Aardwolf, pronounced AHRD wulf, is a peculiar type of small, insectivorous, striped hyena, coloration varies from a yellowish brown to reddish color. Two populations are geographically separate, one centred in northeastern Sudan to southern Tanzania and the other in southern Angolia and Zambia to South Africa. Though they typically live in small groups, they hunt alone. Hyenas have powerful jaws with solid teeth, but an aardwolf's molars are smaller, and weak. Biologists had considered classifying the aardwolf as a species of civet, in the family Viverridae.

Taxonomic Hierarchy
Kingdom Animalia – Animal, animals
Phylum Chordata – chordates
Subphylum Vertebrata – vertebrates
Class Mammalia Linnaeus, 1758 – mammals
Subclass Theria Parker and Haswell, 1897
Infraclass Eutheria Gill, 1872
Order Carnivora Bowdich, 1821 – carnivores
Suborder Feliformia Kretzoi, 1945 – cat-like carnivores
Family Hyaenidae Gray, 1821 – Hyenas
Genus Proteles I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1824
Species Proteles cristata (Sparrman, 1783) – Aardwolf
Proteles cristata, (Sparrman, 1783), Taxonomic Serial No.: 726269

It's main food supply comes from feeding on termites, which it captures with a sticky tongue, and consume larvae, maggots and other insects which accumulate on carrion. The main food source consists of termites in the genus Trinervitermes, but they will also feed on Odontotermes, Macrotermes, and Hodotermes. Hodotermes mossambicus, is usually only eaten during cooler months in the dry season. The winter season is particularly harsh on the Aardwolf, experiencing a shortage of its food supply, as a result cubs often die of starvation during the dry season for lack of food. Aardwolves are monogomous, and usually give birth to a small litter of 3-4 cubs.

Aardwolf, caught sleeping in the San Antonio Zoo

Image modified (www.angelo.edu/faculty/kboudrea / San Antonio Zoo, Texas, 2004)

Aardwolves are unlike other hyenas because they have five toes on their front feet, and four toes on the hind feet, though some hyenas have four toes on each foot. It's build is smaller than other hyenas, standing twenty inches high at the shoulder. Aardwolves typically live alone or in pairs, or sometimes in family groups with two to four young. The aardwolf has a mane along its back, and when threatened, it can raise to make itself look larger.

Aardwolf raising mane
Aardwolf raises its mane, when threatened

It growls or makes a roar when frightened. The name aardwolf, which is of Afrikaan origin for "earth wolf", was given to it because it lives in a burrow. Aardwolves are nocturnal and only come out at night.


Aardwolves Proteles cristatus are classified among the hyena family, Hyaenidae.

Subspecies include Proteles cristatus (South Africa-southern Angola, southern Zambia, and southwest Mozambique) and Proteles cristatus septentrionalis (East Africa, central Tanzania to northeastern Uganda and Somalia, and along the coast of the Red Sea to southeastern Egypt)

References and Further Reading

  • Modified from an essay by Anne Innis Dagg, Ph.D., Academic Advisor, Independent Studies, University of Waterloo
  • World Book Encyclopedia ©2002, and Encyclopædia Britannica Online © 2006, and © 2006
  • Animal Pages by Rebecca Postanowicz
  • Zoology Quest: Aardwolf
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