A lone member of the Phantom Springs wolf pack stands in Grand Teton National Park.
A lone member of the Phantom Springs wolf pack stands in Grand Teton National Park.
Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James, Nat Geo Image Collection

Canines (Canids)

Common Name:
Canids
Scientific Name:
Canidae
Diet:
Omnivore
Average Life Span:
unknown
Size:
4.5 to 6 feet long: up to 32 inches at shoulder
Weight:
50 to 175 pounds
Current Population Trend:
Unknown

Smell is everything to a canine, also called a canid. All 34 species in the Canidae family—which includes domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, and dingoes—use their noses to find food, track one another’s whereabouts, and identify competitors, as well as potential predators.

A dog’s nose is also important for temperature control. All canids lack sweat glands, which means they can’t shed heat through perspiration. Instead, the predators pant through their noses and mouths. Several canines howl, most famously wolves. They do this to communicate with pack members and to tell others to stay away. Many domestic dog breeds also howl.

Habitat

Canines are native to every continent except Antarctica and Australia, where the dingo was introduced by humans. The smallest canid is the fennec fox, which tops out at around three pounds. The largest is the gray wolf, which can reach 175 pounds. The canines that are strictly carnivores live in social groups called packs, working together to hunt large prey. Exceptions are coyotes, which hunt alone or in pairs, and foxes. These solitary species are also usually omnivorous, eating berries and other fruit.

Reproduction

Canines bear as few as four and as many as 20 offspring after a gestation period of about 50 to 80 days. The young nurse for four to six weeks. Smaller canines species reach sexual maturity at around a year, but larger species like the wolf take at least two years to reach reproductive age.

Status

The African wild dog is the only member of the dog family with a mottled fur pattern. It also has the strongest bite relative to its body size of all living carnivores. It and several other members of the canid family—including the African wild dog, dhole, and red wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf—are classified as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They’re threatened by shrinking habitat, hunting, and other human activity.

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