Although the word jackal has been historically used to refer to many small to medium sized species of the wolf genus of mammals, Canis, today it most properly and commonly refers to three species: the black-backed jackal and the side-striped jackal of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal of northern Africa and south-central Eurasia. The black-backed and side-striped jackals are more closely related to each other than they are to the golden jackal, which is closer to wolves, dogs and coyotes.
Throughout this text you may find references to the three different species. This is because there are slightly difference between them which need to be distinguidhed between.
Adults measure 60–106 cm in body length, not counting a tail of 20–30 cm, and 44.5–50 cm ) in shoulder height. Weights differ 12% between the sexes; males weigh 6.3–15 kg, while females weigh 7.0-11.2 kg.
Black Backed Jackal
Black-backed jackals are the smallest of the three jackal species. They measure 30–48 cm in shoulder height and 60–90 cm in length. The tail measures 26–40 cm in length. Weight varies according to location; East African jackals weigh 7-13.8 kg. Male jackals in Zimbabwe weigh 6.8-9.5 kg, while females weigh 5.4–10 kg.
Side striped Jackal
The side-striped jackal is a medium-sized canid, which tends to be slightly larger on average than the black-backed jackal. Body mass ranges from 6.5 to 14 kg, head-and-body length from 69 to 81 cm and tail length from 30 to 41 cm Shoulder height can range from 35 to 50 cm.
The three jackal species differ mainly in color and choice of habitat. The sandy-colored golden jackal prefers open, grassy plains, while the side-striped jackal lives along waterways with dense undergrowth. This jackal is drabber in color, has a white tip on the tail and indistinct stripes along the sides of the body. The black-backed jackal is recognized by the mantle of black hair on the back that contrasts with the rust-colored body. The tail is black-tipped, as is that of the golden jackal. The black-blacked jackal is usually the most frequently seen as it is more diurnal than the other two species.
The side-striped jackal's skull is similar to that of the black-backed jackal's, but is flatter, with a longer and narrower rostrum. Its dentition is well suited to an omnivorous diet. The long, curved canines have a sharp ridge on the posterior surface, and the outer incisors are canine-like. Its carnassials are smaller than those of the more carnivorous black-backed jackal. Females have four inguinal teats.
The golden jackal is very similar to the wolf in general appearance, but is much smaller in size and lighter in weight, and has shorter legs, a more elongated torso and a shorter tail. The end of the tail just reaches the heel or a bit below it. The head is lighter than the wolf's, with a less-prominent forehead, and the muzzle is narrower and more pointed. The iris is light or dark brown. The species has five pairs of teats.
Its skull is similar to the wolf's, but is smaller; its nasal region is lower and its facial region shorter. Its canine teeth are large and strong, but relatively thinner than the wolf's. Compared to the skull of the side-striped jackal, the golden jackal's profile descends from the frontal to the nasal bones, as opposed to having a flat outline. Differences in dentition are also apparent, with the golden jackal having larger carnassials. Occasionally, it develops a horny growth on the skull which is associated with magical powers in southeastern Asia. This horn usually measures half an inch in length, and is concealed by fur.
Black Backed Jackal
Their skulls are elongated, with pear-shaped braincases and narrow rostra. The black-backed jackal's skull is similar to that of the side-striped jackal, but is less flat, and has a shorter, broader rostrum. Its carnassials are also larger than those of its more omnivorous cousin. Black-backed jackals are taller and longer than golden jackals, but have smaller heads.
Side Striped Jackal
Its pelt is coloured buff-grey. The back is darker grey than the underside, and the tail is black with a white tip. Indistinct white stripes are present on the flanks, running from elbow to hip. The boldness of the markings varies between individuals, with those of adults being better defined than those of juveniles
The winter fur is generally either of a dirty reddish-grey color, strongly highlighted with blackish tones due to the black guard hairs, or a brighter, rusty-reddish color. A blackish stripe is present above each eye. The back of the ears is pale rusty. The inside of the ears is covered with dirty whitish hairs. The chin and throat are whitish, with a dirty tint. The guard hairs are black, and are especially developed on the back, but less so on the flanks; the general color of these parts is brighter and clearer. The summer fur is sparser, coarser and shorter, and has the same color as the winter fur, but is brighter, with less-defined dark tints.
The golden jackal moults twice a year, in spring and autumn.
Black Backed Jackal
The general colour is reddish-brown to tan, while the flanks and legs are redder. Males tend to be more brightly coloured than females, particularly in their winter coat. The back is intermixed with silver and black hairs, while the underparts are white. Their tails have a black tip, unlike side-striped jackals, which have white-tipped tails. The back of the ears are light yellowish-brown, well covered with hair without and within.The hair of the face measures 10–15 mm in length, and lengthens to 30–40 mm on the rump. The guard hairs of the back are 60 mm on the shoulder, decreasing to 40 mm at the base of the tail. The hairs of the tail are the longest, measuring 70 mm in length.
There are six recognized subspecies of the side striped jackal:
There are two recognized subspecies of the black backed jackal:
There are twelve recognized subspecies of the golden jackal:
Jackals live singly or in pairs, but are sometimes found in loose packs of related individuals. The male and female mate for life. Mated pairs are territorial, and both the female and male mark and defend the boundaries of their territory. Sometimes pups will stay with their parents and help raise their younger siblings. Most pup deaths occur during the first 14 weeks of life, so the presence of helpers increases the survival rate.
Litters number up to six but usually average two to four. It takes about 10 days for the infants' eyes to open, and for the first few weeks of life, they remain in the thickets or holes where they were born. At about 3 weeks, they begin to spend time outside playing with their litter-mates. At first the games are clumsy attempts at wrestling, pawing and biting. As they become more coordinated, they ambush and pounce, play tug of war and chase each other. The mother changes den sites about every two weeks, so the young are less likely to be found by predators.
