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Creation 36(2):28–31, April 2014

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A is for Aardvark

Can you cross a pig, a rat, a donkey and an anteater?

Photo: ©iStock.com/mason01aardvark-digging

Despite being one of the first words in a dictionary or encyclopedia, the aardvark is still something of a mystery for many people outside its home range of sub-Saharan Africa.

When Europeans heard of it1 many doubted its reality. Reasonably described as having ears like a donkey’s, an elongated pig-like snout, and a tail like a rat’s, as heavy as a man but eating ants like an ant-eater—little wonder some thought it as fictional as the mythical jackalope.2,3 But the travellers’ tales were true, for the aardvark is as real as the platypus.4

The ‘earth-hog’

Dutch settlers at the Cape of Good Hope coined the name aard-vark, meaning ‘earth-hog’, because of its burrowing habits.5 It also became known as the ‘Cape anteater’ or ‘African antbear’.

Its scientific name, Orycteropus afer, means ‘digging foot’ and ‘from Africa’. It certainly is well-equipped to dig, with its thick-nailed digits (four on each front foot and five on each hind foot), supremely-muscled limbs and high-arched back. It can excavate a new burrow at incredible speed, “so fast it can outstrip a team of six men with spades”,6 and can disappear beneath the surface of a sandy loam soil within three minutes.7

Aardvarks live throughout the savannahs of Africa—indeed, pretty much anywhere that isn’t rocky or prone to flooding. Farmers dislike aardvarks because their huge holes and burrows (reaching depths of three metres (10 ft), and lengths of 13 metres (40 ft), often with multiple entrances) “can devastate dam walls and seriously damage motor vehicles and tractors” that drive into them.7

Nocturnal hunter of ants and termites

Aardvarks generally only emerge from their burrows at night, to forage for food. They use their super-sensitive senses of smell and hearing to locate ant colonies and nests of termites, and then excavate them within minutes. Aardvarks’ long ears can be moved independently, as well as folded back and closed while tunnelling. Their nose contains nine olfactory bulbs—more than any other mammal. They can even accurately locate the deep underground nests of Hodotermes termites several metres beneath the surface.

Photo: ©iStock.com/mason01aardvark-closeup

Aardvarks lick up the insects (reportedly up to 50,000 in one night) with their long (up to 30 cm–1 ft) sticky tongue which, though broad and flat, can be rolled narrower to reach into small passages. They may feed for up to three hours at a newly-excavated site, before moving on, and will not revisit the site for at least 5–8 days. This allows time for the insect colony, which is rarely completely destroyed, to recover.

Problems classifying the aardvark

Evolutionary zoologists attempt to classify animals according to perceived evolutionary linkages, i.e. the closer that two creatures are grouped, the more recent their common ancestor. But the aardvark has presented huge difficulties in this. As adults lack incisor and canine teeth, it was initially placed in the order Edentata (‘toothless ones’) along with other ant-eating placental mammals: the armadillo, pangolin, and giant anteater of South America. But now it is placed as the sole representative of the order Tubulidentata (‘the tube-toothed’), so named because of the enamel-less distinctive teeth. Instead of having a pulp cavity, each tooth has a cluster of up to 1,500 thin, hexagonal, upright, parallel tubes of vasodentin (a form of dentine), with individual pulp canals held together by cementum.

As one encyclopedia put it:

“So the aardvark is out on an evolutionary limb, a species all on its own with no close living relatives.”6
aardvarkPhoto: Joel Sartore/National Geographic Creative

However, the following is typical of how evolutionists airily dismiss this:

“On the basis of similar diet and morphology aardvarks were once classified as close to South American anteaters and pangolins, but it is now accepted that these similarities are the result of convergent evolution rather than common descent.”8,9

Note that ‘convergent evolution’ is a euphemism for ‘evolved multiple times, independently’. But the supposed mechanisms of evolution—natural selection and mutational change10—cannot (without illogical leaps of creative imagination) explain how the various ant-eater design features could have arisen once, let alone multiple times.11 So the more logical conclusion should be:

“these similarities are the result of common design rather than common descent.”

The various ant-eating kinds of creatures around the world shared the same Designer, not the same ancestor. This Designer, when one considers for example the unique teeth of the aardvark, seems to have designed the various kinds of creatures to (among other things) deliberately thwart attempts to explain origins via naturalistic means. No wonder Romans 1:20 says people are “without excuse”.

