This week marks the end of Arthur, the beloved PBS series about friendship, collaboration, and adventure, all through the eyes of one truly adorable aardvark. But though the cartoon version of this curious mammal won’t be getting any new story lines, actual aardvarks are still thriving in sub-Saharan Africa… even if IRL, they don’t have a best friend who’s a bunny and a monkey for a sister. (All together now: D DOUBLE U!)
What do aardvarks have in common with Arthur himself? And why should we keep tuning into their habitats even if it’s not a cartoon? Here are the facts.
Aardvarks don’t do bedtimes.
Arthur may have “lights out” at 9 PM, but actual aardvarks are nocturnal. They prefer to hunt in darkness for their favorite food—ants and termites. During the day, they sleep in underground burrows, which protects their skin from harsh and direct sunlight.
Aardvarks have bugs in their system.
Soooo many bugs. Aardvarks can shovel between 50,000 and 60,000 bugs a night into their mouths, and when we say “shovel,” we mean it: Aardvarks don’t chew their food, instead swallowing their protein whole. (They also eat African cucumbers—sometimes called “aardvark cucumbers”—as a less frequent part of their diet.)
Aardvarks are audio superstars.
Because of predators like lions, cheetahs, and even pythons, aardvarks have evolved with supersonic hearing to sense approaching threats. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, aardvark ears can grow to nearly 10 inches long! Aardvarks are nature’s vacuum cleaner. When part of a balanced ecosystem, aardvarks help keep the African grasslands healthy. That’s because by hoovering some insects off the soil every night, they help protect trees, roots, and leaves from being overrun by parasites, thereby keeping a steady food supply to African herbivores.
Additionally, aardvarks do nature a solid by spreading cucumber seeds across the plains as they snack on them, which helps grow more wild plants for the region’s vital soil health.
Aardvarks are also nature’s AirBnB!
Aardvarks are considered a “keystone species” in the wild because the burrows they dig all over the African plains become temporary shelters for birds, rodents, and even wild dogs. Besides creating much-needed housing for other species,
Aardvarks are called “key ecosystem engineers” by the Young People’s Trust for the Environment because their constant digging helps promote turnover in the ground, helping reinforce the earth’s steady supply of nutrients and groundwater.
Traditionally, 'aardvark' is the first word in the dictionary.
It’s an Afrikaans word, BTW, and it loosely translates to “earth pig.” (Think it looks more like a House Elf? You’re not alone. England’s Chester Zoo just named their new baby aardvark Dobby because of his Harry Potter double. Awww!)
Despite being key players in the African ecosystem, aardvarks do not have their own emoji.
😲😲😲 Let's help them out!