The pups are suckled and fed regurgitated food until they are about 2 months. By 3 months, they no longer use the den but start to follow their parents, slowly learning the territory and observing hunting behavior. By 6 months, they are hunting on their own. Their parents, however, continue to feed, groom and play with them.
Sometimes pups stay with their parents and help raise their younger brothers and sisters. At times they bring back food to their younger siblings or babysit them while the parents hunt for food. Most pup deaths occur during the first 14 weeks of life, so the presence of helpers increases the survival rate.
Side Striped Jackal
The side-striped jackal lives both solitarily and in family groups of up to seven individuals. The family unit is dominated by a breeding pair, which remains monogamous for a number of years.
The side-striped jackal has a gestation period of 57 to 70 days, with average litter of three to six young. The young reach sexual maturity at six to eight months old, and typically begin to leave when 11 months old.
The golden jackal's social organisation is extremely flexible, being dependable on the availability and distribution of food. The basic social unit is a breeding pair, followed by its current offspring, or offspring of former litters. The golden jackal holds rather loosely defined hunting ranges which are not seriously defended, and are seemingly somewhat arbitrary. The size of the territory also varies considerably according to environmental factors. It may be only about 2.5 square kilometres or, where game is more thinly spread, 20 square kilometres or more.
The golden jackal's courtship rituals are remarkably long, during which the breeding pair remains almost constantly together. The mating process may last 26–28 days. In anticipation of the role he will take in raising pups, the male surrenders any food he has to the female.
Once the lactation period concludes, the female drives off the pups. Pups born late remain with their mother until early autumn, at which point they leave either singly or in groups of two to four individuals.
Black Backed Jackals
Jackals usually den in holes made by other species, though they will occasionally dig their own; females will dig tunnels 1–2 metres in depth with a 1-metre-wide entrance. Black-backed jackals are monogamous and territorial animals, whose social organisation greatly resembles that of golden jackals. However, unlike the latter species, the assistance of elder offspring in helping raise the pups of their parents has a greater bearing on pup survival rates. Pups are born from July to October. They typically leave the den after three weeks, and become independent at six to eight months. Pups have drab coloured coats, which only reach full intensity at the age of two years. Unlike golden jackals, which have comparatively amicable intrapack relationships, black-backed jackal pups become increasingly quarrelsome as they age, and establish more rigid dominance hierarchies. Dominant cubs will appropriate food, and become independent at an earlier age.
Golden jackals frequently groom one another, particularly during courtship. Nibbling of the face and neck is observed during greeting ceremonies. When fighting, the golden jackal slams its opponents with its hips, and bites and shakes the shoulder. The species' postures are typically canine, and it has more facial mobility than the black-backed and side-striped jackals, being able to expose its canine teeth like a dog.
The vocabulary of the golden jackal is similar to that of dogs, with seven different sounds having been recorded. Different subspecies can be recognised by differences in their howls. Among African canids, the golden jackal has the most dog-like vocalisations. Its cry consists of a long, wailing howl which is repeated three or four times, each repetition in a note a little higher than the preceding, and then a succession of usually three quick yelps, also repeated two or three times. This sound is usually uttered shortly after dark or before dawn. The golden jackal may howl for different reasons, such as to call other jackals or, seemingly, to announce changes in weather. It has been recorded to howl upon hearing church bells, sirens or the whistles of steam engines and boats. Groups will occasionally howl in chorus, which is thought to reinforce family bonds, as well as advertise territorial status. When in the vicinity of tigers or leopards or any other cause for alarm, the golden jackal emits a cry transliterated as "pheal", "phion" or "phnew". When hunting in a pack, the dominant jackal initiates an attack by repeatedly emitting a sound transliterated as "okkay!".
Black Backed Jackal
Sounds made by black-backed jackals include yelling, yelping, woofing, whining, growling and cackling. When calling to one another, they emit an abrupt yelp followed by a succession of shorter yelps. Jackals of the same family will answer each other's calls, while ignoring those of strangers. When threatened by predators, they yell loudly. Black-backed jackals in southern Africa are known to howl much like golden jackals. They woof when startled, and cackle like foxes when trapped.
Jackals can best be described as opportunistic omnivores. They cooperatively hunt small or young antelopes and also eat reptiles, insects, ground-dwelling birds, fruits, berries and grass. They will pick over kills made by large carnivores and even frequent rubbish dumps in pursuit of food.
The golden jackal is an omnivorous and opportunistic forager; its diet varies according to season and habitat. They eat rodents, birds, fruit, reptiles and hares. In Italy they may prey on small roe deer. They also consume a large amount of insects, including dung beetles, larvae, termites and grasshoppers. It will also kill young gazelles, duikers and warthogs. What the golden jackal eats is largely dependant on the habitat it lives in.
The golden jackal rarely forms small packs when hunting, though packs of 8–12 jackals consisting of more than one family have been observed in the summer periods in Transcaucasia. When hunting singly, the golden jackal will trot around an area, occasionally stopping to sniff and listen. Once prey is located, it will conceal itself, quickly approach, then pounce. When hunting in pairs or packs, jackals run parallel and overtake their prey in unison. When hunting aquatic rodents or birds, they will run along both sides of narrow rivers or streams, driving their prey from one jackal to another.
Black Backed Jackals.
Black-backed jackals are omnivores, which feed on invertebrates, such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders and scorpions. They will also feed on mammals, such as rodents, hares and young antelopes up to the size of topi calves. They will also feed on carrion, lizards, and snakes. Black-backed jackals will occasionally feed on fruits and berries. In coastal areas, they will feed on beached marine mammals, seals, fish and mussels.