Who would have thought that an aardwolf is more like a cat than a wolf?
When you hear the word, aardwolf, what comes to mind? An exotic species of the wolf? An infamous villain from the Marvel comic character? The secret love-child of an aardvark and a wolf? Fortunately, none of these are true. This is what an aardwolf actually looks like.
Obviously not related to any aardvarks or wolves as the name might otherwise suggest. The tiny aardwolf actually belongs to a formidable group of social animals, the hyenas. However, their appearances are deceptive. Even hyaenidae appear similar to dogs; they are actually more closely related to the cat family.
A Family of Misfits
Thanks to the Lion King, hyenas are perceived as the baddies by popular culture. They are described as bored, wicked, and demonstrably sarcastic. Even though they seem scary, only four Hyaenidae living species are left, and aardwolf is one of them. Even though they look alike, this small, striped boy with mane shakes his head over fresh meat while big nod over the insects!
Creepy Crawly Crunchers
Yes, you heard correctly, aardwolves are obsessed with insects. This hyena-like mammal is not carnivorous (meat-eater) but insectivorous (insect-eater). Their diet mainly consists of insects, with their personal favourite being tasty termites. A bit like aardvark, aardwolves have long-sticky-slurpy-tongues which allows them to quickly lick up termites.
These quick-witted “wolves” know the best way to both prepare and preserve their favourite delicacy. They don’t dig into termite mounds but rather, lick the termites up from the ground to ensure soldier termites can rebuild and provide a continuous supply of food from the same location. This means after a few months, they can revisit the same mound to dine once more. Fascinating, right?
I like my bed to be near where I’m fed
The aardwolf has a separate land in Africa, one in the East and Northeastern Africa and another in Southern Africa. Undoubtedly, their habitats are based on their feeding habits; they live where there’s a large distribution of termites. Their preferred habitat is open, grassy plains (Grasslands). You won’t find them in the barren desert or thick forest because there aren’t any termites!
Just because I look like one, doesn’t mean I AM one!
Unlike hyenas and their relatives, aardwolves don’t scavenge or kill larger animals. They aren’t fans of fresh meat. They are totally devoted to crunchy, creepy crawlies. If you come across some sightseeing footage of them surrounding a dead carcass, it’s more than likely they are actually eating larvae from it rather than the raw meat like their cousins, the hyenas.
Some residents in areas where aardwolves live often mistake them as predators of livestock and blame them when chickens and eggs go missing. Sadly, this mistaken identity has led them to become the targets of hunters. If only people could see that aardwolves are actually providing a free extermination service, wouldn’t that be better?
Even though there are currently no major threats to this species, habitat loss due to urbanization and agricultural expansion could have a significant negative impact on aardwolves. One example being that some South African farmers destroy termites for the benefit of agriculture and as we know, aardwolves like to lay their head where they are fed; exterminating the termites means both their food source and optimum habitat is destroyed.
Do not fear: all is not lost!
Farmers and aardwolves can coexist in harmony; this shy and harmless species can help the farmers to get rid of termites, creating a symbiotic relationship (fun fact: aardwolves enjoy consuming up to 250,000 termites per meal!).
They’re nocturnal, which means they hunt and eat at night and sleep in burrows during the day. Isn’t this even better for farmers? They can be passing ships in the night; farmers get on with their human activities during the day whilst aardwolves feed at night – I mean, who likes to be disturbed whilst eating anyway?
You may be surprised to hear that the aardwolf is currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; they were of least concern (LC) in 2008 however, they are now one step closer to near-threatened species.
Wildchain is one of many innovative tools which can help reduce the decline of endangered species; when you become a digital conservationist, you adopt these small hyaenidae and other Savanna wildlife to help conserve these unique species! Visit our website and follow social media for more information and game character reveal.
Ice is a content creator intern at Wildchain. She sees that our arms reach all corners of the globe and an interconnected world that fuels increasingly complex challenges. As a Global Studies student, she passionate about ending global issues, especially ones related to human actions. Wildchain is a big step for her to inform people about global issues to watch while embracing awareness of wildlife and the environment.