Golden jackal ("Canis aureus")
Golden jackal (Canis aureus)
Scientific classificationEdit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Subfamily: Caninae
Tribe: Canini
Subtribe: Canina
Species referred to as jackals

Jackals are canids native to Africa and Eurasia. While the word "jackal" has historically been used for many canines of the subtribe canina, in modern use it most commonly refers to three species: the closely related black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas) and side-striped jackal (Lupulella adusta) of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal (Canis aureus) of south-central Europe and Asia. The African golden wolf (Canis lupaster) was also formerly considered as a jackal.

While they do not form a monophyletic clade, all jackals are opportunistic omnivores, predators of small to medium-sized animals and proficient scavengers. Their long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and their large feet and fused leg bones give them a physique well-suited for long-distance running, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (10 mph) for extended periods of time. Jackals are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.

Their most common social unit is a monogamous pair, which defends its territory from other pairs by vigorously chasing intruders and marking landmarks around the territory with their urine and feces. The territory may be large enough to hold some young adults, which stay with their parents until they establish their own territories. Jackals may occasionally assemble in small packs, for example, to scavenge a carcass, but they normally hunt either alone or in pairs.


The English word "jackal" dates back to 1600 and derives from the French chacal, from Turkish çakal, derived from the Persian شغال shoghāl, which is in turn derived from the Sanskrit शृगाल śṛgāla meaning "the howler".[1][2]

Taxonomy and relationships

The extant wolf-like canids
Phylogenetic relationships between the extant wolf-like clade of canids based on mitochondrial DNA.[3][4]

Similarities between jackals and coyotes led Lorenz Oken, in the third volume of his Lehrbuch der Naturgeschichte (1815), to place these species into a new separate genus, Thos, named after the classical Greek word θώς "jackal", but his theory had little immediate impact on taxonomy at the time. Angel Cabrera, in his 1932 monograph on the mammals of Morocco, questioned whether or not the presence of a cingulum on the upper molars of the jackals and its corresponding absence in the rest of Canis could justify a subdivision of that genus. In practice, Cabrera chose the undivided-genus alternative and referred to the jackals as Canis instead of Thos.[5]

Oken's Thos theory was revived in 1914 by Edmund Heller, who embraced the separate genus theory. Heller's names and the designations he gave to various jackal species and subspecies live on in current taxonomy, although the genus has been changed from Thos to Canis.[5]

The wolf-like canids are a group of large carnivores that are genetically closely related because they all have 78 chromosomes. The group includes genus Canis, Cuon, and Lycaon. The members are the dog (C. lupus familiaris), gray wolf (C. lupus), coyote (C. latrans), golden jackal (C. aureus), Ethiopian wolf (C. simensis), black-backed jackal (C. mesomelas), side-striped jackal (C. adustus), dhole (Cuon alpinus), and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus).[6] The latest recognized member is the African wolf (C. lupaster), which was once thought to be an African branch of the golden jackal.[4] As they possess 78 chromosomes, all members of the genus Canis are karyologically indistinguishable from each other, and from the dhole and the African hunting dog.[7][8] The two African jackals are shown to be the most basal members of this clade, indicating the clade's origin from Africa.[3] Canis arnensis arrived in Mediterranean Europe 1.9 million years ago and is probably the ancestor of modern jackals.[9]

The paraphyletic nature of Canis with respect to Lycaon and Cuon has led to suggestions that the two African jackals should be assigned to different genera, Schaeffia for the side-striped jackal and Lupulella for the black-backed jackal[10][11] or Lupulella for both.[11][12]

The intermediate size and shape of the Ethiopian wolf has at times led it to be regarded as a jackal, thus it has also been called the "red jackal" or the "Simien jackal".


Species Binomial authority Description Range
Black-backed jackal
Lupulella mesomelas

Schreber, 1775 The most lightly built jackal, once considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis,[13] it is now placed in the genus Lupulella. It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships.[14] Southern Africa and eastern coast of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia
Side-striped jackal
Lupulella adustus
Sundevall, 1847 It primarily resides in wooded areas, unlike other jackal species. It is the least aggressive of the jackals, rarely preying on large mammals.[15] Central and southern Africa
Golden jackal
Canis aureus
Linnaeus, 1758 The largest and most widespread of the jackals, it is more closely related to wolves than to African jackal species. Southeastern Europe, Middle East, western Asia, and South Asia

Folklore and literature

Like foxes and coyotes, jackals are often depicted as clever sorcerers in the myths and legends of their regions. They are mentioned roughly 14 times in the Bible. It is frequently used as a literary device to illustrate desolation, loneliness, and abandonment, with reference to its habit of living in the ruins of former cities and other areas abandoned by humans. It is called "wild dog" in several translations of the Bible. In the King James Bible, Isaiah 13:21 refers to 'doleful creatures', which some commentators suggest are either jackals or hyenas.[16]

In the Indian Panchatantra stories, the jackal is mentioned as wily and wise.[17] In Bengali tantrik tradition, they represent the goddess Kali. It is said she appears as jackals when meat is offered to her.

