African Wild Dog

African Wild Dog

Because of their names, African wild dogs are often misidentified, thought to be dogs, wolves, or even hyenas, when actually categorized in their own genus.

Despite their name, African wild dogs are not taxonomically wild dogs.

Though African wild dogs are a member of the Canidae family, which also includes dogs, coyotes, dingos, jackals, and wolves, they last shared a common ancestor with wolves about 6 million years ago. They are the only species in the genus Lycaon, which is more closely related to wolves than domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).

In contrast, domestic dogs derived from the grey wolf (Canis lupus) within the last 30,000 years. In fact, chimpanzees and gorillas are closer to humans than wolves are to African wild dogs.

Everything from the phylogeny, evolutionary development, and behavior suggests that African wild dogs are more closely related to wolves than to dogs. Although the wild dog may be about the size of a German shepherd and may look similar to some dogs, they don’t bark and have different teeth and toes. African wild dogs have four toes on each foot, lacking the dew claw that most domestic dogs have. African Wild Dogs only have four toes on each paw instead of five, as they lack the dew claws of other canids. The wild dogs also have around 42 teeth, including premolars, that are much larger than in other canids. These larger teeth allow the dogs to consume large amounts of bone.

Lastly, although many have tried, African wild dogs have never been domesticated.

African wild dogs are also commonly mistaken for spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta), although hyenas are most closely related to cats and are categorized in the Feliformia suborder, rather than the Caniformia suborder of the African wild dog.

Image | © Tambako The Jaguar, Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Sources | (Animal Corner, 2019; BBC Studios, 2019; Kristof, 2010; Mulheisen, Allen, Allen, 2002; Nowak, 1999; Stuart & Stuart, 2007; Woodroffe & Sillero-Zubiri, 2012)

Learn More About the African Wild Dog


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