Aardwolf – Description, Diet, Habitat, And Facts

By Kevin Myers | 2023 Update

Get ready to meet an incredible creature that’s neither an aardvark nor a wolf but something entirely unique. The Aardwolf, a fascinating animal with a name meaning “earth wolf” in Afrikaans, boasts a captivating blend of features from both feline and canine worlds. 

This unique mammal thrives in the twilight hours, skillfully navigating the vast landscapes of southern and eastern Africa.

They make their homes in underground dens, yet they’re far more closely related to cats than dogs. As one of the four distinct hyena species in the Hyaenidae subfamily, Aardwolves share the stage with spotted, striped, and brown hyenas.

Scientific NameProteles cristata
SizeLength: 22-31 inches (55-80 cm); Height at shoulder: 16-20 inches (40-50 cm)
Weight15-30 pounds (7-14 kg)
Coat ColorGold or yellowish-brown fur with vertical black stripes
Lifespan7-10 years in the wild; up to 15 years in captivity
DietPrimarily insectivorous; feeds mainly on termites
Social StructureMonogamous pairs; territorial
HabitatOpen grasslands, savannas, and bushlands of eastern and southern Africa
ReproductionMating season from May to July; gestation period of 90 days; litter size of 2-4 cubs
PredatorsLarger predators such as lions, hyenas, and leopards; eagles and jackals may prey on aardwolf cubs
Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Unique FeaturesLong muzzle; large, pointed ears; front legs longer than back legs; mane along the back

As we delve into the intriguing life of the Aardwolf, we’ll uncover its incredible adaptations, dietary preferences, and social behaviors, and at the end of the article, you’ll find everything you need to know to differentiate Aardwolves from Hyenas.

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What is an Aardwolf?

Origin and Evolution

Believed to be a “primitive” hyena, the Aardwolf’s lineage dates back millions of years, showcasing a fascinating glimpse into the early stages of the hyena family tree.

Genetic and fossil evidence suggests that Aardwolves branched off from their hyena relatives between 15 and 32 million years ago, representing one of the earliest offshoots within the Hyaenidae family. This ancient divergence allowed the Aardwolf to evolve its unique insectivorous diet and distinctive appearance, setting it apart from its more carnivorous counterparts.

Initially, some scientists speculated that the Aardwolf might not be a true hyena but rather a closely related species that evolved to mimic the appearance of the striped hyena to deter potential predators. However, as more evidence has emerged, this theory has lost traction, and the Aardwolf is now firmly established as a member of the hyena family.

The remarkable evolution of the Aardwolf sheds light on the intricate and diverse paths taken by different species within the Hyaenidae family, highlighting the incredible adaptability and resilience of these captivating creatures as they continue to thrive in the African savanna.

Physical Features and Adaptations

The Aardwolf is a remarkable creature with several unique physical features and adaptations that enable it to thrive in its natural habitat. Let’s explore some of these fascinating traits:

Coat and Coloration: Aardwolves possess a beautiful golden coat with distinct black stripes, providing them with effective camouflage in the grasslands and savannas they inhabit. Their fur is longer on the neck and back, forming a mane that can be raised when threatened to appear larger and more intimidating.

Physique: Aardwolves have a slender build, with their front legs being longer than their back legs. This peculiar body structure facilitates a low-energy, loping gait that conserves energy during their nocturnal foraging expeditions.

Muzzle and Ears: The Aardwolf’s long, narrow muzzle is designed to access termites in their mounds, while its large, pointed ears provide excellent hearing to detect termite activity beneath the ground.

Sticky Tongue: One of the Aardwolf’s most distinctive adaptations is its long, sticky tongue, which is perfect for extracting termites from their mounds. The tongue’s tough surface can withstand termite bites and enables the Aardwolf to consume thousands of termites in a single night.

Insectivorous Diet: Aardwolves are specialists when it comes to their diet, feeding almost exclusively on insects, particularly termites. This dietary preference reduces competition with other carnivorous mammals in their habitat and ensures a plentiful food supply.

Nocturnal Lifestyle: Aardwolves are active primarily at night, which not only helps them avoid the scorching African heat but also reduces the risk of encountering predators and competitors.

Solitary Foraging: Aardwolves forage alone, which allows them to cover more ground in search of termites and minimizes competition for resources within their social group.

Scent Glands: Aardwolves have scent glands near their anus, which secrete a foul-smelling liquid when threatened. This serves as an effective deterrent against potential predators.

These physical features and adaptations have shaped the Aardwolf into a highly specialized and efficient insectivore, well-equipped to thrive in the diverse landscapes of Africa.

