Posts Tagged ‘side-striped jackals’

cape vs east african

Cape jackal  (L) and East African black-backed jackal (R)

The molecular revolution in biology has caused a great deal of turmoil in the taxonomy of Canids. Long-time readers know that full-genome comparisons have recently found that the red wolf and Eastern wolf are hybrid between coyotes and wolves, and one implication of the recent origins of the coyote is that the coyote itself might be better classified as a subspecies of wolf. 

Mitochondrial DNA comparisons, though potentially erroneous in determining the exact time of divergence between species or subspecies, have also revealed that the “golden jackals” of Africa are much more closely related to wolves than Eurasian golden jackals.  Classifying African golden jackals is going to take more analysis of their genome, but they are either a species on their own or a subspecies of wolf. They have evolved in parallel with both the Eurasian golden jackal and the coyote.

We also know now that the red fox of the Old World is quite divergent from that of North America, enough that some authorities are reviving the old Vulpes fulva for the North American species.  Red foxes in the Eastern and Midwestern US are actually part of this endemic North American species and are not, as the folklore claimed, to be derived from seventeenth and eighteenth century introductions from England.

Recent mitochondrial DNA analysis also revealed that Eastern and Western gray foxes are perhaps separated by 500,000 years of evolution. 

So we’ve likely lost two wolf species in North America. The coyote’s validity is questionable. But we’ve gained either a wolf species or subspecies in Africa.  We have also potentially gained two species of fox in North America.

With all of these new findings in DNA studies, scientists are looking more and more closely at other long-established species.

Last week,  a study of the cytochrome b gene of black-backed and side-striped jackals revealed that these jackals, too, have some secrets.  Cytochrome b genes are part of the mitochondrial genome.

At one time these animals were considered part of Canis, but the current trend is to classify them in their own genus (Lupulella).* They are quite divergent from the rest of the wolf-like canids, much more so than dholes and African wild dogs are. If dholes and African wild dogs are in their own genera, then it makes sense that these two jackals should have their own genus name.

But if they are that divergent from the rest of Canis, then it’s very possible that there are other secrets, and this limited mtDNA study certainly raises some important questions.

The researchers found that the Cape subspecies and East African subspecies of the black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas) actually diverged 2.5 million years ago.

I’ve always thought that there was a possibility of these two jackals being distinct species. The East African black-backed jackal has a shorter muzzle, comparatively larger ears, and usually lack the dense coat of the Cape jackal. The Cape jackal reminds me very much of Southwestern forms of coyote, with longer muzzle and thicker fur. What’s more is that the Cape jackal comes in a white and a golden phase that are not seen in the East African black-back.

If this deep divergence is confirmed in the full-genome or simple nuclear DNA studies that are very likely to be performed, then we likely have two species of what are called black-backed jackals now.

The researchers also found through this same analysis that the West African side-striped jackal diverged from the other two populations 1.4 million years ago, which certainly would raise some questions about its species status as well.

Again, we’re going to have to wait until full-genome analyses are performed, but I’ve always suspected that there are more than two species of endemic African jackal possessed some cryptic species.  I also have suspected that both side-striped jackals and black-backed jackals have hybridized a bit. This speculation could be revealed through the same full-genome or nuclear DNA studies that could examine the taxonomy within these supposed species.

Finally, the distribution of black-backed jackals is disjointed. The East African and Cape variants are separated by 800 miles. Several other small carnivorans have a similar distribution. The bat-eared fox and the aardwolf have disjointed distributions in which one population is in East Africa and the other in Southern Africa. It is very possible that similar deep genetic divergence exists within these species as well.

These potential cryptic species are worth investigating, and they certain put some of these “red wolf” controversies with in proper perspective.  If that 2.5 million-year divergence is upheld within the black-backed jackal populations, it really does become hard to justify the red wolf.  It is descended from two putative “species” that really aren’t that divergent at all by comparison.





*A bit errata:  I initially called the new scientific name of the side-striped jackal Lupulela adustus, which is just a modification of Canis adustus.  Most of the literature I’m corrects the gender to Lupulella adusta.


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Dogs vs. hogs

Warthogs vs. side-striped jackals over a cheetah-killed impala :

(Yes. That’s a black-backed jackal on the Youtube featured image. It is not in this video).

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Kent Hovind is out of prison, and seeing as he has a month of home confinement to waste time on the internet, he has been posting daily Q and A sessions on Youtube. Just e-mail him, and he’ll answer your question on Youtube.

