The painted wolf’s large, rounded ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears are their most distinguishing features. An acute sense of hearing allows the painted wolf to hear approaching danger, and to pick up long-distance contact calls from pack members. Their ears may also serve as a thermoregulatory function, keeping the painted wolf cool in the heat of the day.
While puppies are dark when they are born, they soon grow into their distinctive and asymmetrical mottled coat. Every painted wolf has a unique pattern, although most have a distinctive white flash at the tip of their bushy tail. Painted wolves in north-east and east Africa have darker patterns, while in southern Africa the coats are more lightly coloured.
The Latin name for the painted wolf is Lycaon pictus, translating literally to ‘painted wolf-like creature’. The species is known by a multitude of names, including ‘wild dog’, ‘painted dog’ and ‘African hunting dog’. And those are just the English ones! Whatever the name you choose to use, this is a species deserving of our respect and attention.
Painted wolves are sometimes mistaken for spotted hyena or jackals. In addition, there is a long association with dogs due to some of the other names used. In fact, while part of the Canidae family, painted wolves are part of the Lycaon genus and are only very distantly related to animals in the Canis genus. As the only remaining member of their genus, painted wolves are a unique evolutionary line amongst African wildlife.
Adult painted wolves weigh between 20 and 30 kilogrammes. This slightly built animal has long legs, standing up to 75cm at the shoulder.
The painted wolf has only four toes on its front foot and lacks the dew claw characteristic in most dog species.
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