Aardwolf

Aardwolf

COMMON NAME: Aardwolves
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Proteles cristata
TYPE: Mammals
DIET: Carnivore
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN CAPTIVITY: 7 years
SIZE: About three to 3.5 feet long
WEIGHT: Between 17 and 30 pounds
LOCATION : Sub-Saharan Africa
HABITAT: Savannas and grasslands

African member of the hyaena family, differing from the true hyaenas in having five instead of four toes on the front feet, relatively larger ears, and a narrower muzzle. Also, the jaws and teeth are weaker than those of the true hyaenas.

The body, somewhat larger than that of a fox, weighs 50—60 lb. The coat is yellow-grey with black stripes, except for the legs, which are black below the knee. The muzzle is black and hairless, the tail bushy and black-tipped. The hair along the back and neck is long: this ridge of hair usually lies flat, but when the animal is frightened it erects the hair around the neck — or, in extreme cases, along the whole back. The name is Afrikaans for ‘earth-wolf’.

Distribution and habits

The aardwolf ranges throughout southern and eastern Africa as far north as Somalia. It is nowhere common but is found most frequently in sandy plains or bushy country. It is rarely seen, since it is a nocturnal animal and spends the day lying up in rock crevices or in burrows excavated in the soil. The burrow consists of two or more sharply winding tunnels 25 — 30 ft long, leading to a sleeping chamber about 3 ft in diameter.

Termite feeding hyaena

The aardwolf lives almost entirely mites and other insects, but lacks claws strong enough to tear open termite nests, so it is limited either to picking up the insects from the surface of the ground, or digging them out of soft soil. The speed and efficiency with which the long tacky tongue sweeps up insects was impressively shown when the stomach of an aardwolf that had been run over was opened up. It con- tained some 40,000 termites, although the aardwolf was unlikely to have been foraging for more than three hours. This gives an average consumption of at least three termites per second.

When insects are in short supply, the aardwolf may turn to other prey; mice, small birds and eggs of ground nesting birds are the main victims. Eating carrion has been reported, but it is more likely that the aardwolves were feeding on the beetles and maggots within the carcasses.

Breeding cycle

A single litter of two to four is born each year, in the southern part of the range in November – December. The gestation period ranges from 90 to 110 days. The young are born blind.

Mistaken persecution

The aardwolf’s main enemy is man, who tends to kill them in mistake for hyaenas, for which bounty is paid in many areas. Despite their rigid protection by the London Convention for the Protection of Fauna in 1993, the aardwolves have suffered persecution in farming country, both through mistaken identity and the idea that they take poultry.

The natural enemies of the aardwolf are probably the same as those of the aardvark —pythons, lions and leopards. For defence, aardwolves can put up a good fight with their long canine teeth and can eject an obnoxious, musky fluid from their anal glands.

Insect-eating carnivores

Aardwolves resemble hyaenas sufficiently for them to be shot by mistake, yet at one time they were classed as a separate family, the Protelidae. Now they are considered to be members of the Hyaenidae but forming a separate genus, Proteles.

The reason for the separation from the true hyaenas is their insectivorous habits. For although they have fewer adaptions for feeding on termites than aardvarks — weak claws and no palisade of bristles guarding eyes and nostrils — the aardwolves still show considerable differences from their carnivorous relatives. The hyaenas are hunters and carrion eaters, with powerful neck and jaw muscles and strong teeth. The aardwolf’s teeth, by contrast, are a sorry sight. Apart from the fairly large canines, they are ridiculously small, and the cheek teeth are few in number. An aardwolf’s skull gives the impression of an animal having died of old age and worn-down teeth

Aardwolf Photos

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