Dingos, whilst generally thought of as being Australian, actually likely originated in South East Asia, and were introduced to Australia between 3000 and 4000 years ago.
Dingos are a wild form of the domestic dog, and probably contain genetic links to wolves, thus resulting in them having a combination of features from both species. They normally live alone or in packs of up to ten animals.
Dingoes measure from 52 to 60 cm at the shoulder and 117 to 154 cm from nose to the tip of the tail. The average weight is 13 to 20 kg; however, there are a few records of outsized dingoes weighing up to 27 to 35 kg (60 to 77 lb). Males are typically larger and heavier than females of the same age. Dingoes from the North and the North-West of Australia are larger than Central and South-Australian populations. Australian dingoes are invariably heavier than Asian ones. The legs are about half the length of the body and the head put together. The hind feet make up a third of the hind legs and have no dewclaws.
As dingoes are descended from the gray wolf we can find several features in common, although they are on average much smaller, a more the size of a medium sized dog. (Around labrador size.) The dingo has a shorter tail than the wolf, and proportionally larger ears. A dingo has a relatively broad head, a pointed muzzle, and erect ears. Eye colour varies from yellow over orange to brown. Compared to other similarly sized dogs, dingoes have longer muzzles, larger carnassials, longer canine teeth, and flatter skulls with larger nuchal lines. Dingoes can have sabre-form tails (typically carried erect with a curve towards the back) or tails carried directly on the back.
The fur of an adult dingo is short, bushy on the tail, and varies in thickness and length depending on the climate. The fur colour is mostly sandy to reddish brown, but can include tan patterns and be occasionally black, light brown, or white. Completely black dingoes were probably prevalent in Australia in the past, but have been sighted only rarely in recent times and are now more common in Asia than in Australia.
Most dingoes are at least bicoloured, with small, white markings on the chest, muzzle, tag, legs, and paws being the most common feature. In the case of reddish individuals, there can be small, distinctive, and dark stripes on the shoulders. All other colour and colour-patterns on adult dingoes are regarded as evidence for interbreeding with other domestic dogs.
Note: Yes, the skull on the right was probably from a pup or young dingo, as it is very small.
The brain size in comparison with body mass is much smaller than wolves, and about the same as large species of dogs.
Although dingoes are usually seen alone (especially in areas where they are controlled), most belong to a social group whose members meet from time to time and are temporarily together during the mating season to breed and raise pups. Dingoes are generally highly social animals and form, where possible, stable packs with clearly defined territories, which only rarely overlap with the territories of neighbouring packs. Intruders are mostly killed. These packs as a rule consist of three to 12 individuals (mostly the alpha pair, as well as the current litter and the previous year's litter), which occupy a territory throughout the whole year. However, regional variants show the flexible social structure of the dingo. Apparently, specialisation on bigger prey boosts social behaviour and the formation of bigger groups.
Reproduction and Development
Dingoes breed once annually, depending on the estrus cycle of the females, which according to most sources, only come in heat once per year.
The mating season usually occurs in Australia between March and May. In Southeast Asia, mating occurs between August and September. During this time, dingoes may actively defend their territories using vocalisations and dominance behaviour.
Most females in the wild start breeding at the age of two years, and within packs, the alpha female tends to go into heat before subordinates and actively suppresses mating attempts by other females.
In general, the only dingoes in a pack that successfully breed are the alpha pair, and the other pack members help with raising the pups.
The gestation period lasts for 61–69 days and the size of the litter can range from one to 10 (but usually five) cubs, with the number of males born tending to be higher than that of females. Pups of subordinate females usually get killed by the alpha female, which causes the population increase to be low even in good times.
At the age of three weeks, the pups leave the den for the first time, and leave it completely at eight weeks. In Australia, dens are mostly underground. Apart from their own experiences, pups also learn through observation. Young dingoes usually become independent at the age of three to six months or they disperse at the age of 10 months when the next mating season starts.
Dingoes often kill by biting the throat and adjust their hunting strategies to suit circumstances. For bigger prey, due to their strength and potential danger, two or more individuals are needed.
