’, a special caste of termites with huge jaws, whose duty it was to protect the nest.
When it had eaten its fill, the aardvark ambled back to its burrow to sleep off the effects of its big meal during the long daylight hours.
The aardvark is something of a puzzle to zoologists. It used to be classed with armadillos, which also eat ants, and with sloths. Now, however, it is placed in an order of its own, called ‘tube-toothed’ because it is unique in having fine tubes radiating through each tooth. It has no living close relative but fossil aardvarks have been found in Asia and Europe as well as Africa – some even in America.
Termites, or ‘white-ants’ as they are sometimes mistakenly called, live in huge colonies made up of one ‘queen’, one ‘king’, a large number of ‘soldiers’ and sometimes millions of workers.
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