The aardvark cucumber (Cucumis humofructus), also known as aardvark pumpkin, is a kind of cucumber from southern Africa, tropical Africa, and Madagascar which fruits underground. It is reliant on the aardvark to eat the fruit in order to spread and re-bury the seeds of the plant.
Cucumis humofructus is thought to be the only Cucumis species having geocarpic (subterranean) fruit. The vines of the plant initially fruits above ground on stalks which then bend and push back under the ground. The fruit then grows at a depth of between 150–300 millimetres (6–12 in). It develops a tough skin which is water resistant and can remain intact for months without decay. The plant grows as a trailing herb from 2 metres (6.6 ft) to 7 metres (23 ft) in tropical Africa and 0.5 metres (1.6 ft) to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) in southern Africa.
It is the only fruit eaten by aardvark, which normally feeds exclusively on ants and termites. Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content, and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals. Due to the depth of the fruit, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and completely rely on aardvarks to uncover the fruit, and the plant may be the reason why the aardvark is the only mammal feeding on ants and termites that has retained functional cheek teeth.
Distribution and habitat
It has a growing season of between three to four months, with its habitat being restricted to the savanna regions of southern Africa. It tends to grow within the geographical range of aardvark burrows, as the animals tend to defecate near their habitats.
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- Van Rheede van Oudtshoorn (1998): p. 26
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