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Animal Reference

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Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus)

4 August 2016



Physical description

Looks like a slender striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena that is similar in size to a jackal. Adult weighs some 9 kg, grows most rapidly in the first three months of life. Higher at the shoulders than at hindquarters. Long mane on the shoulders, can be erected under stress. The background coat colour varies from pale buff to yellowish-white. Three vertical black stripes on the body, one to two diagonal black stripes across the fore- and hindquarters, irregular horizontal black stripes across the legs. Black spots or stripes ssometimes present on the neck. Bushy tail is broad with black tip. Face is generally more grey than the rest of the body. Five toes on each forefoot and four on each hind foot. First digit of forefeet have especially well-developed claw. Cheek teeth reduced to pegs, palate extraordinarily wide.

Aardwolf size versus a human            Aardwolf print



Area and habitat

Most ancient of the living hyaenids. All the living hyaenas once occurred in South Africa, Striped hyaena now only occurs in East Africa. Other three types of hyaena are ubiquitous in southern and East Africa.





Independent of water. Almost exclusively nocturnal, spends most of the day in a the burrow of a springhare or in the disused burrow of an aardvark. Forages alone, except when a female is accompanied by young cubs. In captivity an aardwolf is known to have lived for 15 years.



Termite principal food source. Especially local species of the nasute (long-nosed) harvester termite Trinervitermes. One aardwolf consumes some 105 million termites per year, as many as 300 000 termites (1 kg) per night.



Adult aardwolf: 9 kg
Food: As many as 1 kg termites per night
Life expectancy: 15 years


Sexually polygynous. Copulation lasts 1 to 4.5 hours. Gestation lasts some 90 days. Males assist in rearing cubs by guarding the den for up to six hours at night against black-backed jackals Canis mesomelas while the female forages.


The black-backed jackals Canis mesomelas probably the aardwolf´s major predator although leopards Panthera pardus in the Kalahari known to prey on adult aardwolves.



Interesting facts:

  • A foraging aardwolf will lick at a colony of termite workers with its tongue. This causes it to lick up sand too so that its faeces contain some sand which at times can be as much as 40 per cent of the content.
  • As it forages it uses two types of scent-marking or pasting which it leaves on twigs or grass stalks. The scent is secreted by glands in pouches immediately behind the anus. The one type of scent-marking is a long-term method of defence of its territory of some 1 to 4 km2, and the other is used as a short-term guide to identify areas in which it had foraged recently to avoid wasting energy.

Read the full article written by Prof J du P Bothma.



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