Distribution and Habitat


The Aardwolf is found exclusively in Africa, with its distribution spanning across two distinct regions:

Eastern Africa: This population ranges from the northeastern tip of Ethiopia, through Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda, to the central parts of Tanzania.

Southern Africa: A separate population occupies the southern region of the continent, extending from central Angola and Mozambique down through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.


The preferred habitats of the Aardwolf include grasslands, savannas, and open woodlands, with a particular fondness for areas with sandy or clay soils, as these environments are ideal for the termite species that constitute their primary food source. Aardwolves are also known to inhabit semi-arid regions and bushland as long as there is an ample supply of termites and suitable denning sites.

Aardwolves typically establish their dens in abandoned burrows created by other animals, such as aardvarks or porcupines, although they are also capable of digging their own burrows if necessary. These dens serve as resting places during the day and provide shelter for raising their young. Aardwolves are known to maintain multiple dens within their territory, which they may alternate between depending on factors like food availability and predator presence.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Despite their elusive and shy nature, we’ve learned that the fundamental social unit for aardwolves is the family, which typically consists of a breeding pair and their offspring. Initially, it was thought that aardwolves were solitary creatures, but it turns out that they form strong bonds within their family unit.

The breeding pair raises their young together throughout the year, defending their territory against intruders. Within their territory, they may establish as many as ten dens and several waste disposal areas. These dens can be simple holes, crevices, or abandoned burrows created by porcupines or aardvarks.

Aardwolves mainly communicate through scent markings produced by their anal gland. They use these scents to mark their territory and attract mates, smearing them on nearby foliage. They generally make few sounds unless threatened or startled, with occasional clucking, barking, and roaring noises.

When in danger, an aardwolf’s mane will stand up, and it may emit a foul-smelling substance from its anal gland. It might chase an intruder away, but due to their slow speed, they often let the intruder escape. Only when the Aardwolf is faster will it overtake the other animal and engage in a fight.

Although aardwolves share strong bonds with their mating partners, they primarily forage alone. As nocturnal animals, they feed at night and seek shelter in their underground dens during the day to avoid the heat. This behavior may change during winter months when they come out for some time in the afternoon and sleep at night.

There is evidence suggesting that aardwolves might share parts of their territory or hunt in small groups when food is scarce, which helps maximize their chances of finding sustenance.

Reproduction and Lifespan


The breeding season of aardwolves varies depending on their geographical location. In Eastern Africa, mating typically takes place between May and July, while in Southern Africa, it occurs from October to December.

After a successful mating, the female Aardwolf undergoes a gestation period of about 90 days. She then gives birth to a litter of 2 to 4 cubs, although litters of up to 6 cubs have been recorded. Both parents play a significant role in raising the offspring. The male guards the den while the female nurses the cubs.

At around three weeks of age, the cubs begin to venture out of the den and start eating solid food, mainly termites. By the time they are four months old, they are weaned and start accompanying their parents on foraging expeditions.

Young aardwolves typically remain with their parents for up to a year or sometimes even longer. After this period, they leave to establish their own territories and find a mate. During their search for a suitable partner, they may join other young aardwolves in temporary groups before eventually settling down with a mate.


The lifespan of an aardwolf in the wild ranges between 10 and 15 years. However, in captivity, they usually live up to 18 years or more, given proper care and suitable living conditions. Their relatively long lifespan can be attributed to their specialized diet and elusive behavior, which helps them avoid many predators.

Eating Habits

Aardwolves have unique eating habits compared to other hyenas. They primarily feed on termites, particularly those from the Trinervitermes and Hodotermes genera. Aardwolves have a specialized diet and don’t hunt or scavenge for larger animals.

An aardwolf consumes up to 250,000 termites per night using its long, sticky tongue, tough enough to bear the strong bite of termites. They have adapted to eating termites by developing large, powerful front claws that help them dig into termite mounds and expose the insects. Their specialized teeth, which are not suited for tearing meat, are perfect for crushing the exoskeletons of termites.

Aardwolves are nocturnal foragers, meaning they come out at night to feed and avoid the heat of the day. While they occasionally eat other insects, such as larvae and beetles, termites remain their primary source of nourishment. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t eat carrion or meat unless it is finely ground or cooked for them.

Predators and Threats

Aardwolves face predators like large birds of prey, lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. In addition to natural predators, they face threats such as habitat loss due to human activities, road accidents, and misunderstandings caused by their resemblance to other hyena species. These factors can impact their survival and population numbers.

Conservation Status and Life Today

The Aardwolf is currently listed as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, which means that their population is considered stable, and they are not facing any immediate threats of extinction. However, the species is still impacted by habitat loss and human activities in some areas.

