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The Robinson Library >> Family Hyaenidae

Proteles cristatus [prO' tel Ez kris' tah uhs]


This member of the hyena family differs from the true hyenas in having five instead of four toes on the front feet, relatively larger ears, and a narrower muzzle. It resembles true hyenas in having long front legs and short hind legs. In fact, its body shape so resembles that of the hyena that aardwolves are frequently killed by farmers who have mistaken them for hyenas.

The aardwolf stands about 15-20 inches at the shoulder, and weighs 50-60 pounds; both sexes are the same size. The coat is yellow-gray with black stripes, except for the legs, which are black below the knee. The muzzle is black and hairless, the tail bushy and black-tipped. The hair along the back and neck is long; when the animal is frightened it erects the hair around the neck -- or, in extreme cases, along the whole back.


Distribution and Habitat

The aardwolf ranges throughout southern and eastern Africa. There are two distinct populations. One is found in southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Angola, southern Zambia, and southwestern Mozambique). The other ranges from central Tanzania through northeastern Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, along the coast of Ethiopia and Sudan, and the southeastern tip of Egypt. It is found most frequently in sandy plains or bushy country, and occassionally in savanna and rocky habitats.

ranges of the two populations of aardwolf

Habits and Behaviors

Rarely seen because it is nocturnal, the aardwolf usually spends its day lying up in a rock crevice or in a burrow excavated in the soil. A burrow typically consists of two or more sharply winding tunnels 25-30 feet long, leading to a sleeping chamber about 3 feet in diameter.

Aardwolves live in solitary monogamous pairs in territories that are scent-defined and fiercely guarded.

When frightened, the aardwolf erects all its hair, of which the mane is the highest. When under attack from predators, it emits a musky fluid from its anal glands that is almost as foul-smelling as that emitted by the skunk.


The aardwolf feeds almost exclusively on termites and other insects. Lacking claws strong enough to tear open termite nests, it usually laps up the insects from the surface of the ground with its long, sticky tongue, or digs them out of soft soil. On an average night, an aardwolf can consume anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 termites. When insects are in short supply, the aardwolf may prey on mice, small birds, eggs of ground-nesting birds, and other small animals.


Sexual maturity is reached at the age of about two years. Mating ocurs throughout the year. A single litter of two to four is born after a gestation period of 90 to 110 days; females will generally only give birth to one litter per year. Both parents raise the cubs, which are dependent on their parents for 16-20 weeks.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Carnivora
family Hyaenidae
genus & species Proteles cristatus


Animal Diversity Web

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This page was last updated on August 12, 2018.