What an enigmatic and fascinating animal the aardwolf is. If you’re looking to learn more about aardwolves, you’re on the right page! We’re going to uncover some truly amazing facts and must-know info about these unique – and adorable – creatures.
As members of the hyena family, aardwolves have their own captivating characteristics that set them apart from their more famous relatives. From their ultra-specialized diet and remarkable appearance to their intriguing social behavior, there’s a lot to learn about these lesser-known animals.
Keep reading to know it all about aardwolves!
Essential Information About The Aardwolf
- Scientific name: Proteles cristata
- Type of Animal: Mammal
- Size: 55-80 cm (22-31 in) for the body, plus 20-30 cm (8-12 in) for the tail.
- Weight: 8-12 kg (18-26 lbs)
- Distribution: 2 distinct populations – one in East Africa and one in Southern Africa.
- Habitat: Savannas, grasslands, bushlands
- Diet: Almost exclusively termites (90% of their diet), sometimes other insects and larvae.
- Predators: Lions, hyenas, leopards, jackals.
- Reproduction: Breeding season in June-July. Females give birth to 2 to 5 cubs after a 3-month gestation period.
- Conservation status: Least Concern. Populations are stable.
21 Interesting Facts About The Aardwolf
- Aardwolves are fascinating members of the hyena family, but they stand out from their relatives due to their non-predatory behavior: they don’t hunt large animals. Other hyenas are known for their scavenging and hunting skills, but aardwolves are insectivores, primarily feeding on termites. This unique characteristic definitely makes them a distinct and intriguing species within the Hyaenidae family.
- The name “aardwolf” is derived from Afrikaans and Dutch languages and translates to “earth wolf.” It reflects their ground-dwelling habits and their physical resemblance to both hyenas and wolves. I think it’s a pretty fitting name for these creatures that dwell in the grasslands and savannas of Africa.
- Among the various species of hyenas, aardwolves are the smallest. They have a slender build compared to the more robust and muscular frames of their larger relatives, such as the spotted hyena. Aardwolves stand only 40-50 cm in height, showcasing their unique adaptation to their specialized diet and environment. After all, when all you hunt are termites on the ground, you don’t need to be that strong.
- These captivating creatures are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. This nocturnal behavior is an adaptation that helps them avoid the scorching heat of their African habitats and enables them to forage for termites under the cover of darkness, and of course it reduces the risk of being spotted by predators.
- Aardwolves have an astonishing appetite for termites, consuming between 200,000 and 300,000 of these insects in a single night. Their diet consists of almost 90% termites, which provide them with the essential nutrients they need to thrive.
- They are particularly fond of termites belonging to the genus Trinervitermes, which they track by sound and the scent left behind by soldier termites. Aardwolves obtain most of the water they need from these insects. During the dry season, aardwolves focus on consuming Trinervitermes species, as these termites are most active on the soil surface at that time.
- To efficiently consume their termite-based diet, aardwolves have evolved a long and rather sticky tongue. This specialized adaptation allows them to lap up termites and some other soft-bodied invertebrates easily, making them highly effective foragers in their environment.
- Aardwolves are native to East and Southern Africa, where they inhabit grasslands, savannas, and other open habitats. Their range extends from Ethiopia and Somalia in the north to South Africa in the south. These regions provide the perfect environment for aardwolves to thrive, with an abundant supply of their primary food source, termites. The two populations are totally distinct and separated by a 1,500-km (930-mile) gap. They actually are two different subspecies: Proteles cristatus spetentrionalis in East Africa, and Proteles cristatus cristatus in Southern Africa.
- Due to their specialized diet, aardwolves are sometimes referred to as “anteaters.” Although they are not related to true anteaters at all, this nickname of course highlights their amazing ability to consume vast quantities of termites and other small insects.
- Aardwolves have a striking appearance, with black vertical stripes on a yellowish coat of fur and a bushy, black-tipped tail. This distinct fur pattern not only makes them stand out but also provides excellent camouflage in their grassy habitats, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings and avoid detection by predators.
- Aardwolves are shy animals that tend to avoid contact with other animals or humans. They prefer to forage alone. However, they still meet each other during the mating season, and they are also monogamous – they mate for life. As such, they have a different social structure compared to other hyena species. They live in smaller family units instead of forming larger groups or clans. This family-centric social behavior is essential for the successful rearing of their offspring, with both parents participating in raising and protecting their young.
- Aardwolves have developed a unique defense mechanism to deter predators such as dogs. They emit a foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands when threatened, which can be an effective deterrent for potential predators. This adaptation helps them survive in their challenging environment, where various powerful predators roam. This secretion is also useful to communicate with other aardwolves, mark their territory, and attract mates.
- As we have seen, aardwolves have a specialized adaptation for consuming termites, making them true expert foragers for these insects. It is their great sense of hearing and keen sense of smell that enable the aardwolf to locate its prey, even when these insects can be challenging to find. Aardwolves play a crucial role in controlling termite populations.
- Aardwolves belong to the family Hyaenidae, which includes spotted hyenas, striped hyenas, and brown hyenas. Despite their differences in size, appearance, and feeding habits, these species share a common ancestry and possess similar features that classify them within the same family. However, aardwolves are the only members of the Protelinae subfamily. They stand out from their relatives due to their insectivorous diet and distinct appearance.
- Aardwolves possess relatively long tails, measuring 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches). These bushy tails not only add to their unique appearance but also help them maintain balance as they move through their environment. The tail’s black tip and the fur pattern also provide camouflage, assisting them in avoiding detection by predators.
- During the winter months, aardwolves become more active during the day due to the colder temperatures at night. This change in behavior is an adaptation that allows them to conserve energy and maintain their body temperature in the face of chilly nighttime conditions. As the seasons change, so do the habits of these adaptable creatures.
- Aardwolves share a unique trait with all hyenas: their front legs are longer than their hind legs. This anatomical feature gives them a distinct gait and posture, allowing them to cover large distances with ease. This adaptation helps them efficiently navigate their environment while searching for food and avoiding predators. Aardwolves cover on average 8-12 km (5-7.5 mi) per summer night and 3-8 km (1.9-5 mi) per winter night to look for termites.
- Aardwolves are known by several other names, including “maanhaar-jackal” in Afrikaans (meaning “mane-jackal”), “civet hyena,” and “termite-eating hyena.” These alternative names highlight various aspects of the aardwolf’s appearance, behavior, and diet.
- During the breeding season, the female will give birth to a litter of one to five cubs, which are born blind and helpless. Both parents take care of the cubs until they are old enough to forage independently, typically around four months of age. Traditionally, during that time, the father’s role is to protect the den.
- Aardwolves are primarily insectivorous, but they occasionally consume other invertebrates with soft bodies, such as maggots. This varied diet helps them meet their nutritional needs and ensures their survival in their natural habitats, where food resources may fluctuate throughout the year.
- Although aardwolves are related to hyenas, their vocalizations are quite different. Instead of the characteristic laughing or whooping sounds produced by spotted hyenas, aardwolves make a variety of other vocalizations, including growls, grunts, and whines. These sounds help them communicate with their mate and offspring, as well as deter potential predators.
Top image: Wikimedia Commons