Posts Tagged ‘side-striped jackal’

lupullela adustus

Lupullela adusta, new name for the side-striped jackal. 

As we have examined the genomes of various  dog species, one problem has become evident:   The genus Canis is paraphyletic. Two endemic African jackals, the side-striped and black-backed jackal, are actually more distantly related to the wolf-like canids than the African wild dog and dhole are.

One way to solve this problem would be to make the dhole and African wild dog part of Canis, but the problem with this classification remedy is that the paleontology on the dhole and African wild dog is quite hard to trace and still fairly controversial. Anything in their lineage needs to have different classification in order to keep those specimens distinct from the main wolf-like canid clade.

The other solution is to give the black-backed and side-striped jackals their own genus.  In the early part of the twentieth century, it was common to refer to these species within a genus called Lupullela. I’ve noticed that a few papers have popped up using this genus, like this one that examines which predatory species may have left the remains of quarry in a Late Pleistocene cave in Morocco.

I don’t think it will be very long before both the side-striped and black-backed jackal will be commonly referred to as Lupullela.

I won’t be complaining. Paraphyly is something I find annoying.  We are classifying nature in light of evolution, and making sure we have true clades in which animals are classified according to their common descent is important.

The classification of jackals is undergoing a sea change. The creature known as the golden jackal is two species, but the exact way to classify the two species is still hotly contested.  The African “golden jackal” is closer to the wolf and coyote than the Eurasian “golden jackal,” but we don’t have good full-genome data to place the African golden jackal properly. It could wind up that the African golden jackal is very close to the wolf, as the coyote was recently found to be, and this will make the actual classification really touchy.

But that current debate is nothing compared to the way we are starting to classify the two divergent jackals of Africa. These animals don’t get studied as much, but I would highly suspect that there are surprises hidden in their genomes. It could be that there are actually several species currently classified as black-backed and side-striped jackals, and it is also highly likely that there are hybrids among these forms as well as between the species classified currently as side-striped and black-backed jackals.

Neither jackal is endangered, but they are something different, something that is at least worthy of study.

These are sort of forgotten dogs, and their secrets are only now just coming to light.


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The scent of canid estrus wafts out of the clouds of the Harenna Forest in Ethiopia’s Bale National Park. It floats out of the wet jungle into the land of lichens that lies way up high in the Sanetti Plateau, where he smells it.

He stops to savor the scent, which is almost like that of his mother and sisters but not exactly.

Yet is strangely beguiling.

His kind are the red-coated “wolves” of the Ethiopian Highlands. They are Africa’s rarest canid and may be the rarest of all wild dogs. They spend their days hunting big-headed mole-rats and other rodents. They are rare and found only in these Afro-Alpine lands of Ethiopia.

His kind stay in the open moorland of lichens. They don’t wander down in the cloud forest. That is the realm of the black leopard, the creature that savors the taste of dog-flesh above all others and would love nothing more than to swipe an arrogant little tawny wolf.

But the smell is strong, and the last few months have been hectic in his pack. The bitches have all come in estrus, and his mother ran off his older sisters. By the law of Ethiopian wolves, only one bitch produces a litter and that one bitch is the sole mate of a single male.

Thus, our wolf friend has spent a long time smelling the beguiling fragrance of estrus but never getting a chance to partake in any mating.

This smell isn’t quite the same, but it’s so similar that he can’t help be drawn to it.

He abandons his caution and wanders down into the clouds. He soon finds himself in the wet jungle of the Harenna Forest. Moss lies hard upon the trees.Strange little monkeys chatter among the bamboo.

And the scent grows stronger.

He keeps following his canine  concupiscence through this strange world. For a creature so devoted to living in the open moorland, this jungle is a terrifying alien landscape. The buzzing of insect causes him to jump. The gentle falling rain upon the leaves vexes him.

Hunger soon begins set in, but just as he’s about to turn around and head home, he catches wind of some decaying meat.

He follows his nose and soon finds himself looking at the remains of a bushbuck. He also smells the odor of a cat of some sort, but it has long since passed. But smells another odor. It almost like that of his own kind but not quite.

He is in the land of strange wolves, and his hackles are raised.

He knows he might have to fight for a bit of food, but he doesn’t know who these strangers are.

He eats a bit of the meat and raises his head to scan the undergrowth. He must eat, yet he is terrified.