Evolution—it’s a relative stretch

Evolutionists have moved on from behavioural and appearance similarities as a basis for determining ‘relatives’, to drawing upon genetic and biomolecular studies.12 Far from being consistent with the former, these have, more often than not, forced huge reshuffling of previously-claimed evolutionary linkages. Bizarrely, the aardvark’s ‘closest relatives’ are now heralded as variously being the elephant, the hyrax, the dugong, the golden mole, the tenrec, and the elephant shrew.13,14 Modern evolutionists have even said that every mammal, including man, is descended from a common ancestor genetically similar to the modern aardvark. If that were true, it would make the aardvark the ‘closest living relative’ of our supposed ‘common ancestor’!15

Of course, all that is evolutionary surmise, with no joy from the ‘fossil record’ either. The words of the aforementioned encyclopedia are still valid today:

“What is more, although fossil aardvarks have been found—but very few of them—in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, they give us no real clue to the aardvark’s ancestry or its connections with other animals.”6

The distribution of aardvark fossils makes much more sense from the biblical perspective of an all-encompassing, rapidly-burying-and-fossilizing, global Flood (Genesis 6–9). Every nostril-breathing land animal and bird perished—except the ones that God brought to Noah, which included a pair of aardvarks.

Noah’s Ark for the Aardvark

From their distribution today, it seems that after the Flood, the aardvarks headed south-west from the Ark’s landing site “in the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4). In the 4,500 years since, aardvarks have multiplied greatly to be widespread across sub-Saharan Africa.

Have aardvarks always been ant-eaters?

aardvark-side

Some people might say that aardvarks didn’t always eat ants and termites, as there was no death of any creatures before Adam sinned. However, while there was no death of any nephesh chayyah (animal life before the Fall, which definitely includes birds and various animals of the field, the Scriptures do not definitively say that insects have nephesh life (nor that they do not). So we can’t be dogmatic on this; i.e. there’s a possibility that aardvarks might have eaten insects pre-Fall.16

However, aardvarks certainly ate green plants too, as Genesis 1:30 makes clear. And they still eat green plants today. The ‘aardvark cucumber’, Cucumis humofructus, can often be found growing in the beautifully friable fertile soil near aardvark burrows.17 It’s not hard to understand why. Aardvarks eat the subterranean fruit, the seeds are then pre-prepared (scarified) for ready germination by the digestive juices in the aardvark’s intestine, then pass out of the aardvark wrapped in a nice dollop of fertilizer! (Also the aardvarks cover their dung with soil.17) The various zoos around the world today that keep aardvarks incorporate a mush of plant material in their feed mix.3

Aardvark Antics

  • While the aardvark was unfamiliar to Europeans (the first zoo to have one was London Zoo in 1869), in African folklore the aardvark has long been much admired because of its diligent quest for food and its fearless response to soldier ants. Some African tribes make bracelets of aardvark teeth.
  • When ants or termites are on the move, the line of marching insects can be 40 metres (130 ft) long—easy pickings for an aardvark’s eager tongue.
  • Adult aardvarks can weigh up to 80 kg (180 lb), with a total body length of about 1.5 metres (4 ft). Their arched back gives them a height of about 0.6 metres (2 ft) when on all fours. When it emerges from its burrow, however, after a few short powerful jumps the aardvark will stand erect on its rear legs and tail like a kangaroo, perking up its ears and turning its head in all directions. If there are no signs of any predator (lions, hyenas, leopards, human hunters) it makes a few more leaps, then moves off at a slow trot on its foray for food.
  • The wall of a termite mound is so hard it is difficult for a man to break down even with a pick-axe, but the powerful claws of an aardvark can rip through it easily. But first, aardvarks listen and sniff to determine which part of the termite nest is closest to the mound’s exterior, before dismantling the nest from that point.
  • Aardvarks are mostly solitary and nocturnal, but sometimes emerge from their burrows during the day to sun themselves. Adult aardvarks come together only to mate. They generally do not vocalize, but sometimes make loud grunts when nearing their burrow entrance, and they make bleats when frightened.
  • Offspring are born singly, remaining in the burrow for about two weeks, then following the mother in her nightly search for food. They first eat solid food themselves at about three months and are fully weaned at four months. Males become independent at six months, but a young female might remain with the mother until the next baby is born.
  • Aardvarks traverse on average 2–5 km (1–3 miles) in their nightly forays, but reportedly can range up to 29 km (18 miles) in one night. During rainy periods they have been known to excavate a new burrow every night, but more usually occupy a burrow for at least a week before shifting to another area within their home range (up to 400 hectares—1,000 acres—territorially marked out with a musk-like secretion from a scent gland). When returning to previous forage zones, they frequently renovate and utilize existing burrows rather than digging new ones.
  • When foraging, the aardvark walks slowly in a zig-zag pattern, keeping its nose to the ground and its ears pointing forward.
  • The aardvark’s sensitive nose is guarded by a fringe of bristles and it can also close its nostrils when digging, and as protection against ants and termites.
  • The aardvark is not only a fast digger, it can also outrun a human, and is a capable swimmer.

