African Wild Dog

Lycaon pictus

The African Wild Dog lives in scrub savanna and other lightly wooded areas in Africa.These dogs differ from their other canid relatives in that they have four toes on their front feet instead of five.

Opposite to what happens with most other social animals, in this species the females disperse from their birth pack when they mature, to join other packs. It is also the females who compete for access to males that will help to rear their offspring: in a typical pack, males largely outnumber females, and only the dominant female is usually able to rear pups. This unusual situation may have evolved to ensure that packs do not over-extend themselves by attempting to rear too many pups at the same time.

This species is also unusual in that other members of the pack, including males, may be left to guard the pups while the females may join the hunting group. Some of these groups have very coordinated strategies to attack, allowing them to kill large prey such as wildebeest and zebras. Some of those strategies seem to be learned behavior, passed on from generation to generation within specific hunting packs, rather than an instinctive behaviour found commonly within the species.

The scientific name of the genus Lycaon is derived from Greek mythology: Lycaon was a king who was turned to a wolf by Zeus, because the king insulted the god. However, “lycaon” is not exactly the word for “wolf” in Greek (which is “lycos”). The species name, “pictus”, means “painted” in Latin.

The above picture was taken at the zoo of Melbourne, Australia, in April 2006, by Catherine Foundalis.

Genus Lycaon
Family Canidae
Superfamily Canoidea
Order Carnivora
Subclass Eutheria
Class Mammalia
Subphylum Vertebrata
Phylum Chordata
Kingdom Animalia
Life on Earth