He hears the approach of canine steps. He bristles. The time for a fight is now!

Then the beguiling scent of estrus fills the air. The hackles go down. He doesn’t consciously realize that he’s becoming softened.

The sound of canine steps grows stronger. They stop. Then they grow stronger again.

Then out from behind a stand of kokisa trees comes the creature. Our wolf notices that this is source of the beguiling estrus odor, and though he was expecting a strange Ethiopian wolf from another pack, she not one.

But in some ways she is.

She is almost entirely gray with black hairs mixed in. Along the sides of her back the pelt mixes in such a way as to form two stripes, each running from her shoulder to her hip. Her tail is tipped in white.

She is a side-striped jackal.  Her kind is numerous. They are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara and the Sahel. They are creatures of the brush and thicket. Their kind almost never makes it onto nature documentaries.

They are that banal, that common, that no one would would waste time filming a den-site or extolling their virtues.

Our two creatures stare at each other over the bushbuck carrion. Neither knows what to make of the other. 3 or 4 million years of evolution separate the two species. One is a specialist of an ecosystem that is dying. The other is a generalist of tropical Africa.

But the genetic difference between the two is trivial at this moment.

The young jackal bitch has been driven from her parents’ territory.  She is too defiant of her mother over the kills they scavenge, and her mother just can’t handle such recalcitrance. Estrus made the situation worse, for in jackal society, only one bitch and one dog mate and have the pups. Her sister accepted her mother’s edicts that only she would mother pups, but our jackal bitch fought back and tried to mate with her brother and then her father.

One big fight ensued, and now our jackal bitch is running through the forests, alone and in estrus. She has no territory, and no other dog jackals from other families have courted her.

Her desire to mate is strong now.  And though she’s has been eating off this old leopard kill– one that the old leopard decided wasn’t worth hauling up into the trees– she hasn’t been herself at all.

On her old leopard kill stands a jackal of sorts. He’s bigger than any jackal she’s seen before. He smells different, but he also smells good.

Part of her says to approach. Part of her says to flee. The former is pushing her forward, and as the wolf’s face begins to soften, she feels at ease.

She approaches the red stranger. They touch noses. She backs off.  He wolf-grins. She pounces at him playfully. He backs off. They stare at each other again.

The ritual goes on for an hour. They begin to forget what they are. The strangeness of the moment becomes an odd sort of familiarly.

She licks his lips. He licks hers.  He stands proudly with his ears back. She playfully paws him.

They smell each other.

She spins around and puts her tail to the side. He mounts. There is a tie.

For three days the eat from the bushbuck carcass and mate in the jungle. She alerts him to the scent of the leopard and shows him how much fun it is to chase monkeys into the trees.

On the evening of the third day, the young wolf stoops to drink from a puddle. The black leopard springs from behind a bush and is on the wolf before he knows it. The leopard doesn’t know that he has killed a rare wild dog. He’s caught a big jackal, and jackal meat is so tasty that he has to take it up into the canopy for storage.

The jackal bitch goes looking for her mate. She barks and howls into the night. There is no answer.

An old male side-striped jackal who hasn’t had a mate for year finds her. She still smells of estrus, so she is accepted by him. The two jackals wander off into the darkness. They mate one time, but the two remain together as mates. Within her grow the whelps, one of which is sired by the old male jackal, and the other is the hybrid with the Ethiopian wolf suitor.

The pups are born in the den she digs. One pup is a typical side-striped jackal, while the other is marked with tan points and a black tail with no white tip. The hybrid grows up as a jackal, though she is clearly different.

One day, a group of researchers comes across her and takes her photograph. Then they take many photos.

She is so strange that the researchers believe she is new species of jackal. When her photos are posted online, a lot of debate develops about what she is. Is a new species?  Is she a hybrid of golden jackal (now a golden wolf) and side-striped jackal?  Is she a  hybrid of Ethiopian wolf and dog?  Ethiopian wolf and side-striped jackal?  Nah. She’s an unusual side-striped jackal without the stripes or the white-tail tip.

And the mystery jackal roams the Harenna Forest. The debate goes on.

This is the story of a hybrid.


The above is an entirely fictitious account of what might have happened to produce the unusual jackal in the photograph above. The current consensus— based upon looking at the many photos taken of the creature– is that she is an unusual side-striped jackal.

