The Black-Backed Jackal:

By: Madison Weir
The Jackal is a small "wolf-like" mammal that is mainly found in Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia. There are three species of Jackal, the Black-backed Jackal (Canis Mesomelas), Side-stripped Jackal (Canis Adustus) and Golden Jackal (Canis Aureus). Its name is derived from the Turkish work çakal. The Jackal is featured in the mythos of many different countries, most notably in Egyptian mythology as the god Anubis. Fossils of the Black-backed Jackal have been found in sub-Saharan Africa, and have been dated back to the Pleistocene era, some two million years ago. Through the study of these fossils, it has been found that the Jackal diverged into several different species approximately 4 million years ago. The Jackal is also closely related to wolves and foxes, such as the Arctic Fox.

The Black-Backed Jackal is not an endangered species. On the contrary, it thrives due to its highly adaptable nature. However, it is an animal that is a well-known carrier of diseases, such as rabies. Its unfortunate habit of making a meal out of livestock, most farmers have set up jackal traps or take active measures to hunt them. Due to its nocturnal behavior and keen night vision, Jackals are rarely ever shot or caught in the traps.

Classification:

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Canidae
Genus
Canis
Species
Mesomelas, Aureus, Adustus

Habitat:

The adaptation of any living thing to its environment is essential. The Black-Banded Jackal inhabits two areas in Africa (refer to figure 1). One area spreads over the countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, while the other area spreads over Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia. Both of these areas are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. They share their territory with animals such as lions and the African Elephant.

The Black-Backed Jackal mostly inhabits open grassland. The coloring of their fur helps them to blend in to their surroundings. The Jackal's preferred area is near other large predators, so that they can scavenge off their kills. This means that they are in competition with larger predators, so their ears have developed to be large to catch all sounds that herald the arrival of a predator. The average temperature ranges from between 25-30 degrees Celsius in the summer months, however the temperature can drop down to below 10 degrees Celsius at night time. The Jackal hunts at dawn and dusk, and as a result its body temperature is comparatively high compared to other predators which are active during the day. As they are scavengers, they use their canines to rip meat off of a carcass, and bury the meat to store it for later. They are often in competition with the Hyena. Jackals are also monogamous to protect their pups from other predators.

The Black-Banded Jackal often digs burrows for its pups to protect them from eagles and other large predatory birds, as Jackal pups have bland gray coats that don't camouflage them very well.



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Figure 1: The Black-Backed Jackals Territory

Adaptations:

Structural:

  1. Long, Pointed maxillary canines and cusped premolars (see figure 2):
    While the Jackal is omnivorous, a large portion of its diet is scavenged meat. In order to tear chunks of meat from a carcass, the Jackal has four long, sharp canines that it uses to slice through the meat. The canines protruding from the maxilla are decidedly larger than the ones on the mandible. This is because the mandibular canines would not be used for collapsing the airway when killing a smaller animal.

    The cusped premolars of a design that is similar to that of the great apes. The cusp on the outer edge of the premolar not only serves for slicing meat, but also for sharpening the canines. As the Jackal bites down on something the cusp rasps against the edge of the canine, sharpening it. If the canines were not sharp, the Jackal wouldn't be able to feed itself or defend itself. This means that the canines remain healthy and that the Jackal is able to feed itself.

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Figure 2: Cusped premolars and Canines


2. Tall, Wide Ears (see figure 3):
The Jackal has tall, wide ears that seem almost disproportionate to the size of its head. Not only does the design of these ears allow it to hear better than most other animals in its environment, it also protects the Jackal from some illnesses. Since the ears of the Jackal do not 'flop over' like those of some domesticated dogs, the Jackals ears very rarely get infections. The ear canals get a constant stream of dry air, preventing them from getting wet and becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.

The outside and inside of the Pinna of the ear is covered in a course fur that prevents dust and other particulates from entering the ear canal. This is also a safety mechanism, as impaired hearing could severely affect the Jackals ability to scavenge and protect itself.

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Figure 3: Tall, Wide-set ears

Behavioural:

1. Monogamous (see figure 4):
The Jackal is among the few creatures in the animal kingdom that is naturally monogamous. Most pair off with a mate during their first breeding season as mature Jackals, and stay paired for the rest of their lives. There are many reasons why the Jackal is monogamous. The two Jackals will patrol their territory and rear pups together. The parents staying together constantly will increase their litter's chance at survival, and semi-mature Jackals will often stay with the family unit to help look after a new litter of pups.

Breeding is also more successful, as the female can stay with the pups all the time while the male goes to get food. The male continues to patrol the territory while the female is rearing the pups and is also responsible for protection of the family unit against other animals.


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Figure 4: A pair of Jackals displaying monogamous behaviour.


2. Burying Scavenged Food (see figure 5):
Jackals are primarily scavengers. However, they are constantly in competition with other scavengers (such as Hyenas and vultures) for the same food. If a Jackal finds a carcass before another scavenger, they will eat as much as they can and then bury some near a landmark that they can easily find again. This is a survival technique similar to squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter. Jackals are supremely opportunistic in their scavenging and, while they will eat mostly anything, meat is an important part of their diet. It has been observed that they do this more while raising pups, as they will need a steady supply of food to keep the pups healthy.

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Figure 5: A Jackal scavenging food to bury.


Physiological:

1. Higher body temperature:
Because the Jackals are nocturnal (see figure 6), they need to be warm at night when they are looking for food. Because of this habit, their body temperature is higher than most other animals in the area. Because they are comparatively small and more susceptible to wind chill, their body temperature needs to be high in order to keep warm.

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Figure 6: A Jackal displaying nocturnal behaviour.

The Black-Backed Jackal Bibliography:
1. Boyd, R, & Silk, J.B. (2009). How humans evolved (fifth edition). New York: W.W. Norton & Company New York - London.
2. Jackal. (2011, June 20). Retrieved from Jackal
3. Monogamy is an oddity. (2001). Retrieved from Monogamy is an Oddity

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