Conclusion

It makes much more sense to view the aardvark with its amazing design features, along with its geographical distribution and dietary habits (see box, above), from a biblical framework of history rather than a contrived evolutionary story of godless origins. The One who made the aardvark’s great digging power says it is by His “great power and outstretched arm” that He made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it (Jeremiah 27:5). His Word also tells us when that happened—i.e. that people and land animals were both created on Day 6 of Creation Week, and have reproduced “according to their kind” in the 6,000 or so years since.

So, we should not merely remember ‘aardvark’ as being at the beginning of an encyclopedia. We should remember that this creature, just like people, has been around “from the beginning of creation”, just as the Bible says (Genesis 1:24–31, Mark 10:6).

References and notes

  1. E.g. from explorers such as zoologist Martin Theodor von Heuglin (1824–1876), who in vain had tried to carry aardvarks to Europe alive. Return to text.
  2. The jackalope is a mythical animal of North American folklore described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns or deer antlers, and sometimes a pheasant’s tail. Return to text.
  3. Knothig, J., Biology of the aardvark, Thesis submitted to the Department of Zoology, University of Heidelberg, 2005; viewed at zuriorphanage.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Biology-of-the-Aardvark-by-Joachim-Knöthig.pdf, acc. 9 February 2018. Return to text.
  4. The platypus, too, initially stretched European credulity, with its furry body, duck-like bill, webbed feet, and young hatched from eggs and suckled by their mothers. See creation.com/platypus. Return to text.
  5. Oustalet, E., The aard-vark or earth-hog, Popular Science Monthly 14, March 1879. Return to text.
  6. Aardvark, The Marshall Cavendish International Wildlife Encyclopedia 1:7–9, 1991. Return to text.
  7. Aardvark, aardvarkafrica.org/ecological_importance.htm, acc. 23 December 2013. Return to text.
  8. The Aardvark, aardvarkaoc.co.za, acc. 23 December 2013. Return to text.
  9. Another example with similar wording: Taylor, A., Aardvark Order Tubulidentata: Biological synopsis, researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/bmammals/afrotheria/Tubulidentata.html, acc. 23 December 2013. Return to text.
  10. For much more, see creation.com/selection. Return to text.
  11. Australia’s echidna, a mammal which is a monotreme (egg-laying mammal) rather than placental, is also known as the ‘spiny ant-eater’, for obvious reasons. See creation.com/monotremes. Return to text.
  12. Arnason, U. and 2 others, The mitochondrial DNA molecule of the aardvark, Orycteropus afer, and the position of the Tubulidentata in the eutherian tree, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 266:339–345, 1999. Return to text.
  13. De Jong, W. and 2 others, Relationship of aardvark to elephants, hyraxes and sea cows from α-crystallin sequences, Nature 292(5823):538–540, 1981. Return to text.
  14. Ratzloff, E., Orycteropus afer aardvark, animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu, acc. 23 December 2013. Return to text.
  15. Yang, F. and 9 others, Reciprocal chromosome painting among human, aardvark, and elephant (superorder Afrotheria) reveals the likely eutherian ancestral karyotype, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 100(3):1062–1066, 2003. Also reported in: Aardvark ancestry? Creation 26(1):9, 2003; creation.com/aardvark-ancestry. Return to text.
  16. For more on this see ch. 6 in The Creation Answers Book, available via creation.com/store. Return to text.
  17. Hollman, J., Information needed about the aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humofructus), BGC News 2(8)—July 1997, bgci.org. Return to text.

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