Aardwolf Fact File
Aardwolves are found in Africa where they live in two separate populations, one in the east and one in the south. These are considered to be separate subspecies.
They are grouped with hyenas but are unique in that they feed almost exclusively on termites. Their tough tongue and a tolerance to the toxic secretions of the termites allow for this.
Much of their activity occurs at night. When inactive or raising young they live in a den. This is often the abandoned burrow of an aardvark or other animal but they may also dig it themselves.
They are threatened by habitat loss and hunting for food or traditional medicines but their population is currently listed as stable.
Read on to learn more about these magnificent mammals.
The aardwolf is typically the slimmest species of hyena. Their body features longer back legs than front legs giving their body a sloping appearance. On the back of the body is a crest-like mane which can be raised when threatened to make them look bigger.
They are colored pale buff or yellowish-white across the body. Running down either side of the body and on the legs are black stripes. Their feet are colored black.
The ears are large and pointed.
Their feet are equipped with small non-retractable claws which can help them to dig for termites.
An average aardwolf will measure 67cm (26in) long with a tail that adds 24cm (19.25in) to their length. Their weight averages between 6 and 11kg (13.25 and 24lbs).
Aarwolves share a similar appearance with the related striped hyena. They are significantly smaller and have a more regular stripe pattern than the adults.
Aardwolves are carnivores which primarily feed on harvester termites. They have a keen hearing to help them find food and are able to digest toxic secretions made by the termites. Their tongue is tough to defend against this. Each night when feeding they may feed on up to 250,000 termites each night.
During cold weather when termites are less active they may only be able to find one fifth of their normal food requirements.
Their teeth are small and similar to a peg to help them crush the small insects on which they feed. Much of the digestion is handled by the strong stomach.
Much of their moisture is obtained from the termites they eat. During extended periods of cold weather they will drink water.
Africa is the native home of the aardwolf. Here they are found in two populations one in the south and one in east around the Horn of Africa. They can be found in the following countries – Angola; Botswana; Egypt; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
No records of the species exist from Lesotho but it suspected they could occur here. Their presence in Dijbouti is also unclear.
Their range is mainly influenced by the availability of the termites on which they feed.
The aardwolf will makes its home in savanna, shrubland and grassland habitats. They are unable to survive in forest or pure deserts.
Aardwolves inhabit burrows which they can dig themselves or they may take over burrows dug by other animals. Aardvark burrows are favored as they are often near a source of termites.
These animals will maintain a territory which is marked out using their urine, dung and the secretions produced by their anal glands.
Each aardwolf maintains a territory with 4 square kilometers of habitat.
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Pairs of aardwolves are considered monogamous and the male remains with the female to help raise her pups. Young are raised inside a burrow. Despite their monogamy a female will mate with a more dominant male if they enter the territory.
Females produce between 1 and 4 pups each time they breed. These are born after a 90 day gestation period. At birth the eyes are already open.
She will feed the young on milk and they are weaned after 16 weeks. They first leave the den at 4 weeks old and begin to forage with their mother at 9-11 weeks old for the first time.
These animals are primarily active by night. In winter they may become active during the day which allows them to conserve heat in a period where they have less available food.
Aardwolves are often solitary. Females may live together and share a den helping to provide protection to their pups.
They produce a range of vocalizations including whines, clicks, growls, barks and clucks.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the aardwolf are other large carnivores such as the black-backed jackal and domestic dogs.
To defend themselves against predators using a toxic spray they can emit. Few predators are able to overcome this and continue threatening the adult.
While not considered to be common in its range the aardwolf population is considered stable.
They face persecution from farmers in parts of their range due to a belief that they feed on chickens and their eggs. Ongoing education has helped to change this perception and farmers now help to conserve the aardwolf.
Habitat loss and conversion of land to farming which often includes destruction of termite mounds will reduce their available habitat.
They are also victims of vehicle strikes. A small number are used for food or use in medicinal practices.
Alternative names for the aardwolf include the “maanhaar-jackal”, “termite-eating hyena” and “civet hyena.” The civet hyena name comes from the secretions which are emitted from their anal glands. This trait is also shared by the African civet.
Their name aardwolf comes from an Afrikaans word meaning “earth wolf.”
While currently classed with the other 3 hyenas they were once in their own family, Protelidae.
The southern and eastern populations of the aardwolf are considered to be separate subspecies.
Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Middle One, Two and Bottom
Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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