Australian Dingo Facts
Where does the Dingo Live?
More details below in the Habitat section of this article. This map colour codes where the free-roaming Dingo lives.
The dingo (Canis lupus dingo) is a free-roaming dog found mainly in Australia. Its exact ancestry is debated, but dingoes are generally believed to be descended from semi-domesticated dogs of either East or South Asia, which returned to a wild lifestyle when introduced to Australia. As such, the Dingo is currently classified as a subspecies of the grey wolf, Canis lupus. The Australian name has therefore sometimes been applied to similar dogs in South-East Asia, believed to be close relations. As free ranging animals, they are not considered tame, although tame dingoes and dingo-dog hybrids have been bred in a domestic lifestyle. First Australians also “domesticated” the dingo within their communities for over 40,000 years.
The dingo is the largest terrestrial predator in Australia, and plays an important role as an apex predator. However, the dingo is seen as a pest by livestock farmers due to attacks on animals such as sheep. For many Australians, the dingo is a cultural icon. The dingo was seen by some as being responsible for thylacine extinction on the Australian mainland about two thousand years ago, although recent study challenges this view as does common sense because both land animals co-existed for many thousands of years before European settlement.
Dingoes have a prominent role in the culture of Aboriginal peoples and feature in many age old stories and ceremonies. Dingoes are depicted as human companions on rock carvings and cave paintings.
Despite being an efficient hunter, the dingo today is listed as vulnerable to extinction. It is proposed that this is due to susceptibility created by genetic pollution: a controversial concept according to which interbreeding with domestic dogs may dilute the dingo’s unique adaptations to the Australian environment.
Domestic and pariah dogs in southern Asia share so many characteristics with Australian dingoes that they are now considered to be members of the same taxon Canis lupus dingo, a particular subspecies of Canis lupus. While the relationship with humans varies widely among these animals, they are all quite similar in terms of physical features. 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 familiaris dogs, dingoes have longer muzzles, larger carnassials (large teeth found in many carnivorous mammals), longer canine teeth, and flatter skulls with larger nuchal lines.
The average Australian dingo is 52 to 60 cm (20 to 24 in) tall at the shoulders and measures 117 to 154 cm (46 to 61 in) from nose to tail tip. The average weight is 13 to 20 kg (29 to 44 lb); 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 northern and northwestern Australia are larger than central and southern 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. Dingoes can have sabre-form tails (typically carried erect with a curve towards the back) or tails carried directly on the back.
Fur of an adult dingo is short and soft, bushy on the tail and tend to vary in thickness and length depending on the climate. The fur colour is mostly sandy to reddish brown, but can include tan patterns and sometimes be black, light brown, or white. Completely black dingoes might have been more prevalent in Australia in the past, but have only been rarely sighted in recent times. They are now more common in Asia. Most dingoes are at least bi-coloured, with small, white markings on the chest, muzzle, tag, legs and paws being the most common feature. “Pure” dingoes are also found in white or cream (not albinism). They are also found in black and tan colourations. In the case of reddish individuals, there can be small, distinctive, dark stripes on the shoulders.
Like all domestic dogs, dingoes tend towards phonetic communication. However, in contrast to domestic dogs, dingoes howl and whimper more, and bark less. Eight sound classes with 19 sound types have been identified.
Compared to most domestic dogs, the bark of a dingo is short and monosyllabic, and is rarely used. Barking was observed to make up only 5% of vocalisations. Australian dingoes bark mainly in swooshing noises or in a mixture of atonal and tonal sounds. In addition, barking is almost exclusively used for giving warnings. Warn-barking in a homotypical sequence and a kind of “warn-howling” in a heterotypical sequence have also been observed. The bark-howling starts with several barks and then fades into a rising and ebbing howl and is probably (similar to coughing) used to warn the puppies and members of the pack.
Dingoes have three basic forms of howling (moans, bark-howls and snuffs) with at least 10 variations. Usually, three kinds of howls are distinguished: long and persistent, rising and ebbing, and short and abrupt. Observations have shown that each kind of howling has several variations, though their purpose is unknown. The frequency of howling varies with the season and time of day, and is also influenced by breeding, migration, lactation, social stability and dispersal behaviour. Howling can be more frequent in times of food shortage, because the dogs become more widely distributed within their home range.
- Other forms of communication
Growling, making up approximately 65% of the vocalisations, is used in an agonistic context for dominance, and as a defensive sound. Similar to many domestic dogs, a reactive usage of defensive growling is only rarely observed. Growling very often occurs in combination with other sounds, and has been observed almost exclusively in swooshing noises (similar to barking). During observations in Germany, dingoes were heard to produce a sound that observers have called Schrappen. It was only observed in an agonistic context, mostly as a defence against obtrusive pups or for defending resources. It was described as a bite intention, during which 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 (for example, Spinifex) or places (such as waters, trails and hunting grounds) 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 its neck, shoulders, or back on something that is usually associated with food or the scent markings of other dogs. Unlike wolves, dingoes can react to social cues and gestures from humans.
