Cucumis humofructus

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Aardvark cucumber
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Cucumis
Species: C. humofructus
Binomial name
Cucumis humofructus

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.[1] The vines of the plant initially fruits above ground on stalks which then bend and push back under the ground.[2] 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.[1] 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.[3]

It is the only fruit eaten by aardvark, which normally feeds exclusively on ants and termites.[4] Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content,[5] and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals.[6] Due to the depth of the fruit, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and completely rely on aardvarks to uncover the fruit,[1] 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.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It has a growing season of between three to four months, with its habitat being restricted to the savanna regions of southern Africa.[7] It tends to grow within the geographical range of aardvark burrows,[6] as the animals tend to defecate near their habitats.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Van Rheede van Oudtshoorn (1998): p. 118
  2. ^ a b Barlow, Connie (2002). The ghosts of evolution, nonsensical fruit, missing partners, and other ecological anachronisms. New York: BasicBooks. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-465-00552-9. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Dean, W Richard J (1999). The Karoo: ecological patterns and processes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-521-55450-3. 
  5. ^ a b Steentoft, Margaret (1988). Flowering plants in West Africa. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-521-26192-0. 
  6. ^ a b Van Rheede van Oudtshoorn (1998): p. 26
  7. ^