Their name means the ‘earth wolf’ in Afrikaans or Dutch. This beautiful creature is widely distributed across South Africa. The aardwolf is nocturnal and secretive, and they are rarely sighted.
The aardwolf resembles the hyena from afar, being taller at the shoulders than the rump. They are much smaller than both the spotted and the brown hyenas and are recognized by their distinct vertical dark stripes. A distinguishing mane of long hair hanging down their back and neck gives them a larger-than-actual appearance when they make it stand on end.
The aardwolf (Proteles cristata) has a slender skull, a long neck, and pointed ears. They reach up to 31 inches in length and have a foot-long tail. They weigh a maximum of 30 pounds.
They frequent the bushlands and plains of east and south Africa. The aardwolf is also referred to as the civet hyenas as they secrete from the anal glands.
They have 5 toes on the front paws and 4 in the rear. The word Proteles translates to complete at the front, an allusion to their front toes. Cristatus, the name of their species refers to the manes which resemble a comb.
Unique Eating Habits Of The Aardwolf
The aardwolf primarily lives on termites which it scoops up with its long and sticky tongue. They consume around 200,000 termites during a single visit to a termite’s nest. They do not consume carrion and the bones that they pick up provide beetles and larvae present in decaying bodies.
The aardwolf does not destroy the termite mounds. They do not consume all termites in one go and come back to the same spot weeks later to resume their feast. They have a strong memory and a sense of direction to lead them to the same spot time and again. Their tongue is adapted to withstand the strong bite of the termites.
Their check teeth are shaped like flattened pegs that help in chewing insects. They also have strong jaws and canine teeth. The canines come in hand during a fight and have more defensive purposes.
Being nocturnal, the aardwolf spends a large part of the day indoors in concealed burrows. They prefer the abandoned homes of porcupines, springhares, and aardvarks. However, they prefer to stay indoors when the nights get too cold and venture out on rare occasions during the day to feed.
The Aardwolves Are Fiercely Territorial
The aardwolves confine themselves to limited areas and mating pairs keep within a territory of 4 square kilometers. Aardwolves of both sexes smear their territory and attract with their anal gland secretions.
They smear this secretion on foliage to warn of potential intruders.
The aardwolf uses their manes to frighten away other animals. The manes give them a larger-than-life appearance and frighten potential attackers away.
Territorial fights, though rare, do occur among the aardwolves. They are only vocal when they confront intruders on their territory, making various sounds including growling, clucking, and roaring. They also give out a foul smell like skunks to discourage predators.
The aardwolves are disciplined when it comes to their toilet manners. They defecate and urinate within marked areas, which are called middens. They dig a hole and cover up their feces or urine every time they pay a visit to the midden.
The aardwolf is socially monogamous, raising the young ones together. But males usually have more than a single mate in other territories. The couple takes care of their offspring for a full year. the male aardwolf guards the young pup while the female usually roams in search of food. A typical litter can vary between 1 and 4 pups.
The aardwolves survive for up to 15 years in the wild and 10 to 12 years in captivity, indicating that they are not adapted to captivity.