The aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) is a small, insectivorous hyena-like mammal, native to Eastern and Southern Africa. The name means "earth wolf" in Afrikaans/Dutch. It is also called "maanhaar-jackal" and "protelid". Unlike other hyenas, the diet of the aardwolf almost completely consists of termites, other insect larvae and carrion.
The aardwolf is the only surviving species of the subfamily Protelinae. Two geographically separate subspecies are recognized: Proteles cristatus cristatus of Southern Africa, and Proteles cristatus septentrionalis of eastern and northeastern Africa. It is usually placed in the Hyaenidae, though formerly separated into a monotypic family, Protelidae. The aardwolf lives in the scrublands of eastern and southern Africa. These are the areas of land covered with stunted trees or shrubs. The aardwolf hides in a burrow during the day and comes out at night to search for food. It is related to hyenas, but unlike its relatives, it does not hunt large prey . This unusual animal is a mass killer-of insects. It feeds mainly on termites and can eat more than 200,000 in a single night, using its long, sticky tongue to collect them.
There are two distinct populations: one in Southern Africa, and another in East and Northeast Africa. The species does not occur in the intermediary miombo forests.
Aardwolves are shy and nocturnal, sleeping in underground burrows by day. They usually use existing burrows of aardvarks, Old World porcupines or springhares, despite being capable of creating their own. By night, an aardwolf can consume up to 200,000 harvester termites using its sticky, long tongue. They take special care not to destroy the termite mound or consume the entire colony, which ensures that the termites can rebuild and provide a continuous supply of food. They will often memorise and return to nests to save the trouble of finding a new one. They are also known to feed on other insects, larvae, and eggs, and occasionally small mammals and birds. Unlike other hyenas, aardwolves do not scavenge or kill larger animals.
The aardwolf is primarily solitary (especially males), but a mating pair will occupy the same territory with their young. Young aardwolves generally achieve sexual maturity after two years, and the breeding season varies depending on their location, but normally takes place during the autumn or spring. During the breeding season, male aardwolves will search their own territory as well as others' for a female to mate with. This can often result in conflict between two male aardwolves when one has wandered into another's territory. Gestation lasts between 90 and 110 days, producing one to five cubs (most often two or three) during the rainy season, when termites are active. The first six to eight weeks are spent in the den with the mother. After three months, they begin supervised foraging and by four months are normally independent. However, they will often use the same den as their mother until the next breeding season. They can achieve a lifespan of up to 15 years when in captivity.