The Latin name "Protel" in Afrikaans or South African Dutch - the spoken language of South Africa - means "earth wolf." And he received it for the fact that in appearance it looks very much like a wolf, but they meet it most of the daylight hours in underground burrows.
The smallest sizes in the hyena family, body length 55–80 cm, tail length 20–30 cm, shoulder height 45–50 cm. Tall, relatively thin and weak limbs are characteristic. The neck is long. The head is elongated with a narrow muzzle and weak jaws. There are five fingers on the forelimbs and four on the hind limbs. The hairline is formed by long coarse skeletal and soft, crimped down hair. Starting from the back of the head along the upper neck to the back are elongated hair, forming a kind of mane. On the tail, the hair is particularly elongated. Body color is yellowish-gray with white transverse stripes on the back and sides. The end of the tail and the proximal limbs are black. Anal glands are well developed.
Teeth weak, separated by gaps. The diploid number of chromosomes is 40.
The earthwolf is widespread: in the Republic of South Africa, Namibia, Rhodesia, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan. But with a careful look at the area of the earthwolf, you can see that it is divided into two geographically isolated parts: northern and southern.
The earthwolves of each population are divided among themselves by more than one thousand kilometers, where there are practically no conditions for their habitation. Therefore, both parts of the population of earthwolves are deprived of the possibility of exchanging genetic material with each other, and currently form two subspecies: Proteles cristatus septentrionalis (area - East and North-East Africa: from southern Egypt and Sudan, through Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, to Uganda and Tanzania) and Proteles cristatus cristatus (area - South Africa: south of Zambia and Angola, Botswana, southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, north and center of South Africa). Over time, each of the subspecies can give two independent species.
When and what led to the formation of two subspecies of the earthwolf?
Apparently, at the end of the last ice age, and this is about 10-15 thousand set years ago, when the warming began in the Northern Hemisphere and the glaciers began to melt and “crawl” to the north, in Africa, in connection with this, significant changes also took place climate towards warming and simultaneous moistening. This led to the development of lush, lush tropical vegetation in the equatorial zone ... The more arid and arid vegetation, and correspondingly the same fauna, shifted north and south of the equatorial tropics: they were separated by a thousand-kilometer green zone. And since the earthwolf in the course of its evolution has adapted to feeding on special herbivorous termites inhabiting exclusively dry and semi-dry savannas, shrubbery and rarefied dry-loving forests, where the average annual rainfall does not exceed 80-100 mm, this ultimately led to the gradual disappearance of the earthwolf from a number of areas of its former historical range. So it was formed, without the exchange of genetic material, two subspecies of the earthwolf.
In brief about the biology and ecology of the earthwolf, the following will be obtained:
The earthy wolf is inhabited by open sandy plains or bushes. It is kept alone, sometimes in pairs or family groups of five to six individuals. Active at night. Spends the day in a hole that he digs out himself, or occupies the burrows of aardvarks. It feeds mainly on termites and insect larvae, which it gets, tearing the earth. It also eats small mammals, small birds and their eggs. The female brings 2-4, sometimes up to 6 cubs. In the southern part of the range, calves are born in November – December. In some places, such as Kenya, it is protected by law.
If in appearance the earthwolves are closest to hyenas, where most scientists classify them as subfamilies, then they began to separate them into a separate independent family by the structural features of the dental system (and this sign is very weighty for taxonomists).
But the earthwolves are very peculiar animals, a lot of interesting things in their life! Let us dwell, for example, on nutrition.
Earthwolf is a carnivorous insectivorous animal. Their main diet includes termites (Trinervi), and only occasionally does it eat randomly encountered insect larvae, eggs nesting on the ground, birds, small mammals.
A detailed study of the trophism of earthwolves showed that attachment to arid regions is associated with strictly specialized nutrition of termites of the genus Trinervitermes, which live exclusively in the dry regions of the African subtropics and tropics. Other termites, which are inhabited by approximately 150 species within the African continent, are not fed. And it is all about the peculiarities of termite biology of this particular kind.
In terms of life, the termites of the genus Trinervitermes differ little from their relatives. They are social insects and live in large family communities, they build their dwelling from clay in the form of huge, very durable above-ground hills, termite mounds. The basis of nutrition is cellulose, but unlike most other types of termites, they do not feed on wood, but harvest grass in the open. Therefore, they are forced to regularly leave their reliable fortress - termite mounds and start harvesting food outside their shelter, while other termites lay real protected tunnels to food sources - wood.
Termites of Trinervitermes usually leave their nest in dense groups of several hundred to several thousand individuals. Most of them are “workers,” about two-thirds of them, whose task is to collect grass and transport it to the nest. The remaining third of termites are "soldiers" who guard the termite workers, forming for them on the way there and the opposite "flank cover."
How do soldiers protect their brethren? For this purpose, Nature provided them with chemical weapons of incredible effectiveness. After all, these termites, however, like most of their relatives, have a whitish transparent and unprotected body. Their skin is not even protected by colored pigments from solar radiation, and therefore they never appear during the day, but always only in the night darkness.
The secretary apparatus of soldier-termites produces a sticky, sharp-smelling secret, with the help of which soldiers fire at every enemy, from ants to birds and lizards, trying to get closer to defenseless hard-working termites. This chemical weapon is so effective that almost all natural enemies leave them alone. It, however, is practically harmless only to the earthwolf: it calmly licks the termites with its long tongue and slowly eats them.
The termite’s nocturnal lifestyle — also determines the life style of the earthwolf — is also forced to be active at night. Therefore, not only the presence, but also the rhythm of life is determined in an earthwolf by its prey - termites.
Although the earthwolves can sometimes be seen near the carrion, but they do not feed on it, they are attracted by numerous insects scavengers. It is they who attract the earthwolf, which here eats the larvae of beetles, flies and other insects, which flock for a meal and continue a kind of fallen animal.