Found in eastern and southern Africa, the aardwolf (Proteles cristata) means ‘earth wolf’ in Afrikaans but the aardwolf is not actually related to aardvarks or wolves, it is in fact the smallest member of the hyena family!
Like all members of the Hyaenidae family, their front legs are longer than their hind legs, giving them a sloped stature and resemble a small striped hyena. They also have bushy, black tipped tails with a mane that stretches down its back from the head to the tail, which rises up if it feels threatened or scared.
At around 3 feet in length and weighing up to 30 pounds, aardwolves consume between 200,000 to 300,000 termites in one night. With their acute hearing, they are able to detect termites in the ground and then eat them using their broad, sticky tongue. Maggots and other invertebrates with soft bodies are occasionally eaten too – along with small mammals, birds and carrion if food is scarce.
Aardwolves mate for life and pregnancy lasts for around 90-100 days with 2 to 4 cubs born. The cubs spend first month of their life hidden in a den. The cubs drink their mother’s milk during the first 3 – 4 months, before being weaned on regurgitated termites. They then join their parents in foraging for food. Aardwolves will leave their family group at the age of one year to begin an independent life.
These reclusive, nocturnal animals have a preference for semi-arid, open plains, savannas and grasslands where they’ll live in a burrow in the ground. Even though they could easily dig a hole in a ground using their claws, aardwolves prefer the abandoned burrows of other animals such as aardvarks and porcupines.
5 Facts about the Aardwolf:
- Aardwolves have strong jaws and canine teeth, but the rest of their teeth have been reduced to flattened pegs, used for eating insects. Aardwolves will primarily use their canine teeth for fighting and defending themselves.
- Aardwolves will use their manes to appear bigger. If another aardwolf threatens their territory, they will raise their manes as a warning and chase the intruder away and will only fight if it needs to.
- They communicate largely through smell. Aardwolves have two anal glands that secrete a black, musky fluid that they use to mark their territories and send messages to other aardwolves. They smear these secretions on foliage to establish territories and attract potential mates. They tend to be vocal only when confronting intruders or predators.
- Aardwolves are nocturnal creatures (active during the night) but once winter comes they generally conserve energy by sleeping at night and feeding during the day.
- Vicky spent a sleepless night sharing her bedroom (it was actually his bedroom) with an orphaned but quite large aardwolf called Woolfie!! Vicky didn’t realise at the time they only ate insects!!