Scientists in Africa just made a surprising discovery: the African golden jackal is actually a new species of wolf, which they named the African golden wolf.
Previously thought to be a single species, scientists have just discovered that the golden jackal, which lives in east Africa and Eurasia, is actually two separate species. Perhaps even more surprising, DNA analysis has shown that the species residing in east Africa is not a jackal at all, but a species of wolf.
Researchers have named the new species the African golden wolf, which is the first new species of canine, a family that includes jackals, wolves, and coyotes, discovered in over 150 years.
Some scientists have thought that the African and Eurasian populations of golden jackal were actually different species for years. In an effort to answer this question, researchers did a detailed analysis of the DNA from golden jackals in Africa and Eurasia and compared them to the DNA from domestic dogs and grey wolves.
The results were unexpected: yes, the golden jackals in Eurasia and Africa are different species, but the study also showed that one population is a species of wolf while the other is a species of jackal.
Along with this unexpected discovery, they found that the African golden wolf and the golden jackal are distantly related, only sharing a common ancestor as recently as approximately one million years ago.
Interestingly, the golden jackal (top) and African golden wolf (bottom) appear very similar, as you can see in the photo below.
The scientists theorize that the similar habitats that the two different animals inhabit have significantly influenced their appearance, even though they are not related.
Both species live in brutal desert areas, which may have directly led to their small frames and light-colored coats.