Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)

Synonyms: Proteles cristatus
French: Protèle
Spanish: Lobo De Tierra
GenusProteles (1)
SizeHead-body length: 55 - 80 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 48 - 50 cm (2)
Tail length: 20 - 30 cm (2)
Weight9 - 14 kg (2)

The aardwolf is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES (3).

Dog-like in appearance, the aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is a hyaena characterised by a distinctive sloping back, large, pointed ears and a long mane running from the back of the head to the tail (4). Varying from pale yellow to almost red in colour, the aardwolf has thick under-fur covered with denser guard hair (4). This coat is patterned with regular black stripes – three on the body and one or two on both the fore- and hind-quarters (4), while the legs and neck may also be marked with irregular stripes and spots (5). The aardwolf has a slender head and neck with a grey or black muzzle (4).

The aardwolf occurs in two discrete populations; the southern population covers most of southern Africa, Angola, Zambia and Mozambique, and the northern population extends across Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt (6) (7).

The aardwolf primarily inhabits open, grassy plains but can survive almost anywhere which has an average annual rainfall of 100 to 800 millimetres, although it does avoid forested areas (7).

The aardwolf is a primarily nocturnal and solitary species. With a home range of one to four square kilometres, it is highly territorial and defines its territory by extensive scent marking (4). Upon encountering other aardwolves, it will raise its mane as a warning sign until recognition has been established. Fights for territory do sometimes occur between aardwolves, and with other species, particularly jackals (4); in these instances the aardwolf may utter a deep-throated growl or roar, despite being generally silent at other times (8).

The aardwolf has a highly specialised diet consisting almost exclusively of harvester termites (Trinervitermes species) (9), and is able to tolerate the toxic secretions of the termite soldiers (4). In the summer, as many as 3,000 termites may be consumed each night (4), while in the winter, termites are much scarcer and only around a fifth of this number will be consumed, resulting in a dramatic loss of body mass (9). The aardwolf’s cheek teeth are little more than flattened pegs and are of little use; instead, it has a long, sticky tongue that is effective at licking termites from the soil surface (4). Unlike the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) which has a similarly specialised diet, the aardwolf lacks large claws to dig up termites so relies solely on this method of feeding (4).

Females come into season in late June and often mate within the first two weeks of July. Following a gestation of around 90 days, typically two to four cubs are born within a den, where they remain for the next month. During this time, the male plays a role in caring for the cubs by guarding the den, often from territorial attacks by jackals. Between three and four month of age, the cubs begin to forage throughout the territory with the adults and are weaned at the end of this period. Cubs generally leave the home territory at about a year of age and seldom return (4).

In the past, the aardwolf suffered persecution from farmers who believed that it preyed on lambs and chickens (4). However, this view has largely changed and many farmers are now keen to conserve the species (1). Current threats mostly come from loss of habitat due to urbanisation, and the destruction of termite mounds (and hence loss of food source) due to farming (1). Other risks come from incidents on roads at night and attack from dogs used to hunt jackals and foxes (4).

The aardwolf inhabits many protected areas across its substantial range, and although this species is not the target of any focused conservation efforts, land management by grassland burning and grazing benefits the aardwolf by increasing termite populations (1).

Learn more about the conservation of the aardwolf and other hyaena species:

Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham,

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Kingdom, J. (1977) East African Mammals. Academic Press, London.
  3. CITES (April, 2010)
  4. Koehler, C.E. and Richardson, P.R.K. (1990) Proteles cristatus. Mammalian Species, 363: 1-6.
  5. Richardson, P.R.K. and Bearder, S.K. (1984) The aardwolf.  In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Allen G and Unwin, London.
  6. Meester, J.A.J., Rautenback, N.J., Dippenaar, N.J. and Baker, C.M. (1986) Classification of southern African mammals. Transvall Museum Monographs, 5: 1-359.
  7. Skinner, J.D. and Chimimba, C.T. (2005) The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  8. Smithers, R.H.N. (1971) The Mammals of Botswana. Museum Memoir No. 4, National Museums of Rhodesia, Salisbury.
  9. Richardson, P.R.K. (1987) Food consumption and seasonal variation in the diet of the aardwolf Proteles cristatus in southern Africa. Zeitschrift fur Saugetierkunde, 52: 307-325.