Dingoes prey on a variety of animals. Most of its prey species are small or medium in size, including lizards and rodents. However, the dingo will also take larger prey, including sheep and kangaroos. The dingo is opportunistic, and in addition to hunting is also known to eat fruits and plants and scavenge from humans.
Modern day dingoes are distributed primarily in small pockets of forests in Southeast Asia and in many portions of Australia. In Australia, they live mostly in the north. The “Great Dingo Fence” was begun in the 1880s and was meant to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile southeast of Australia and to protect the vast sheep populations. Although the fence has managed to stem the dingo from existing in larger numbers, some dingoes can still be found in the southern portions of the continent today.
The dingoes habitat ranges from deserts to grasslands and the edges of forests. Dingoes will normally make their dens in deserted rabbit holes and hollow logs close to an essential supply of water.
Dingoes tend to be nocturnal in warmer regions, but less so in cooler areas. Their main period of activity is around dusk and dawn. These periods of activity are short (often less than one hour) with brief times of resting. Dingoes carry out two kinds of movement: a searching movement (thought to be associated with hunting) and an exploratory movement (probably for contact and communication with other dogs). In general, dingoes are shy towards humans and avoid them. However, from time to time there are reports of dingoes becoming agitated by the presence of humans, such as around camps in national parks and near outlying or semi-rural streets or suburbs.
Dingoes often kill by biting the throat, and they adjust their hunting strategies to suit the specific circumstances. For larger prey they hunt together due to the strength needed and the potential risk to them of injury. These group formations are unnecessary when hunting rabbits or other small prey.
Dingoes breed once per year, generally between March and June. Pups are born after about 63 days and their litter sizes range from 4 to 6 offspring. The young may be left on their own after only a few months or they may stay with their parents for up to a year before going out on their own and living independently. Males reach sexual maturity by the age of one and females become capable of breeding at about the same age as well.
Mortality and Health:
The main cause of death for dingoes is being killed by humans, crocodiles and dogs, including other dingoes. Other causes of death include: starvation and dehydration during times of drought or after strong bush fires, infanticide, snake bites, killing of pups by wedge-tailed eagles and bad injuries caused by cattle and buffalo. Dingoes are susceptible to the same diseases as domestic dogs. At present, 38 species of parasites and pathogens have been detected in Australian dingoes. The bulk of these diseases have a minimal negative influence on their survival.
Where does the Dingo live?
Today, dingoes live free roaming across many diverse habitats; including the snow-covered mountain forests of eastern Australia, the deserts of Central Australia and Northern Australia’s tropical forest wetlands. The noticed absence of dingoes in many parts of the Australian grasslands is probably due to human persecution.
It is worth noting that based on skull characteristics, size, fur colour and breeding cycles, distinct regional populations are recorded to exist between Australia and Asia, but not within Australia alone. The wild dog population of Australia now includes dingoes and a wide range of feral domestic dogs (considered to be mostly mixed-breeds and dingo-hybrids). These wild or feral dogs have been described as having an extensive variety of colours.
Impact of free roaming dogs and dingos:
Reliable information about the exact ecological, cultural and economic impact of wild dogs does not yet exist. It has been described that the impact of wild dogs depends on several factors, and a distinction between dingoes and other domestic dogs is not often made. The appearance of a wild dog is sometimes very important when it comes to the cultural and economic impact of the dog in that environment. It is desirable that the wild dog’s appearance complies to what is described as a “pure” dingo or close to this. In the case of their economic impact, their appearance only seems to be important when “pure” dingoes are used as a tourist attraction or for manufacturing products. Where wild dogs are regarded as pests, their appearance can be ignored or considered of minor importance, which can impact Dingo populations in a negative way.
Dangerous attacks on Humans:
Although dingoes are large enough to be dangerous, they generally avoid conflict with humans. Most dingo attacks are minor in nature, but some can be major, and a few can be fatal. Many Australian national parks have signs advising visitors not to feed wildlife, partly because this practice is not healthy for the animals, and partly because it may encourage undesirable behaviour, such as snatching or biting by dingoes, kangaroos, goannas and some birds.
The Dingoes attributes include;
- Dingoes cannot bark, but they can howl
- Dingoes have unique wrists in the canine world, capable of rotation. This enables dingoes to use their paws like hands and turn door knobs. Their ability to go where other dogs can’t means dingoes can cause more problems for humans than other wild members of the dog family can
- A dingo can turn its head through almost 180 degrees in each direction
- Dingoes have permanently erect ears
- Wild dingoes can live for up to ten years but usually live for more like five or six years
- Dingoes cared for by people can live up to 15 years or more
- Domestication of dingoes has been difficult, dingoes are intelligent animals, they are more independent and harder to train than other dogs
- Dingoes have larger canine teeth than domestic dog breeds.
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