The Golden Jackal

The Golden Jackal

During some of my research I read a very interesting article in a magazine explaining the origin of the Golden Jackal. Although not found in South Africa the relevance is fascinating and worthwhile sharing. The extracts and photos below is shared in the public domain and information was collected from the internet.

It turns out that Africa’s Golden Jackal – also found in the Middle East, Asia and Europe – is actually a wolf in jackal’s clothing. After exhaustive DNA analyses done by 24 scientists from institutions across the world – including one from the University of Johannesburg – concluded in a paper that while the African golden jackal and the Eurasian golden jackal were thought to be the same species, the one in Africa is more closely related to grey wolves. The authors believe these two jackal populations split more than a million years ago and evolved into two different species. The scientists propose calling the African golden wolf Canis anthus. It is the first finding of this kind in 150 years and raises the number of Canidae (wolves, coyotes, foxes, dogs and jackals) to 36 species.

Wolves and Jackals!

There are African golden jackals and there are Eurasian golden jackals. They look similar, almost the same. Even their coloring is the same. Their teeth and skull shapes are almost the same. But according to DNA they are quite different!
One is really a wolf while the other is not. The wolf in question just happened to fit into a similar ecological niche and so he came out looking the same!

Below are relevant extracts from an article on the subject along with a few illustrations BUT for a fuller explanation please go to the source:

Golden jackal: A new wolf species hiding in plain sight

A new species of wolf has been discovered in Africa after exhaustive DNA and morphological analyses revealed it is evolutionarily distinct from the Eurasian golden jackal, which it strongly resembles

Same or different?

The Canid family — wolves, coyotes, jackals, foxes, domestic dogs and others — are so familiar to us, and have been so intensively studied for so long that you might think that we know almost everything there is to know about them. But a paper published today in Current Biology belies that assumption. This paper describes the meticulous research conducted by an international team of experts who report a surprising discovery: a new species of wolf.

According to the authors, two golden jackal populations — one in Eurasia and the other in Africa — … after exhaustive DNA analyses, the authors were surprised to learn that African golden jackals are more closely related to grey wolves, even though there are no grey wolves in Africa and even though grey wolves and African golden jackals look dramatically different. Adding to the confusion, African golden jackals are strikingly similar in appearance to their more distant relative, the Eurasian golden jackal. This strong physical similarity has long been the source of confusion over these animals’ taxonomy and evolutionary relationships.

As a result of this study, the authors propose that the African golden jackal be renamed the African golden wolf, Canis anthus.

The evolutionary relationships of canids are poorly understood

The evolutionary relationships, or phylogenetics, of jackals have long been a mess, according to Adam Hartstone-Rose, an Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, who was not part of the study. Traditionally, most taxonomists have recognised three jackal species: the black-backed, side-striped and golden jackals — all of which live in Africa, with the golden jackal also ranging throughout much of Eurasia.

‘The three ‘species’ were considered close relatives based mostly on their similar body size and morphology’, explained Professor Hartstone-Rose in email.
‘However, as the first molecular analyses of canids became available, it was obvious that ‘jackals’ are only similar based on amazing morphological convergences’, said Professor Hartstone-Rose.

‘Consistent with two previous studies also based on mitochondrial sequences, we find that golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia are NOT each other’s closest relative as we would expect if they were the same species’, said Dr Koepfli.

This mitochondrial gene tree indicates that the African golden jackal is more closely related to the Eurasian gray wolf, and is distantly related to the Eurasian golden jackal (with up to 6.7 percent divergence).

‘In fact, golden jackals from different localities in Africa share a more recent common ancestry with gray wolves’, said Dr Koepfli.

Despite their distinct genetic ancestries, African and Eurasian golden jackals look so much alike that most scientists classified them as the same species. Thus, the research team wanted to see if their genetic findings were reflected in the skull and tooth morphologies of African and Eurasian golden jackals. They analysed 45 different skull and tooth characteristics from more than 140 golden jackals from five different geographic regions across Africa and Eurasia…. there are no distinct clusters of data, as you would expect if there were significant species-based differences in skull and tooth morphologies.
Analyses of these morphometric data revealed that despite their genetic distance, the golden jackals have a strong resemblance to each other… These data certainly explain the difficulty in recognising golden jackals as separate species:

‘Since the two jackal lineages are not closely related, this morphological similarity may be due to parallel evolution, driven by the ecological circumstances in which these animals live, especially with regards to the competition from other carnivore species’, said Dr Koepfli.

Other references:
Science Daily