“Arthur” debuted on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on October 7, 1996. The animated series is based on the Arthur Adventure book series, written and illustrated by Marc Brown. An entire generation grew up on the exploits and life lessons of eight-year-old Arthur Read, along with Binky Barnes, Muffy Crosswire, Buster Baxter, the Brain, Francine Frenksy, and Arthur’s sister, D.W. All the characters in the series are anthropomorphized animals and the identity of some of them is apparent. For example, Buster is clearly a rabbit. But what about Arthur, the show’s central character? Arthur is an aardvark.
Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) are nocturnal mammals found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Arthur, on the other hand, lives in the United States. He resides in Elmwood City, specifically. It was never stated in the books or TV series, but Marc Brown has confirmed this fictional town is located in Pennsylvania.
Aardvarks are the only remaining species in the order Tubulidentata. In the past, aardvarks were believed to be closely related to other insectivores, such as anteaters, armadillos, and pangolins. This has since been debunked through DNA testing.
The aardvark has the highest score for evolutionary distinctiveness of any mammal according to the EDGE scientific method, meaning they have few or no close relatives and have been evolving independently for millions of years.
That evolution appears to be minimal, though. DNA tests revealed that the aardvark’s DNA is much more similar to that of early mammals than any contemporary species, suggesting the aardvark has not evolved much over time. Aardvarks are considered “living fossils” because they remain largely unchanged from their ancient origins.
The aardvark is a large, pig-like animal that can weigh from 110-180 pounds. Its head and body can measure over 50 inches long, and its tail can measure two feet long or more. The aardvark has long ears that somewhat resemble those of a rabbit, as well as a long, distinctive snout.
One of the main reasons Arthur is difficult to identify as an aardvark is his lack of a long snout. Arthur’s nose is flat with tiny nostrils, which is obviously very un-aardvark-like.
Interestingly, Arthur started out with a long snout. In fact, the first book in the series, “Arthur’s Nose,” focused specifically on the character’s long nose.
In the 1976 book (read aloud in the video above), Arthur was ashamed of his long nose and eventually developed a plan to undergo a rhinoplasty. In the end, he chose not to have the surgery. He came to accept and love his long nose as part of his identity.
However, while Arthur didn’t change his nose in that initial book, his proboscis certainly changed over the years. Aardvarks themselves may not have evolved much over time, but this fictional representation of their species certainly did. Arthur’s long nose gradually disappeared until he ended up with the flat nose familiar to his fans today.
It wasn’t just Arthur’s nose that changed, though. Arthur first appeared with a tail and clawed feet like those of a real aardvark. Over time, those features disappeared along with his long nose. Today, Arthur wears jeans along with red-and-white tennis shoes. He also started wearing glasses along the way, too.
Aardvarks are prodigious diggers. With strong claws and spade-like feet, these burrowing mammals can move up to two feet of soil in just 15 seconds! The aardvark’s name derives from a word in the Afrikaans language of South Africa meaning “earth pig.”
Aardvarks spend their days underground in large burrows that can measure over 30 feet long and feature multiple entrances. These expansive burrows offer shelter from the scorching African sun as well as protection from predators. Lions, leopards, hyenas, and even pythons predate aardvarks.
Aardvarks After Dark
Aardvarks sleep the day away in their burrows and then venture out at night in search of food. These nocturnal mammals have poor eyesight, but they are guided through the darkness by their extraordinary sense of smell.
Termites are the aardvark’s prey of choice. They use their strong claws to rip open the hard outer shell of a termite mound. Aardvarks then use their sticky tongue, which can measure up to a foot long, to pull the insects out of the mound.
Ants are also high on the list of aardvark prey. The insects are swallowed whole and are ground up in the aardvark’s stomach. Aardvarks rarely drink water. They receive almost all the hydration they need from the many insects they consume. In fact, one aardvark can eat 50,000 insects in a single night!
On the other hand, Arthur was not an insectivore. In fact, Arthur’s father was a chef and was always busy cooking up dishes that a real aardvark would never eat. Arthur wasn’t always a fan, either, though. Consider the lyrics in the song “Leftovers Goulash,” which aired in the 1999 episode “Arthur’s Almost Live Not Real Music Festival.”
In the song, Arthur lamented, “My dad’s a chef,
You think that’s great?
Just try to guess,
What’s on your plate.
He mixes things,
And then he bakes.
Why can’t he stick,
To chocolate cakes?”
Aardvarks are classified as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The population of Africa’s aardvarks is considered stable, though they face continued threats of habitat loss, mainly through deforestation.
The “Arthur” Series
The “Arthur” books and television series were first conceptualized on the day Marc Brown lost his job as a teacher in 1976. That evening, Brown’s son wanted to hear a bedtime story. Amid his own very difficult circumstances, Brown invented the character of Arthur and told the story of his problematic long nose. Brown could have never imagined the worldwide phenomenon he was creating by simply improvising a bedtime story for his child.
The final episode of “Arthur” was broadcast on February 21, 2022. Reruns still air on PBS Kids. The series is beloved by millions, in large part because of the direct yet compassionate manner in which it dealt with serious issues. Brown never forgot that “Arthur” was born in a difficult and tumultuous time in his own life. Among many other difficult topics, “Arthur” addressed cancer, Asperger’s syndrome, and dyslexia.
Many celebrities were guest stars in the series. The long list includes iconic figures such as Fred Rogers, Michelle Kwan, Joan Rivers, Matt Damon, and Alex Trebek.
The music of the series is also one of the most enduring and endearing aspects of the show. Instead of silly, predictable “kid’s music,” the series created dynamic tunes that both kids and adults loved. Some of the musical guests on “Arthur” included Yo-Yo Ma, Art Garfunkel, Joshua Redman, and the Backstreet Boys.
Marc Brown’s insistence on high-quality music mirrors how the creators of Looney Tunes used real classical music pieces in the 1940s-1960s cartoons and also how Charles Schultz incorporated jazz scores into the Peanuts TV specials beginning in the 1960s.
The “Arthur” series ran for over 25 years on PBS, making it the longest-running animated children’s show in television history. During its historic run, “Arthur” won six Emmy Awards and received 25 Emmy nominations. “Arthur” also received the George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.
But, even with all those well-deserved accolades, fans may always wonder what exactly happened to Arthur’s nose.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Series: Photographs Related to the George W. Bush Administration, 1/20/2001 - 1/20/2009Collection: Records of the White House Photo Office (George W. Bush Administration), 1/20/2001 - 1/20/2009 / Public domain – License / Original
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