golden jackal, Canis aureus
side-striped jackal Canis adustus
black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas
A jackal is a member of any of three small to medium-sized species of predators of the genus Canis, found in Africa, Asia, and southeastern Europe. Jackals fill a similar ecological niche to the coyote (sometimes called the "American jackal") in North America. Both of these are omnivorous predators of small to medium-sized animals, as well as scavengers when they need to be. The jackal's long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Big feet and fused leg bones give them a physique for long-distance running, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (9.9 mph) for extended periods of time. Jackals are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.
In the society of jackals, the social unit is that of a monogamous pair which defends its territory from other pairs. These territories are defended by vigorously chasing intruding rivals and marking landmarks around the territory with their urine and feces. The territory may be large enough to hold some young adults who 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 as pairs.
The English word jackal derives from Persian شغال shaghāl, ultimately from Sanskrit सृगाल sṛgāla.
Taxonomy and relationships
In 1816, in the third volume of Lorenz Oken's Lehrbuch der Naturgeschichte, the author found sufficient similarities in the dentition of jackals and the North American coyotes to place these species into a new separate genus Thos after the classical Greek word θώς "jackal" . Oken's idiosyncratic nomenclatorial ways however, aroused the scorn of a number of zoological systematists. Nearly all the descriptive words used to justify the genus division were relative terms without a reference measure and that the argument did not take into account the size differences between the species which can be considerable. Angel Cabrera, in his 1932 monograph on the mammals of Morocco, briefly touched upon the question 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 the genus Canis. In practice, he chose the undivided-genus alternative and referred to the jackals as Canis.
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