Cucumis humifructus

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Aardvark cucumber
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Cucumis
C. humifructus
Binomial name
Cucumis humifructus

Cucumis humifructus, the aardvark cucumber or 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. The species was described in 1927, with the name spelled C. humofructus,[1] but this is corrected to C. humifructus following the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants.[2]


Cucumis humifructus is thought to be the only Cucumis species having geocarpic (subterranean) fruit.[3] The vines of the plant initially develop their fruits above ground on stalks which then bend and push back under the ground.[4] 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.[3] The plant grows as a trailing herb from 2–7 metres (7–23 ft) in tropical Africa and 0.5–2.5 metres (2–8 ft) in southern Africa.[5]

It is the only fruit (and only form of plant matter) eaten by aardvark, which normally feeds exclusively on ants and termites.[6] Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content,[7] and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals.[8] Due to the depth at which the fruits ripen, the seeds are unable to germinate without assistance, and C. humifructus is completely reliant on aardvarks to uncover their fruit.[3] This plant may be the reason why the aardvark is the only mammal feeding on ants and termites that has retained functional cheek teeth.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

It has a growing season of between three and four months, with its habitat being restricted to the savanna regions of tropical and southern Africa. It typically grows within the geographical range of aardvark burrows,[8] as the animals tend to defecate near their lairs.[7]


  1. ^ Sydney M. Stent (1927), "An Undescribed Geocarpic Plant from South Africa", Bothalia: African Biodiversity and Conservation, 2: 356–358, doi:10.4102/abc.v2i1.1768
  2. ^ McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Buck, W.R.; Demoulin, V.; Greuter, W.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Herendeen, P.S.; Knapp, S.; Marhold, K.; Prado, J.; Prud'homme Van Reine, W.F.; Smith, G.F.; Wiersema, J.H.; Turland, N.J. (2012), International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011, Regnum Vegetabile 154, A.R.G. Gantner Verlag KG, ISBN 978-3-87429-425-6 Article 60.8 and Rec. 60G.1
  3. ^ a b c van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, Karen; van Rooyen, Margaretha W. (1998). Dispersal Biology of Desert Plants. Berlin; New York: Springer. p. 118. ISBN 978-3-540-64886-4. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  4. ^ 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. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  5. ^ "African Plant Database: Cucumis humifructus Stent". Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques & South African National Biodiversity Institute. 2012. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  6. ^ Dean, W. Richard J. (ed.); Milton, Suzanne J. (ed.) (1999). The Karoo: Ecological Patterns and Processes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-521-55450-3. Retrieved 2015-09-05.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b Steentoft, Margaret (1988). Flowering Plants in West Africa. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-521-26192-0. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  8. ^ a b van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, Karen; van Rooyen, Margaretha W. (1998). Dispersal Biology of Desert Plants. Berlin; New York: Springer. p. 26. ISBN 978-3-540-64886-4. Retrieved 2015-09-05.