A new genetic analysis has found that the African golden jackal is not a jackal at all, but is actually its own new wolf species.
Wolves are known for being sneaky, but this one in particular managed to slink all the way past the watchful eye of the biologists that study them. According to a report from the Guardian, researchers in Africa have identified a new wolf species, the golden jackal.
According to a DNA analysis, the authors of the recent study published in Current Biology were stunned to find that the African golden jackal, which split from a similar group in Eurasia about a million years ago, is actually more genetically related to the grey wolf. Grey wolves are not endemic anywhere on the African continent, and they share few similarities with the African golden jackal.
Although African golden jackals appear more similar to their Eurasian cousins, they are actually a part of a different, distinct species of wolf. The biologists that made the discovery want to officially rename the jackal as the African golden wolf, or Canis anthus.
Science has largely ignored jackals, and taxonomists normally recognize just three species: the black-backed jackal, the side-striped jackal, and golden jackals. All three species are found Africa, but golden jackals also range well into Eurasia.
The three current jackal species were always thought to be closely related based on observations about their physiologies. After a quick DNA analysis, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Genetically, the African golden jackal diverged from the grey wolf about 1.3 million years ago. The Eurasian population split about a half a million years earlier. There is still a lot to learn about the different species of jackals, and biologists are just getting started analyzing the genetic data that has recently become available.