Aardwolves are insectivorous, carnivore mammals. The aardwolf animals will resemble small striped hyena. The aardwolf is a shy animal, their nocturnal lives are widely found on the arid plains of Africa. The aardwolves are widely found in the two geographically separated populations. They are spread over South Africa and in East Africa. The scientific name of aardwolf is Proteles cristatus.
The meaning of the word aardwolf in Afrikaans means “earth wolf ”. The aardwolf looks yellowish in colour with some vertical black stripes. They also contain a bushy black-tipped tail. The height of the aardwolf is about less than half a meter high till the shoulders. The total length of the aardwolves is varying from 55 cm to 80 cm with the exclusive of their tails. The total length of aardwolves is about 20 cm to 30 cm. The average weight of the aardwolves ranges from 8 kg to 12 kg. Like a hyena, the aardwolf animals have long coarse ridge with erectile hairs along the length of the back, longer front than hind legs and sturdy shoulders. The aardwolf is not such a fast runner as they have five toes on the front feet instead of four. The skulls of the aardwolves are not as robust, but they have sharp canine teeth and strong jaws characteristic of hyenas are retained and wielded in aggressive interactions. The cheek teeth present in the Proteles cristatus are mere pegs adequate for crunching their insect diet, they are exclusive for the termites’ harvest. The aardwolves will smell or hear the rustle of thousands of small termites in the grass with their sensitive pointed ears, it laps the termites with their sticky tongue.
Many aardwolves will search widely for food or provisions along with their breeding pairs. So that, they can defend a territory marked by secretions from the anal glands. The aardwolf attacks and fights with other animals and a musky-smelling fluid are emitted. The shelters of the aardwolf animals may be holes, abandoned porcupine, crevices and aardvark burrows. These animals will give birth to two or three cubs especially during the rainy season. And during the rainy season, the aardwolves will be more active. Cubs will be under the care of parent aardwolf for four months and will leave their parents and territory by the time the next litter is born. Generally, the aardwolf animals are most often classified under the family Hyaenidae, but some authorities place them in a family of their own called Protelidae.
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Characteristics of Aardwolf
Physical Appearance of Aardwolf
Most aardwolf animals look the same as a very thin striped hyena. The aardwolves have a more slender muzzle, yellow colour fur with some black vertical stripes on their coat, a long, distinct mane down in the midline of the neck and back of the aardwolf. Proteles cristatus also contains one or two diagonal stripes below the fore and hindquarters, along with several stripes on its legs. The mane in these animals raises during confrontations to make the aardwolf appear larger. But other members of the family of aardwolf have a throat spot but it is absent in aardwolf. The lower legs of the aardwolf look all black in colour and their tails look bushy with a black tip.
The length of the aardwolf is about 50 cm to 80 cm, excluding their bushy tails. Their length of bushy tails is about 20 cm to 30 cm. While standing the height of the aardwolf ranges from 40 cm to 50 cm. Further, the approximate weight of the aardwolf is ranging from 7 to 10 kg. Sometimes, the aardwolf will reach the weight of 15 kg. The aardwolf present in the south of the African continent looks smaller than the eastern side of the African continent. The aardwolf is one of the smallest surviving members of the Hyaenidae family. The hyena has four toes in its front feet, but the aardwolf has five toes in its front feet. The teeth and skulls of the aardwolf are much similar to the other hyenas, even though the aardwolf is smaller than the aardwolf. The cheek teeth of the aardwolf facilitate them for eating insects. But canines are absent in aardwolves like other hyenas. The ears of the Proteles cristatus are large and much similar to the striped hyenas. The aged aardwolf will usually lose its teeth and this will create a little impact on its feeding habits due to the softness of the insects that it eats.
Habitats and Distribution of Aardwolf
Usually, aardwolf prefers the open, fry plains and bushlands to live and they particularly avoid mountain areas. This is because of their specific food requirements. The aardwolves will choose their region, where they could encounter more termites and the family Hodotermitidae occur. The family of termites mainly depends on the dead and decayed materials and withered grass. So, most of the termites’ population can encounter highly in the grazed grasslands and savannahs, including farmland. For the most of time, the aardwolves spend their life in shared territories. About dozens of animals will occupy dens for six weeks at a time. Whole aardwolf populations are spread over in only two places of the world; they are Southern Africa and in East and Northeast Africa. But, these species cannot be found in the intermediary miombo forests. A pair of aardwolf along with their recent young offspring will occupy the territory of 1 to 4 km2.