The truth is this debate really can’t be settled definitely. We have no DNA samples from the beast.

But the possibility of other hybrids beyond the usual subjects in the genus Canis has long fascinated me. It could happen. It just hasn’t been confirmed anywhere.

Although the likelihood of this hybridization occurring is pretty low, it is very likely that the two jackals endemic to Africa, the side-striped and black-backed jackals, can hybridize. The two species usually fight with each other, but there could be instances where they have crossed.

We just don’t have as many genetic studies on these jackals as we do with wolves, dogs, and coyotes.

But I bet there are some interesting stories in the genetic history of these canids.

They just have to be explored a bit more thoroughly.

Jackals are a mystery waiting to be solved.




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A side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), the jackal no one talks about.

We’ve always called the smaller wild dogs in the genus Canis jackals.

Historically, there were four species of jackal:  the golden (Canis aureus), the black-backed (Canis mesomelas), the side-striped (Canis adustus), and the Simien (Canis simensis).

Some authorities considered they coyote (Canis latrans) to be a jackal, usually called “the American jackal.”

At one time, they were all placed in the genus Thous.

This, of course, assumed that these animals were all closely related to each other.

However, as we’ve looked at DNA analysis, the relationship between jackals shows that the term “jackal” is actually quite meaningless.

In 1994, an mtDNA study revealed that the Simien jackal had certain mtDNA sequences that were more similar to wolves than other jackals. It was thought to be a relict population of primitive wolves that came into Africa during the Pleistocene.

And from that time forth, the English name of this species was change to “Ethiopian wolf.”  I don’t call it anything else.

However, as more work was performed on jackals, certain facts became evident.

Initial studies of black-backed, side-striped, and golden jackal mtDNA revealed that black-backs in East Africa had huge variances in their mtDNA. Golden jackals had mtDNA that was most similar to coyotes and wolves, while black backs and side-stripes were more similar to each other.

And then the phylogeny of the dog family was drawn from a high-quality sequencing of the dog genome revealed that golden jackals were much more closely related to coyotes and the wolf and domestic dog species than the Ethiopian wolf was. We still call them Ethiopian wolves, even though golden jackals are more closely related to actual wolves than those animals are.

The other issue revealed through this research was that Canis, as it is traditionally classified, is a paraphyletic genus. Modern taxonomy is generally concerned with classifying animals according clades. Clades are, by definition monophyletic. That is, they contain all the animals that descend from a particular lineage.

The dog genome research revealed that two species that are never traditionally classified as being part of Canis, the African wild (Lycaon pictus) and the dhole (Cuon alpinus), actually should be included there.  It turns out that black-backed and side-striped jackals are more distantly related to the rest of Canis than these two species are.

And if we classify Canis with all the jackals, the Ethiopian wolf, and  the wolf and dog species and leave out the dhole and African wild dog, we’ve created a paraphyletic genus that is not useful to modern taxonomy.

Some have suggested giving the two endemic African jackals their own genus.

And this would make Canis monophyletic without including the African wild dog and dhole.

However, the genus that would remain would include several species that are all chemically interfertile with each other (at least in theory). Species complexes exist throughout that part of the Canis, and delineating species is very difficult the species in this lineage.

Although Robert Wayne at UCLA has suggested that black-backed and side-striped jackals might be able to interbreed, no one has confirmed a hybrid between these two species. African wild dogs might be able to hybridize with dholes, but because they live on different continents and because they are both fairly endangered, no one has attempted to cross them. (There are persistent rumors that dholes can cross with domestic dogs. One dog breed, the Bangkaew dog from Thailand, is said to have derived from a dog/dhole cross. However, I don’t believe this claim has ever been tested through DNA analysis.)

All this research has revealed that how we have traditionally thought about the dog family is probably wrong.

The golden jackal is actually a primitive offshoot of the wolf lineage, just as the coyote in the New World is. The Ethiopian wolf is an even more primitive offshoot.

The two endemic African jackals are the two oldest living species in the Canis lineage. They are even more distinct from this lineage than dholes and African wild dogs are.

We do not have a good replacement word for jackal.

I’ve suggested that we call golden jackals “Old World coyotes” almost as a joke.

But I don’t have a good name for either of the two remaining jackal.

