Put your Nose to the Ground and Smell those Termites!

Aardvark on the prowl
Aardvark on the prowl for ants and termites in the Lomami National Park.
Giant Pangolin chasing ants and termites
Giant Pangolin also hunting for ants and termites in the Park.

Both hunt termites and ants;
Both hunt at night;
Both hunt with their nose;
Both have a long sticky tongue;
Rather than chew,
both grind exoskeletons in a muscular belly pouch (pylorus).

BUT they are SO different.

Take the Aardvark, Orycteropus afer:
A most unusual living fossil. It is the only living species left in its genus. In fact, there is no other living animal in its family or order. Among its closest relatives are the elephant, the tree hyrax and the elephant shrew. All of them living in the forests of the Lomami National Park.

Now, take the Giant Pangolin, Smutsia gigantea:
It has closer consanguinities. There is another Smutsia, a ground pangolin living on Africa’s savannas. And in the forest, there are two others of the same family, tree pangolins, both living, like the Giant Pangolin, in the Lomami National Park.
But Pangolins, too, are most unusual animals; Pangolins are the only mammals ambling about with a body shield of scales, scales made of keratin, like our fingernails.

But there are more similarities:

Both dig, scrape, rip and burrow;
Both close their ears and nose while furiously digging;
Both are solitary;
Both give birth to single young;
To communicate,
both secrete strong-smelling substances from anal glands.

And that strong scent does get them together on important occasions:

Both can fight:
Aardvark with its powerful front hoof-like claws,
Giant Pangolin slashing its tail with razor sharp scales.

BUT both are better known for defense:
The aardvark takes off at a gallop, 25 mph, quite something for its size, a lumbering short-legged beast of up to 180 pounds;
The Pangolin rolls itself in a defiant armored ball which can be more than 70 pounds, flat scaly tail covering soft belly and head all the way to the shoulders.

Both Africa-only mammals

And though they overlap in the Lomami Forest it is the Aardvark who is the most eclectic in its habitat preferences;
If the substrate allows digging, if there are ants and termites, it is potential aardvark territory throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
The giant pangolin, on the other hand, sticks closer to the equator and closer to water.
Yet in the Lomami National Park – both tramp past our camera traps at night.


  1. Jean-Pierre d'Huart
    Posted 2019-11-21 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Exceptional videos! Many thanks for sharing.
    No Giant Forest Hog yet, though…;-))

  2. Terese Hart
    Posted 2019-11-21 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Not yet. We are hoping soon to do more surveys and camera traps in the “high” lands in the westnorthwest. It is the most inaccessible area and a somewhat different habitat. We have not given up. smiles.

  3. Natalie Hart
    Posted 2019-12-09 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Wow! Fascinating videos of the aardvark and pangolin. Such an interesting tale of two ant eaters.

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