Kangaroo hunts are probably more successful in open areas than in places with high densities of vegetation, and juvenile kangaroos are killed more often than adults. Dingoes typically hunt large kangaroos by having lead dingoes chase the quarry toward their waiting packmates. In one area of Central Australia, dingoes hunted kangaroos by chasing them toward a wire fence that hindered their escape. Birds can be captured when they do not fly or fail to take off fast enough. Dingoes also steal the prey of eagles. On Fraser Island, dingoes supposedly hunted and killed horses in coordinated attacks. Additionally, active fishing has been proven on the island. Reports also state that some dingoes virtually live entirely on human food through stealing, scavenging, or begging. In fact, dingoes are well-known for such a behaviour in some parts of Australia. It is suspected that this might cause the loss of hunting strategies or a change in the social structures.
Nearly all dingo attacks on cattle and water buffalo are directed against calves. The defence behaviour of the mother can be sufficient to fend off an attack. Therefore, the basic tactics of attacks are distracting the mother, rousing the herd/group and waiting (sometimes for hours), and testing of the herd to find the weakest members. This is similair to how wolves hunt bison.
While locating a cattle herd, it could be observed how the dingoes made several feint attacks, at which they concentrated on the calves at first and, later on, attacked the mothers to distract them. Thereupon, the dingoes retreated and waited at a distance from the herd until the rest of the cows had gathered their calves and moved on. During another occasion of an attack, "subgroups" of a dingo-pack were observed to take turns in attacking and resting, until the mother was too tired to effectively defend her calf. It was also observed how dingoes hunting a water buffalo with an estimated weight of 200 kg took turns in biting the buffalo's legs during the chase.
Like all domestic dogs, dingoes tend towards a phonetic communication, the difference being that they howl and whimper more and bark less than domestic dogs.
It is often wrongly asserted that dingoes do not bark. Compared to most other domestic dogs, the bark of a dingo is short and monosyllabic. During observations, the barking of Australian dingoes revealed itself to have a relatively small variability, and the subgroups of barking characteristic of domestic dogs could not be found.
Australian dingoes bark only in swooshing noises or in a mixture atonal/tonal. Also, barking is almost exclusively used for giving warnings. The bark-howling starts with several barks and then fades into a rising and ebbing howl and is probably, similarly to coughing, used to warn the puppies and members of the pack. Additionally, dingoes emit a sort of "wailing" sound, which they mostly use when approaching a water hole, probably to warn already present dingoes.
The frequency of howling varies depending on season and time of day, and is also influenced by breeding, migration, lactation, social stability, and dispersal behaviour. Additionally, howling seems to have a group-function and is sometimes an expression of joy (for example, greeting-howls). Overall howling was observed less frequently than among grey wolves. It can happen that one dog starts to howl, and several or all other dogs howl back and bark from time to time. In the wilderness, dingoes howl over long distances to attract other members of the pack, to find other dogs, and to keep intruders at bay.
Dingoes howl in chorus with significant pitches and with increasing number of pack-members the variability of pitches also increase. Therefore, it is suspected that dingoes can measure the size of a pack without visual contact. Moreover, it has been proposed that their highly variable chorus howls may generate a confounding effect in the receivers by making pack size appear larger.
Growling is used in an agonistic context, for dominance and as a defensive sound. Similar to many other domestic dogs, a reactive usage of defensive growling could only be observed rarely or not at all. Growling very often occurs in combination with other sounds, and was observed almost exclusively in swooshing noises (similar to barking).
During observations in Germany, dingoes were heard to produce a sound that the observers called Schrappen. It was only observed in an agonistic context, mostly as a defence against obtrusive cubs or for defending resources. It was described as a bite intention, where the receiver is never touched or hurt. Only a clashing of the teeth could be heard.
Aside from vocal communication, dingoes communicate like all domestic dogs via scent marking specific objects or places (waters, trails, hunting grounds, and so forth) using chemical signals from their urine, feces, and scent glands. Males scent-mark more frequently than females, especially during the mating season. They also scent-rub, whereby a dog rolls on its neck, shoulders, or back on something that is usually associated with food or the scent markings of other dogs.