The Serer religion and creation myth posits jackals were among the first animals created by Roog, the supreme deity of the Serer people.[18]


  1. ^ "jackal". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas. "jackal". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b Lindblad-Toh, K.; Wade, C. M.; Mikkelsen, T. S.; Karlsson, E. K.; Jaffe, D. B.; Kamal, M. Jdjndnd; Clamp, M.; Chang, J. L.; Kulbokas, E. J.; Zody, M. C.; Mauceli, E.; Xie, X.; Breen, M.; Wayne, R. K.; Ostrander, E. A.; Ponting, C. P.; Galibert, F.; Smith, D. R.; Dejong, P. J.; Kirkness, E.; Alvarez, P.; Biagi, T.; Brockman, W.; Butler, J.; Chin, C. W.; Cook, A.; Cuff, J.; Daly, M. J.; Decaprio, D.; et al. (2005). "Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog". Nature. 438 (7069): 803–819. Bibcode:2005Natur.438..803L. doi:10.1038/nature04338. PMID 16341006.
  4. ^ a b Koepfli, K.-P.; Pollinger, J.; Godinho, R.; Robinson, J.; Lea, A.; Hendricks, S.; Schweizer, R. M.; Thalmann, O.; Silva, P.; Fan, Z.; Yurchenko, A. A.; Dobrynin, P.; Makunin, A.; Cahill, J. A.; Shapiro, B.; Álvares, F.; Brito, J. C.; Geffen, E.; Leonard, J. A.; Helgen, K. M.; Johnson, W. E.; O’Brien, S. J.; Van Valkenburgh, B.; Wayne, R. K. (2015-08-17). "Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species". Current Biology. 25 (16): 2158–65. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060. PMID 26234211.
  5. ^ a b "None". Archived from the original on April 16, 2008.
  6. ^ Wayne, R. (1993). "Molecular evolution of the dog family". Trends in Genetics. 9 (6): 218–24. doi:10.1016/0168-9525(93)90122-X. PMID 8337763.
  7. ^ Robert K. Wayne; Jennifer A. Leonard; Carles Vila (2006). "Chapter 19:Genetic Analysis of Dog Domestication". In Melinda A. Zeder (ed.). Documenting Domestication:New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms. University of California Press. pp. 279–295. ISBN 978-0-520-24638-6.
  8. ^ Wurster-Hill, D. H.; Centerwall, W. R. (1982). "The interrelationships of chromosome banding patterns in canids, mustelids, hyena, and felids". Cytogenetics and Cell Genetics. 34 (1–2): 178–192. doi:10.1159/000131806. PMID 7151489.
  9. ^ Bartolini Lucenti, Saverio; Rook, Lorenzo (2016-11-01). "A review on the Late Villafranchian medium-sized canid Canis arnensis based on the evidence from Poggio Rosso (Tuscany, Italy)". Quaternary Science Reviews. 151: 58–71. Bibcode:2016QSRv..151...58B. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.09.005. ISSN 0277-3791.
  10. ^ Zrzavy, J.; Ricankova, V. (2004). "Phylogeny of recent Canidae (Mammalia, Carnivora): relative reliability and the utility of morphological and molecular datasets". Zool. Scr. 33 (4): 311–333. doi:10.1111/j.0300-3256.2004.00152.x. S2CID 84733263.
  11. ^ a b Privosti, Francisco J. (2010). "Phylogeny of the large extinct South American Canids (Mammalia, Carnivora, Canidae) using a total evidence approach". Cladistics. 26 (5): 456–481. doi:10.1111/j.1096-0031.2009.00298.x. PMID 34875763. S2CID 86650539.
  12. ^ Viranta, S., Atickem, A., Werdelin, L., & Stenseth, N. C. (2017). Rediscovering a forgotten canid species. BMC Zoology, 2(1), 6.
  13. ^ Macdonald, David (1992). The Velvet Claw. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-563-20844-0.
  14. ^ Estes, Richard (1992). The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08085-0.
  15. ^ "Side-Striped Jackal" (PDF). Canids.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2010-03-19.
  16. ^ "Jackal", classic.net.bible.org; accessed 26 February 2015.
  17. ^ Roshen Dalal (18 April 2014). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin UK. p. 189. ISBN 9788184752779.
  18. ^ Thiaw, Issa laye (23–24 June 2009), "Mythe de la création du monde selon les sages sereer" (PDF), Enracinement et Ouverture — "Plaidoyer pour le dialogue interreligieux" (in French), Dakar: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, pp. 45–50

Further reading