Conservation efforts for aardwolves mainly focus on habitat preservation and ensuring that their natural environment remains intact. As their primary food source is termites, maintaining a healthy ecosystem is essential for their survival. Education and awareness programs also help to reduce misunderstandings about the species, which can contribute to their conservation.

Aardwolf vs. Hyena

Though Aardwolves and Hyenas share the same family (Hyaenidae), they exhibit several differences that set them apart. Let’s delve into some of the key distinctions between these two fascinating creatures:

Diet: Aardwolves primarily feed on insects, with termites being their favorite delicacy. In contrast, hyenas are carnivorous, hunting for prey or scavenging carrion, depending on the species. The spotted hyena, for example, is a skillful predator, while the striped and brown hyenas are more reliant on scavenging.

Physical appearance: Aardwolves have a slender build with golden fur adorned with black stripes, resembling the striped hyena to some extent. Hyenas, on the other hand, have a more robust and stocky build. Spotted hyenas are larger, with a characteristic spotted coat, while striped and brown hyenas have a shaggy appearance with either stripes or a solid brown coat.

Social structure: Aardwolves are monogamous and territorial, living in pairs and maintaining a relatively small territory. Spotted hyenas are highly social, forming large, complex clans with a matriarchal structure. Striped and brown hyenas are more solitary, coming together only for mating or scavenging on a large carcass.

Hunting and foraging behavior: Aardwolves use their keen sense of smell and long, sticky tongues to feed on termites, consuming thousands in a single night. Hyenas, being carnivores, have powerful jaws and sharp teeth to tear through flesh and crush bones. Spotted hyenas are skilled hunters, working cooperatively to bring down prey, while striped and brown hyenas are opportunistic scavengers.

Vocalization: Aardwolves are relatively quiet creatures, with vocalizations limited to growls, whines, and soft barks. Hyenas, particularly spotted hyenas, are known for their wide range of vocalizations, including the infamous “laugh” or giggle, which is used to communicate with other clan members.

These differences between Aardwolves and Hyenas demonstrate the incredible diversity that exists within the Hyaenidae family and highlight how these species have evolved to adapt to their respective ecological niches.

5 Incredible Facts About Aardwolf

1. Name Game 

Known by various names such as “maanhaar-jackal,” “|gīb,” “ant hyena,” “termite-eating hyena,” and “civet hyena,” the Aardwolf’s monikers reflect its distinctive habits and appearance.

2. Termite Terminator 

These creatures are voracious termite eaters, gobbling up an astonishing 250,000 termites per night with their long, sticky tongues that are tough enough to withstand termite bites!

3. Master of Deception

When faced with danger, the crafty Aardwolf employs sneaky tactics like doubling back on its tracks to confuse predators. If cornered, it raises its mane to appear more menacing and unleashes a foul-smelling liquid from its anal glands.

4. Picky Eater

 Aardwolves are not your typical hyenas – they avoid scavenging and larger prey. Instead, they feast on larvae and beetles found in carcasses. And despite popular myths, they have a strong aversion to meat unless it’s finely ground or cooked to their liking.

5. Solo Explorer

As solitary foragers, Aardwolves cover impressive distances in search of food, traveling 1 km (0.62 mi) per hour. This translates to 8-12 km (5-7.5 mi) per summer night and 3-8 km (1.9-5 mi) per winter night.

Aardwolf FAQs

Q: What is an aardwolf?

A: An aardwolf is a small, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. It belongs to the hyena family but has a distinct diet and appearance. Aardwolves primarily feed on termites and have a unique, striped coats.

Q: What do aardwolves eat?

A: Aardwolves primarily eat termites, consuming up to 250,000 of them in a single night. They have a long and sticky tongue that allows them to extract termites from their mounds efficiently.

Q. Where do aardwolves live?

A: Aardwolves are found in two distinct populations in Africa. One population is located in Eastern Africa, while the other is in Southern Africa. They inhabit grasslands, savannas, and open woodland areas.

Q. Are aardwolves endangered?

A: Currently, aardwolves are classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, which means their population is stable and not facing any immediate threats of extinction. However, habitat loss and human activities still affect them in some areas.

Q. How big is an aardwolf?

A: Aardwolves are relatively small, measuring around 85 to 105 cm (33 to 41 inches) in length, including their tail. They stand approximately 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 inches) tall and weigh between 7 and 14 kg (15 and 31 pounds).

Q. What are the main predators of aardwolves?

A: Aardwolves face predators such as large birds of prey, lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. They also face threats from habitat loss, road accidents, and misunderstandings due to their resemblance to other hyena species.

Q. How long do aardwolves live?

A: Aardwolves have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years in the wild. In captivity, they may live slightly longer, with some reaching up to 18 years of age.