The Dingo is Australia's wild dog. It is an ancient breed of domestic dog that was introduced to Australia, probably by Asian seafarers, about 4,000 years ago. Its origins have been traced back to early breeds of domestic dogs in south east Asia (Jackson et al. 2017). Domestic dogs are descended from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). While recent DNA studies suggest that Dingoes may have been in Australia for longer (Oskarsson et al 2011), the earliest undisputed archaeological finding of the Dingo in Australia has been dated to 3,250 years ago (Balme et al. 2018).
The Dingo, Canis familiaris (breed Dingo), is a placental mammal which means it gives birth to live young, feeds its young via mammary glands that produce milk and has fur or hair of some form. The colour of a Dingo's coat is largely determined by where it lives. The 'standard' coat colour is ginger with white feet. However, in the desert areas, the fur is more golden yellow while in forested areas the fur can be a darker tan to black. The body fur is short while the tail is quite bushy.
Its dog-like appearance with a relatively broad head and erect ears, makes the Dingo Australia's largest mammal carnivore. With canine teeth longer than those of a domestic dog, the dingo's muzzle is also longer and tapered.
Generally speaking, Dingoes can live in a wide range of habitats found on the Australian mainland. Their preference is woodland and grassland areas that extend to the edge of forests. They are only limited by access to viable water sources. The introduction of agriculture by early European settlers and the fear of predation of livestock, saw their range reduced.
Having been in Australia for around 4,000 years, Dingoes inhabited many parts of mainland Australia but never reached Tasmania. After European colonisation and the growth of pastoralisation, there was a concerted effort to remove Dingoes from farming areas. As a result, Dingoes are mostly absent from many parts of New South Wales, Victoria, the south-eastern third of South Australia and from the southern-most tip of Western Australia.
Dingoes are regarded as common throughout the remainder of Australia except in the arid eastern half of Western Australia, nearby parts of South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Feeding and diet
Dingoes are opportunistic carnivores. Mammals form the main part of their diet especially rabbits, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. When native species are scarce they are known to hunt domestic animals and farm livestock. This makes them very unpopular with pastoralists. Failing this, the Dingo will eat reptiles and any food source it can find including insects and birds. Scavenging at night, the Dingo is a solitary hunter but will form larger packs when hunting bigger game.
It is thought that the Dingo contributed to the extinction of mainland Thylacines (Tasmanian Tiger) by becoming competition for the available food sources.
Other behaviours and adaptations
Dingoes display a clearly defined territory which is rarely left and often defended against other Dingoes. However, territory is known to be shared when Dingoes form packs for hunting.
Dingoes rarely bark. They tend to howl, particularly at night in an effort to attract pack members or to ward off intruders. Other forms of communication include scent-rubbing, defecating and urinating on objects such as grass tussocks to mark territorial boundaries.
Life history cycle
Pure Dingoes will breed once a year between March and June. The gestation period is approximately nine weeks (similar to domestic dogs) with the resultant litter producing usually between four and six pups. Dingoes will rear their young in a hollow log, rock shelter, old rabbit warren or wombat burrow and both parents will be involved. Weaning of the pups occurs at about two months, at which time the pups may be abandoned or can stay with the parents for about a year. Dingo pups are fully grown by seven months of age and adult Dingoes can live for up to ten years.
Most female dingoes become sexually mature by 2 years of age while male dingoes will be sexually mature by the time they are a year old. Only the most dominant members of an established Dingo pack will breed leaving the other members to help with the feeding of the pups.
Dingoes can interbreed with other breeds of domestic dogs.
Dingoes have been in Australia for approximately 4,000 years and their ability to quickly adapt to a wide variety of habitats has seen changes in the ecosytems of which they are a part. While they have been instrumental in keeping down the populations of rabbits, feral pigs and other farming pests, there have been continued attempts to eradicate the Dingo because of its threat to the domestic animals. These actions have been largely unsuccessful.
Today, the main threat to the Dingo comes from their contact with other breeds of domestic dog, Canis familiaris. The push of urban settlement from coastal areas and into outback Australia allows for increased interbreeding between the two. This is likely to lead to the dilution of the Dingo gene pool.
- Balme, J., O’Connor, S. and Fallon, S. (2018) New dates on dingo bones from Madura Cave provide oldest firm evidence for arrival of the species in Australia. Nature Scientific Reports 8: 9933.
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