African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

African Wild Dog

African Wild Dog

In my opinion, all of the canids are exceptional – but we can make a good case for the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) to be our first canid species appearing here. Also, due to popular demand (thanks, Megan and Ted!).

As Megan noted, these guys are exceptional at least for their bite strength, which is the strongest among the order Carnivora, at least except for maybe some large marsupial carnivores, to whom we shall have to return in other posts. Note the excellent view of African Wild Dog dentition in this photo:

African Wild Dog and Her Teeth

An African Wild Dog showing off her dentition

African Wild Dogs’ teeth have a property shared with a few other canids (the Dhole and the South American Bush Dog). They have one molar shaped with a single crown – which apparently helps them shear off meat and eat very quickly.

And their forelegs are specially adapted to running. They are the only canid lacking dew claws on their front paws, apparently.  This may contribute to their extreme lankiness – look at the long long legs of this AWD, who’s trotting past a car.

Lanky African Wild Dog

African Wild Dog Exhibiting His Lankiness to Great Effect

Like all canids, African Wild Dogs are social critters – but their social organization seems to be different from the others. In the first place, it is patrilocal (girl dogs leave their home pack to find a new one, not boys). Secondly, they do submission-based rather than fighting-based negotiations of rank.

Thirdly, Wikipedia also reports some curious features about AWD’s hunting habits that are both exceptional and problematic for their image with humans. Unlike other canids, AWDs tend to hunt by chasing the bujeezus out of prey in the open over very long distances. Their success rate is something like 80-90% for their typical prey (which are usually some kind of large ungulates, though may also include ostrich) – and that’s just extraordinarily high. But they tend to kill the animal by disembowelment, which is, um, yucky and ugly (though quick in comparison to strategies used by other more popular predators, reportedly).

And sometimes they hunt more dangerous prey – warthogs, for example. Their success rate is a bit lower, but AWD packs seem to develop and pass down specific hunting strategies for these attacks by some kind of social (cultural?) transmission. Different packs have different strategies, and strategies need to be learned by newcomers to these packs.

Like other canids, though, the hunters will bring back meat (usually in their bellies which they have to then puke up) to the den where the pups and adult puppy-sitters wait to be fed.

Pups are extremely cute – and we note two exceptional properties of the African Wild Dog’s appearance here. First, the ginormous round ears; and second, the patched coloration (the ‘pictus’ in their Latin name means ‘painted’) – the latter is more evident than the former in very young pups, as shown here.

Four-week old African Wild Dog pups

Four four-week old African Wild Dog pups

The African Wild Dog is the only extant representative of the Genus Lycaon, and is an endangered species. There are a number of organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving the AWD, and we hope that they are successful.

Here are some AWD pups playing in a pool at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  They are slightly older than the pups above, and have clearly had time for those ears to come in properly.  We urge you to compare and contrast this with the video of the baby elephants playing in a pool in the previous post, please. And note that whatever species you are, if you put a kid in a swimming pool, you know just what she’s likely to do.

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~ by amyfou on March 27, 2011.

One Response to “African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)”

  1. Thanks for sharing these very cute pictures and videos. Conclusion: African Wild Dogs are indeed exceptional. 🙂

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