Aardwolves are shy and nocturnal animals. They usually sleep in burrows during the daytime and they will act as diurnal feeders during the winter season. That means they will search for their food day and night during winter. During some extreme coldest period they will stay in a burrow to conserve heat.
Many often mistaken them as solitary animals but they can live as monogamous pairs with their young ones. If the territory of the aardwolf is occupied, they will chase their intruder up to 400 m to the border. If the animal found their territory intruder they will fight with each other accompanied by soft clucking, hoarse barking, and a type of roar. Meanwhile, the majority of the incursions will occur mainly during the mating season, but during that time they will occur once or twice per week. When food is great scarce, the stringent territorial system will demolish by themselves and approximately three families of aardwolf animals may occupy a single territory
Both the sex of aardwolves will mark their territory. Both male and female have well developed anal glands from which they extrude a black substance which is a greasy substance on rocks or grass stalks in 5-millimetre long streaks. Aardwolves also contain scent glands on the forefoot and penile pad. Usually, the aardwolf will often mark termite mounds within their territory every 20 minutes. If the aardwolf is patrolling their territorial boundaries, their frequency increases the marking drastically, to once every 50 m. An individual can make up to 60 marks per hour and they will increase gradually up to 200 per night.
Single aardwolf pair will make up to 10 dens, and numerous faeces middens, within their territory. Here, they will deposit excreta in their middle, dig a-holes and cover the middens with sand. Their dens are usually abandoned in springhare, aardvark, or porcupine dens or in the rare case they crevice in rocks. The aardwolves can also dig their own dens or enlarge dens. But these animals will use one or two dens at a time and they will shift their dens every six months.
Aardwolves cannot run fast. And also they are particularly adept at fighting against predators. When they get threatened, the aardwolf will attempt to mislead their predator by doubling back on its tracks. They also excrete a foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands.
The primary feed of aardwolf is termites and more specifically on Trinervitermes. The aardwolf will intake all the species of termites. The termites in East Africa intake trinervitermes bettonianus. Further, the termites in central Africa will have trinervitermes rhodesiensis, and the termites in southern Africa will eat T. trinervoides. Aardwolf animals will lick from ground as opposed to the aardvark, which digs into the mound. They will find their food by hearing the sound of termites. It approximately consumes 250,000 termites per night using its long, sticky tongue.
Further, the termites do not destroy the entire termite mound or consume the entire colony, to protect and ensure the termites. So, they can rebuild and provide a continuous food supply to termites. Further, they memorize the location of such termites' nests to return back within every few months. During the rainy season and the cold of mid-winter, the termites’ source becomes scarce. So, they will search for other food sources. They are also intaking other insects, eggs, larvae, and, sometimes they also take small mammals and birds, but these occupy a very small percentage of their total diet. But, the aardwolves do not scavenge or kill larger animals like hyenas.
Lifecycle of Aardwolf
The breeding season of aardwolf animals is completely dependent on the location of the species. Generally, the aardwolf breeding season falls during autumn or spring. The aardwolf in South Africa’s breeding occurs in early July. During the breeding season, even unpaired male animals will search for their female for mating. Here, the dominant male species also get a chance to mate with less dominant females and can result in conflict between rival males. Copulation of aardwolf will last for 1 to 4.5 hours. Dominant males will enter into the territory of other females with weaker males and approach breeding. Further, the female animals will give the opportunity for mating the dominant males. This also increases the chances of convincing the dominant cubs with her.
The gestation period of an aardwolf will last for 89 days to 92 days. These animals will produce two to five cubs at the end of the gestation period. Usually, the end of the gestation period falls in November and December. Further, the aardwolf will be more active during the rainy season. Aardwolf is initially born with open eyes, but they remain helpless and the weight of a young one is about 200–350 g. The newborn aardwolf will spend the first six to eight weeks in the dens with their parents. The male aardwolf will spend approximately six hours in the den to watch their cubs, while their female aardwolves are going searching for their food. After three to four months of birth, the animals will normally get independent. Also, the young female aardwolf will often share a den with their mother until the next breeding season. Further, the aardwolves will attain their sexual maturity at one and a half to two years of age.