So the other day, I sent him an e-mail with the following question:

Scottie Westfall Jul 22
To (Kent Hovind)
Would you say that black-backed jackals, side-striped jackals, African wild dogs (Cape hunting dogs or painted dogs) and dholes (Asiatic wild dog) are part of the same kind that includes golden jackals, coyotes, wolves/domestic dogs/dingoes, and Ethiopian wolves?

Why would I ask this question?

Well, within the wolf-like canids, it is well-known that some species are still chemically interferitle. We have a nice phylogenetic tree, which was drawn from a sequencing of domestic dog genome:

dog family phylogentic tree

Domestic dogs are basic a type of “grey wolf,” so they certainly do interbreed.  One could make the case in a creationist sense that these animals are all part of the same “kind,” because a “kind” is generalized term that pretty much is based solely on whether they can “bring forth”– produce offspring. Wolves and dogs have interbred and produced fertile offspring with coyotes and golden jackals. Golden jackals and coyotes have done the same. Ethiopian wolves (which are a really specialized canid that is found only in the Ethiopian Highlands) have interbred with domestic dogs, and in some instances, there have been viable, fertile hybrids produced.

By the Biblical definition of kind, these animals fit.

However, interfertility stops with the Ethiopian wolf. Although there are rumors of hybrids being produced between dogs and dholes and between dholes and golden jackals, we have no verified hybrids. There are claims that the Bangkaew dog started out as a dhole/domestic dog hybrid, but I’ve never seen anyone confirm this ancestry in the breed.

When this phylogenetic tree was drawn, it really did change the way we view jackals. When I was a kid, we tended to think of all the jackals as being closely related. We even called the Ethiopian wolf the “Simien jackal.”  But even before this study came out, it was pretty clear that the canid of the Ethiopian Highlands was closer to the wolves than the other endemic African jackals.

But this study revealed that golden jackals are even more closely related to wolves/dogs and coyotes than to the other jackals, and that the two endemic African jackals, the side-striped and black-backed jackals, are actually more distantly related to the interfertile canids than African wild dogs and dholes are. African wild dogs and dholes have traditionally been given their own genus names (Lycaon and Cuon), but those two endemic African jackals have always been listed as part of Canis. We now think of Canis as a paraphyletic grouping, which means it is not a clade. To make it a clade, we would have to move the African wild dog and the dhole into Canis, which is what I would do, or create a new genus for the two endemic African canids.

In an earlier video, Kent Hovind was answering a question about the kinds of animals on the ark, and he said something along the lines of how jackals, wolves, coyotes, and dogs are all descended from a single dog “kind” that was put on the ark.  (In that video, Hovind actually claimed that hyenas were part of the dog kind, which isn’t even close to being true).

But if a “kind” is defined as what can produce offspring, we have a very hard big problem here. When a creationist says “jackal,” I don’t think they understand that the three species of jackal are actually quite distinct from each other. You cannot breed a black-backed jackal to a dog, even if people claim that basenjis are derived from them, or that they have an African village dog that looks like one. The two species are very distinct from one another.

So if these animals all are distinct kinds, then God had Noah put several ancestral Canis-type dogs on the ark.  Black-backed and side-striped jackals probably can interbreed, but their genomes haven’t been studied in the interfertile Canis species have been. So that would be a kind. Dholes and African wild dogs probably can hybridize as well, so that would be another kind. And then you’d have the classic “dog kind, ” which has all the wolf-like species that hybridize a lot.

So we’d have these three separate kinds, but why?

Wouldn’t an intelligent deity just want one dog kind?

I mean, a Western coyote and a black-backed jackal are essentially the same organism in terms of their behavioral ecology. They hunt small animals. They gang up and hunt ungulates, and they do a lot of scavenging. They both have intense pair bonds, and they do cause problems with livestock producers.

Why would there have to be two separate “kinds” for this mid-sized, generalist canid?

Well, Hovind tried to answer my question, and he did very poorly. Now, I must confess that he was answering a bunch of questions about the flat earth and geocentrism (which many of his most devout followers wish he believed in), so I don’t think he was expecting a question like mine or understood its significance.

Here’s his answer (and he thinks my name is Daniel):


He tells me to go look up Baraminology, which I did.

But when I went to Answers in Genesis, I found that they fell into exactly the same trap as Hovind.

They point out that there was a discovery a few years ago that there were some “golden jackals” in Africa that were found to be a primitive lineage of wolf. Now, these are not Ethiopian wolves. People mess this up all the time. These are African wolves (Canis lupus lupaster), and they are actually pretty widespread. Populations of these wolves have been found as far from Ethiopia as Senegal, and they do cross with golden jackals there.

