Members of the canine family (Canidae) are called canids and include 34 species of dogs, wolves, jackals, foxes, coyotes, and primitive (wild) dogs.  Canids are widely distributed, occurring on all continents except Antarctica.
African Wild Dog
Photographed in the Okavango, Botswana
Photo: Peter Malsbury

Canids are further subdivided into two major tribes or clades: the Canini (dog-like canids) and Vulpini (fox-like canids). The Vulpini tribe includes most Foxes (i.e. those of the Genus Vulpes) and the Racoon dog. The Canini tribe includes wolves, dogs, jackals, Bush dogs, Dholes and also some foxes (i.e. those of the Genus Pseudalopex and Cerdocyon).

Molecular analysis, however, indicates 4 divisions of canids:
1. Wolf-like canids including the domestic dog, dingoes, gray wolves, coyotes, and jackals, which all have 78 chromosomes arranged in 39 pairs.
2. The South American canids
3. Old and New World red fox-like canids, such as red foxes and kit foxes
4. Monotypic species, for example, bat-eared fox and raccoon dog.


The wolf, coyote, and golden jackal diverged around 3 to 4 million years ago. The Wolf-like canids can produce fertile offspring through hybridization (barring size or behavioural constraints). Other members of the dog family diverged 7 to 10 million years ago and are less closely related and cannot hybridise with the wolf-like canids: the yellow Jackal has 74 chromosomes, the red fox has 38 chromosomes, the raccoon dog has 42 chromosomes, and the Fennec fox has 64 chromosomes. Although the African Wild Dog has 78 chromosomes, it is considered distinct enough to be placed in its own genus. The wolf ancestors of modern dogs diverged from other wolves about 100,000 years ago, and dogs were domesticated from those wolf ancestors about 15,000 years ago.

The largest canid known to have ever existed is the Dire Wolf (Canis Dirus). It lived in North America in the Pleitocene Epoch. It became extinct by about 16,000 years ago. The largest living canid is the Grey Wolf; the smallest is the Fennec Fox.

The most endangered canid species include the red wolf, Ethiopian wolf, African wild dog, Island fox and Darwin's fox.

Behavior, Food Habits and Mating Systems
Canids are more omnivorous than many carnivores, taking as food invertebrates, plant matter, and carrion as well as the prey they kill themselves. Their built is more adapted for endurance than for speed, and they catch prey by pursuit over long distances in relatively open terrain until the prey tires.

Some species (generally those with larger body sizes) form packs with strict social hierarchies and mating systems. Hunting in packs allows canids to capture species much larger than themselves. In wolves, mating occurs only between the two dominant individuals in the pack. Pack-forming species, as well as less gregarious species such as foxes, are very territorial. Some canids, such as the raccoon dog evolve as monogamous pairs.

Members of the Canid Family:

Wolves (various species and sub-species)
The largest and strongest of the Canidae. All species are of the Genus Canis, except for the Maned wolf, which is the only species in the genus Chrysocyon. For the different species and sub-species, see Wolf breeds and Wolf types.

Jackals (various species): includes three species of Jackals found in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Foxes (various species): about 37 species are referred to as foxes, but only 12 species actually belong to the Vulpes genus of 'true foxes'. The most common is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes).

South-American and Colored foxes (also known as zorros): a genus of foxes more closely related to the dog-like canids than to the true foxes.

Pariah dogs, Dingoes and Feral Dogs:

Coyotes (also known as American Jackal or Prairie wolf): a canid species found throughout North and Central America. They are the most vocal of all North American wild mammals, using 3 distinct calls (squeak, distress call and howl call) which consist of a quick series of yelps, followed by a falsetto howl. They are very good swimmers but poor climbers.

Deebs (Canis lupaster): an endangered canid species native to Egypt, North Africa and possibly other regions.

African Wild Dogs: (also known as the Painted Hunting Dog, African Hunting Dog, the Cape Hunting Dog, the Spotted Dog, the Painted Wolf, Wildehond). It is the only species in the genus Lycaon.

Dholes (also known as the Asiatic Wild Dog, Indian Wild Dog, or Red Dog): a species of Asian canid that resemble the African Wild Dog and the Bush Dog. It is the only member of the genus Cuon.

Bush Dogs: a very rare canid species found in Central and South America. They are semiaquatic and can swim underwater with great facility. The Bush Dog is one of three canid species (together with the African hunting dogs and the Dhole) which share a peculiarity in their dentition, more specifically a unicuspid talonid on the lower carnassial molar that increases the cutting blade length. This indicates a highly predacious habit with diminished importance of vegetable foods in the diet.

Raccoon Dogs: a basal canid species, whose morphology is reminischent of ancestral forms of the family. It is native to eastern Siberia, northern China, North Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The raccoon dog is the only canid to hibernate during the cold months, except in the outhernmost part of the range where they do not hibernate. It is also one of the only canids capable to climb trees; the only other canid with this ability is the gray fox. They also are able to swim or dive for food. Raccoon dogs do not bark but have a variety of responses to express friencly or submissive behavior (whine, whimper, or mew). They may also growl when frightened or when being aggressive.

Short-eared Dogs (also known as the Short-eared Fox): a canid species endemic to the Amazonian basin. Itis the only species assigned to the genus Atelocynus.

External links and further reading:
Burton, J., V. Burton. 1988. The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. Lexington, Massachusetts: The Stephen Greene Press.
Ewer, R. F. 1997. The Carnivores, Cornell University Press.
Fahey, B. and P. Myers. 2000. "Canidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 22, 2005 at
Gould, E., G. McKay. 1998. Encyclopedia of Mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.
Hall, E. 1981. The Mammals of North America. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Paschka, N. 2000. "Speothos venaticus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 22, 2009 at
Sheldon, J. 1992. Wild Dogs : The Natural History of the Nondomestic Canidae. San Diego: Academic Press.
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