Because black-backed jackals are so scrappy, I’ve even suggested that we call them “wild Jack Russells.”

Whatever we call them, the term jackal, if it’s used to reflect close relationships between species, is utterly meaningless.

With the exception of the two found only Africa, it doesn’t refer to any animals that have a close relationship with each other.

It’s just a term we use for smaller wild dogs that are in some way related to wolves.

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This account of some pet side-striped jackals comes Richard Lydekker’s The Royal Natural History, Volume 1 (1894). I have posted this story before, but it comes from a poor German translation to English. Lydekker was English-born and Cambridge-educated, so there is no language barrier in this account to occlude the meaning.

In inhabited districts on the west coast the side-striped jackal frequently enters the native villages, where it interbreeds with the domestic dogs. Its cry, which may be heard night and morning at all seasons of the year, is fully as longdrawn and appalling as that of the common [golden] jackal. [Eduard] Pechuel-Loesche tells us that these animals can be tamed with facility, and that, when in the Loango district he had several young specimens, one of which attained maturity. They were extremely playful, and would run after and catch almost any animals they saw, including beetles, grasshoppers, birds, and small mammals. They would readily eat almost anything that was offered them, such as bread, beans, rice, fish, flesh, bananas, and oil-palm nuts. Although gentle and friendly as a rule, to some individuals they took a marked dislike, growling and showing their teeth when ever they approached. One of these tame jackals would answer to its name,“Mbulu,” and was remarkable for the cleanliness of its habits, being particularly averse to getting its feet wetted by rain, seeking during showers the shelter of the huts. As a rule, it never sat down on its haunehes after the manner of a dog, but would lie at full length, with its nose resting between its fore-paws, and would generally select a sunny spot, where it lay blinking in the sunlight (pg. 507-508).

Side-striped jackals (Canis adustus) have never made great billing in natural history films.

They are essentially unknown to most people in the West.  They don’t tend to hang out in the open, and the core of the natural range tends to be in African countries that have not had as much stability historically. They aren’t as strikingly marked as the closely related black-backed jackal (C. mesomelas).

Lydekker made the error of assuming that these animals breed with dogs. The two endemic African jackals cannot interbreed with dogs. They are both as distantly related as a canid can be to domestic dog and still be considered a member of the genus Canis.

However, this account does give us some possible insights into how dogs may have been domesticated.

Eduard Pechuël-Loesche was a German-born adventurer and naturalist, who later earned a Ph.D. at the University of Leipzig. After earning his degree, he made several journeys to what is now the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He encountered these side-striped jackals in what is now the Republic of Congo in the Kingdom of Loango.

Side-striped jackals are the ultimate scavengers.

They have never been seen killing anything bigger than an antelope fawn.

I think they are a good question to the theorists who assume that dog domesticated themselves through scavenging off of humans.

Humans have lived in Africa for far longer than any other place, and in various camps, black-backed and side-striped jackals can often be seen scavenging.

And no one has domesticated them.

If all it takes is these animals losing their fear of people to become better scavengers off of us, wouldn’t it makes sense that these two jackals would have been domesticated instead of the wolf?

From Pechuël-Loesche’s description side-striped jackals wouldn’t have been terribly difficult to domesticate, but no one has.

Only a German explorer with lots of time on his hands even bothered.

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From Brehms’s Life of Animals (1896):

[T]he Striped Wolf (Canis adustus) [is] an mediate Species, animal resembling both the Wolf and the Jackal. The body is elongated; the head of a conical shape, pointed toward the snout, not unlike that of the Fox; the eyes have a slanting position; the ears are widely separated, like those of the Jackal, and rounded; the legs are strikingly long and slender. The tail reaches to the ground.

