Temporal range: Pleistocene - Recent
I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1824
The aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is a small, insectivorous mammal, native to East Africa and Southern Africa. Its name means "earth wolf" in the Afrikaans / Dutch language. It is also called "maanhaar jackal". The aardwolf is in the same family as the hyenas. Unlike its relatives, the carnivores, the aardwolf does not hunt large animals, or even eat meat on a regular basis; instead it eats insects, mainly termites - one aardwolf can eat about 200,000 termites during a single night by using its long, sticky tongue to capture them.
The aardwolf is the only surviving species in the mammalian subfamily Protelinae. There are two subspecies: Proteles cristatus cristatus of Southern Africa and Proteles cristatus septentrionalis of East Africa.
The aardwolf is usually classified with the Hyaenidae, though it was formerly placed into the family Protelidae. The aardwolf lives in the scrublands of eastern and southern Africa - these are open lands covered with stunted trees and shrubs. Aardwolves usually hide in burrows during the day, and then they come out at night to seek food. Their diet nearly always consists of termites, insect larvae, and the carrion of larger animals.
Physical characteristics 
The aardwolf resembles a very thin striped hyena, but with a more slender muzzle, sharper ears, black vertical stripes on a coat of yellowish fur, and a long, distinct mane down the midline of the neck and back. The mane is raised during confrontations in order to make the aardwolves appear larger. The aardwolf is about 55 to 80 centimetres (22 to 31 in) long, excluding its bushy tail, which is about 20–30 centimetres (7.9–12 in) long, and stands about 40 to 50 centimetres (16 to 20 in) tall at the shoulders. An adult aardwolf weighs around 9–14 kilograms (20–31 lb). The front feet have five toes each, unlike the four-toed hyena. The teeth and skull are similar to those of the hyena, though smaller, and its cheek teeth are specialised for eating insects.
As the aardwolf ages, it will normally lose some of its teeth, though this has little impact on their feeding habits due to the softness of the insects that they eat. The aardwolf has two anal glands that secrete a musky fluid for marking territory and for communicating with other aardwolves.
Distribution and habitat 
Aardwolves live in open, dry plains and bushland, avoiding mountainous areas. Due to specific food requirements, they are only found in regions where termites of the family Hodotermitidae occur. Termites of this family depend on dead and withered grass and are most populous in heavily grazed grasslands and savannahs, including farmland. For most of the year, aardwolves spend time in shared territories consisting of up to a dozen dens, which are occupied for six weeks at a time.
There are two distinct populations: one in Southern Africa, and another in East and Northeast Africa. The species does not occur in the intermediary miombo forests.
They have often been mistaken for solitary animals. In fact, they live as monogamous pairs with their young, defending the same territory. Young aardwolves generally achieve sexual maturity at two years of age.
Aardwolfs are not fast runners nor are they particularly adept at fighting off predators. Therefore, when threatened, the aardwolf will attempt to mislead its foe by doubling back on its tracks. If confronted it will raise its mane in an attempt to appear more menacing. It will also emit a foul-smelling concoction from its anal glands.
The aardwolf feeds primarily on termites and more specifically on Trinervitermes trinervoides. By night, an aardwolf can consume up to 200,000 termites using its sticky, long tongue. They take special care not to destroy the termite mound or consume the entire colony, which ensures that the termites can rebuild and provide a continuous supply of food. They will often memorise the location of such nests and return to them to save the trouble of finding a new one. They are also known to feed on other insects, larvae, and eggs, and occasionally small mammals and birds. Unlike other hyenas, aardwolves do not scavenge or kill larger animals.The adult aardwolf was formerly assumed to forage in small groups, however more recent research has shown that they are primarily solitary foragers, necessary because of the scarcity and homogeneous distribution of their insect prey.
The breeding season varies depending on their location, but normally takes place during autumn or spring. During the breeding season, unpaired male aardwolves will search their own territory, as well as others', for a female to mate with. Dominant males will also mate opportunistically with the females of less dominant neighboring aardwolves. This can often result in conflict between two male aardwolves when one has wandered into another's territory. Gestation lasts between 90 and 110 days, producing one to five cubs (most often two or three) during the rainy season (Nov-Dec), when termites are active. The first six to eight weeks are spent in the den with the mother. After three months, they begin supervised foraging and by four months are normally independent, though they will often share a den with their mother until the next breeding season. They can achieve a lifespan of up to 15 years when in captivity.
The aardwolf has not seen decreasing numbers and they are relatively widespread throughout eastern Africa. They are not common throughout their range, as they maintain a density of no more than 1 per square kilometer, if the food is good. Because of these factors, the IUCN has rated the aardwolf as least concern.
Interaction with humans 
Agriculture may create a negative impact on their population due to use of poisons by farmers. They are often considered useful, non-dangerous animals by farmers. However, in some areas the aardwolf is hunted for its fur. Encounters with dogs are another threat.
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- maanhaar in the Oxford English Dictionary
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- Molecular systematics of the Hyaenidae
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- Animal Diversity Web
- IUCN Hyaenidae Specialist Group Aardwolf pages on hyaenidae.org
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