African golden jackals are actually golden wolves

Eyal Cohen

African golden jackals are actually golden wolves

Look at the long, slender snout and small body of an African golden jackal, and you’d be forgiven if you confused it with the golden jackal of Eurasia. Even researchers have long considered them members of the same species, canis aureus. But a new study says the two are separate species despite their similar good looks. To come up with the new classification, researchers compared genomewide DNA samples from jackals, gray wolves, and dogs. They found that African golden jackals diverged from coyotes and gray wolves some 1.3 million years ago, compared with 1.9 million years for Eurasian golden jackals, and that the two groups’ mitochondrial DNA differs by up to 6.7%. But because both species feed on the same prey in similar environments, they may have developed nearly identical physical traits—a process known as parallel evolution. To honor their find, researchers writing in Current Biology have suggested a name closer to the creature’s roots: canis anthus, or the African golden wolf. The new classification would bring the total number of living dog species from 35 to 36, and it might just go to show that you can hide a wolf, as long as it’s in jackal’s clothing.