“The Striped Wolf,” says Pechuel-Loesche, who observed him in Lower Guinea, especially in Loango, in the wilderness as well as tamed, “is statelier and has longer legs than the Fox. He has the same sly expression of the face, but suggests also a decidedly better disposition and has a more aristocratic bearing. These Wolves are remarkably agile, lithe animals,freedom. Not only did he run around in the enclosure and visit our rooms, but he prowled around for hours in our plantations and the forests of the neighborhood. He searched for Beetles and Grasshoppers, playfully jumping after those that whirred away, and also caught many an unwary little mammal or bird. Unfortunately he did not catch the Rats which had become quite a plague in our camp. He left the poultry alone after once having received a slight castigation for catching a Hen. When after this he regarded some forbidden dainty with covetous eyes, a mild word or a slight remonstrance was sufficient to turn him from his evil way. Sometimes he strayed from the enclosure and remained away all day, but he always made his appearance in the dining-room at night to receive a few scraps. If he was forgotten for a longer time than he deemed proper, he pushed his nose against the leg of some one present, or, like and it affords one great pleasure to observe their movements. They come quite close to human dwellings, for the village Dogs never think of picking a quarrel with them; neither do the natives, who callthem ‘Mbulu,’ harm them. The Mbulu utters his shrill, long-drawn yelp in the morning and evening all the year round; it is so loud that a newcomer may be quite startled when he hears it in the immediate proximity of a village or encampment. The piteous cries of a Mbulu once brought us to the edge of a bushy little forest just in time to rescue the animal from a huge Snake which was strangling it.

We frequently kept half-grown Striped Wolf. One of them grew to be a very stately animal, and was so tame and docile that he was given unlimited [attention?] a Dog, put his head on somebody’s knee. He accepted everything thankfully: bread, beans, rice, fish, meat, even raw bananas, or oil nuts; but he could crush only the smallest bones with his teeth. If one of us paid him attention or spoke to him kindly he would look into our eyes with a greatly pleased and affectionate expression, like a Dog, but very seldom wagged his tail. The human voice produced an impression on him such as I have seen exhibited only by the Gorilla; it literally seemed to fascinate him” (196-197).

This animal is no longer called “the striped wolf.” (I am not sure if it is still referred to by this name in German.) Canis adustus is now called the side-striped jackal, and although it appears to have been an intermediate between the wolf and jackal in terms of its morphology. All of the genetic evidence that has been compiled suggests that this jackal is a close relative of the black-backed jackal, and like its black-backed relative is more distantly related to the wolf and dog species than the dhole and African wild dog, which have traditionally been regarded as belonging to genera distinct from Canis.

The discussion of the tame one is quite interesting. Some accounts of dog and fox hybrids talk about large gray or reddish fox-like dogs with white tipped tails.  Most of these accounts are from Britain, and I think that these so-called fox-dogs or doxes are actually escaped side-striped jackals that different people involved in colonial service may have brought back as either menagerie curiosities or unusual pets.

Dogs and red foxes cannot hybridize, but I imagine that a cross between certain dogs and the red fox would look something like a side-striped jackal. The side-striped jackal always has a white-tipped tail, as do virtually all red foxes.

Side-striped jackal pup.

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Side-striped jackals vary a lot in appearance, and some could be mistaken for either golden or black-backed jackals.

Or African wolves. At this stage, we are still trying to figure out how to tell the difference between the African wolf and the golden jackal.

About the only way I know to identify a side-striped jackal is to look for their distinctive white tail tip. They also tend to have broader skulls than other African wolf-like canids.

This particular smoky gray side-striped jackal looks a bit like a very old Norwegian elkhound.


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Side Striped Jackals


Side-striped jackal

Note the very bushy tail and the white tip.

Now consider this account of a  supposed dog-fox hybrid that was killed in Warwickshire, England, in 1906.

I think a really good case can be made that this animal was a side-stripe jackal pup, like this one. The head shape in the depiction of the “dog-fox” hybrid suggests that this is a side-striped jackal. The animal in question is said to be smaller than a fox, which suggests a juvenile animal.

Menageries of the day probably kept this species of jackal, which may have bred. Perhaps one of the pups escaped his parents’ cage and went wild in the forest.  For that time period, I doubt that a young jackal could have been captured in Africa and taken to England while it was of that size. Because of the length of its transport to England at that time, if it had been caught wild in Africa, it would have already grown considerably by the time it arrived (and escaped).

I should also note here that red foxes cannot hybridize with dogs or any member of the genus Canis. They have often been reported, but they have never been able to withstand scrutiny. However, it might be possible that dogs could produce hybrids with South American canids, some of which are called foxes but really aren’t.

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African coyotes?

No. Side-striped jackals.


They have white tail tips. In fact, as far as I know, all of them have this white-tail tip.

The narrator says they look like wolves. I think they lo0k like coyotes.

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