The aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) is a small insectivorous hyena, native to Eastern and Southern Africa. The name means “earth wolf” in Afrikaans. Unlike other hyenas, the aardwolf is a defenseless animal whose diet almost completely consists of termites. The natural enemies are deterred by the superficial resemblance to the more aggressive hyena species.
The aardwolf is the only surviving species of the subfamily Protelinae.
The aardwolf looks most like the striped hyena. It is significantly smaller and has a more pointed muzzle, sharper ears used for listening for harvester termites, black vertical stripes on a coat of yellowish fur, and a long mane down the middle line of the neck and back. It is 30 in (76 cm) long excluding its bushy 12 in (30 cm) tail. It stands about 19.69 in (50 cm) at the shoulder, and weighs between 17.64 and 26.46 lb (8 and 12 kg). Its front feet have 5 toes. Its teeth and skull are similar to that of the hyena, although the cheek teeth are specialized for eating insects, and its tongue for licking them up. It has two glands at the rear that secrete a musky fluid for marking territory and communicating with other aardwolves.
Aardwolves are shy and nocturnal, sleeping in underground burrows by day. They sometimes use existing burrows of aardvarks, Old World porcupines or springhares. By night, an aardwolf can consume up to 200,000 harvester termites. They are also known to feed on other insects, larvae, and eggs. Unlike other hyenas, it does not scavenge or kill larger animals because of its weak jaw and small size.
The aardwolf is primarily solitary, but a mating pair will occupy the same territory with their young. Pregnancy lasts between 90 and 100 days, producing 2 or 3 cubs during the rainy season. The first six to eight weeks are spent in the den with the mother. After three months, they begin supervised foraging and set off on their own shortly thereafter.