But note that the African wolves are breeding with GOLDEN jackals, and they were being confused with GOLDEN jackals. We know that golden jackals are close to wolves and domestic dogs, and they do hybridize.

One could make the case that golden jackals are part of the same “kind” that includes dogs, coyotes, and wolves, but you cannot say that black-backed and side-striped jackals are part of this same kind. They no more can cross with dogs than they a dog can with a petunia or a guinea pig.

So if you hear a creationist talking about jackals being part of the same “kind” as domestic dogs, just ask them about black-backed and side-striped jackals.

They don’t understand the problem with their reasoning at all.

Nor do they care.


AronRa has a nice video on canid evolution, though I do have few quibbles about it, such as the location of where dogs were domesticated and the size of some borophagine dogs, it gives you a good understanding of the problem when creationists mess around with interfertility in dog species.


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Side-striped jackals (Canis adustus):


I think that it is very likely that some of the reports of “dog/fox hybrids” in Britain from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are actually these animals.

When the sun never set upon the British Empire, it was commonplace for creatures native to the far reaches of the realm to be imported as pets for menageries. If any of these animals escaped or were released into the countryside, it is very likely that they would be misidentified as dog/fox hybrids.

Side-striped jackals are in the genus Canis, which makes them close relatives of domestic dogs (although certainly not as closely related as dogs to wolves, coyotes, and golden jackals).

They have some fox-like features, especially that long tail, which is covered in thick fur and is tipped with white. They sometimes have a reddish tinge to their coat, which is somewhat reminiscent of that of a red fox.

Of course, red foxes (genus Vulpes) cannot hybridize with domestic dogs.  I’ve seen dogs that look like foxes, and one breed of toy spitz is actually called a Volpino because of its similarity to the fox.


I might be in the minority here, but I think we should move black-backed and side-striped jackals out of the genus Canis and back into Thous, the archaic genus for jackals and coyotes.

I say this because golden and Simien jackals (Ethiopian wolves) have both been found to be very close relatives of wolves and coyotes and are far more closely related to those animals than they are to black-backed and side-striped jackals.

I think it makes sense to put these two “Africa only” jackals into their own genus.

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The fight between a vulture and jackal towards the end involves a golden jackal and lappet-faced vulture.

Also, these two jackal species cannot interbreed. The golden jackal is more closely related to wolves coyotes and coyotes. The golden jackal can interbreed with wolves, dogs, and coyotes.  The golden jackal is found through northern and eastern Africa, as well as much of Asia. The species is found in Europe as far north and west as Hungary, where it is called the “reed wolf.”

The black-backed jackal is actually quite a bit older than the golden. We actually know that the black-backed jackal is the oldest living species in the genus Canis.

The two populations of black-backed jackal are also quite genetically distinct. The East African population has been isolated from the southern Africa population for quite some time.

Both of these species do hunt. The black-backs that live near fur seal colonies and Namibia regularly take fur seal pups. Golden jackals are known to work in packs to hunt gazelle fawns. So to denounce the jackal as a mere scavenger is not entirely correct.

The only reason why we think of jackals as being related is that all three species share roughly the same niche. They are mid-level predators and scavengers. The golden, black-backed, and side-striped jackals are all roughly the same size and do look oddly similar. In fact, it would be easy to mistake the coyote for being a species of jackal. In fact, at one time coyotes had their own genus Thous. The coyote was considered part of this genus.

Our understanding of how these animals evolved shows us that the golden jackal and coyote are related, and both are closely related to the wolves. We now know that one former jackal species, the so-called Simien jackal, is actually much more closely related to the wolves than to any species of jackal. In fact, its modern name is the Ethiopian wolf.

The black-backed and side-striped jackals live only in Africa. They are a different evolutionary offshoot of the genus Canis. One could make the case that these two species might need their own genus. The painted dog or painted wolf of Africa (Cape hunting dog or African wild dog) and the dhole or red dog of Asia are relatives of the Canis species. However, because they are not as closely related to the main Canis line, they are in their own distinct genuses.  The painted wolf or painted dog is  Lycaon pictus (literally “painted wolf”) and the dhole or red dog is Cuon alpinus (“mountain dog).

Maybe the black-backed and side-striped jackals need to be returned to the genus Thous. However, doing so would probably disrupt our ability to classify the basal Canis species. Of course, that’s what both of these African jackals are, and such a move would probably do nothing more than invite confusion.

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