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Yellow Wolves: Is There Such a Thing? (Species, Images & More)

The African wolf (Canis lupaster), also known as the yellow wolf or African golden wolf, is the only species of wolves with a yellow tone to its coat. They live in northern Africa and are found in many different countries.

Most people know wolves to have either a gray, black, or white coat color, most often a combination.

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

But yellow wolves do also exist. These wolves often have a mix of yellowish, tan, and black coat colors.

In this article, we’ll explore more about the African wolf, where you can find it, and its unique characteristics.

Is There Such a Thing as a Yellow Wolf?

Yes, yellow wolves do exist. African wolves have a yellow-ish coat color, which gives them a very distinct look. They’re typically found in the northern part of Africa.

Whereas most wolves either have gray, black, brown, or white coats (often a combination), the African wolf has a yellow-ish color.

They also have yellow eyes with dark pupils. 

The gene for yellow fur has only been found in this specific species, the Canis lupaster. There’s also a subspecies of this wolf, the Egyptian wolf (Canis lupaster lupaster), which similarly has a golden or yellow coat color.

The Senegalese wolf (Canis lupaster Anthus) also has a similar color but is actually known as the grey jackal or slender jackal.

African Wolf
Golden wolf in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Photo by Lee R. Berger

Are There Golden Wolves?

Golden wolves and yellow wolves are the same things. People describe the African wolf with different words, but the species is known both as the yellow wolf and golden wolf.

The African wolf is known for its coat color. It’s neither completely yellow nor completely gold but has gotten its nicknames from its mostly tan color.

Similarly, the Egyptian wolf (formerly called the Egyptian jackal) has the same coat color.

African Wolf

The African wolf is an African canid species that live mostly in northern Africa. It’s known for its yellow color, which makes it stand out compared to other species.

The African wolf, like all other wolves, is a part of the Canidae family, along with coyotes, jackals, and dogs.

Research found how the African wolf is actually an admixture of other wolves: 72% gray wolf and 28% Ethiopian wolf. [1]

The African Wolf is often called the yellow or golden jackal (which specifically refers to the subspecies “Egyptian wolf”). This was due to a misunderstanding of its true nature.

African Wolf on the wild

Scientific Classification

The African wolf is a part of the genus Canis in the Canidae family. The Latin name for African wolves is Canis lupaster. [2]

It’s listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupaster

There are six subspecies of the African wolf:

  1. C. l. algirensis
  2. C. l. anthus
  3. C. l. bea
  4. C. l. lupaster
  5. C. l. riparius
  6. C. l. Soudanicus

These all share the same specific trait: a yellow fur coat.

Habitat & Distribution

The African yellow wolf lives primarily in North Africa and is native to  North Africa, West Africa, the Sahel, northern East Africa, and the Horn of Africa. 

They’re very adaptable in terms of where they’ll roam, and will generally live where their food goes. They’ve even been sighted in elevations up to 5,800 feet (1,800 meters).

Golden Jackal

Diet

The diet of the African wolf is mainly composed of antelope, wildebeest, gazelle, and other small prey. They have also been known to scavenge carcasses when the opportunity arises. 

Unlike some other wolves, they are not considered particularly aggressive hunters; instead, they typically ambush their prey from cover. Their yellowish color helps them blend in with the dry grasslands and scrubland where they live.

Identification & Characteristics

The African wolf has a coat with shades ranging from cream through pale yellow-ish to deep golden brown.

There are different theories as to why they’re yellow:

  1. Coloration from their diet
  2. Through natural evolution, they developed this coat color to blend in with their surroundings

This yellow coloration may come from a high concentration of carotenoids in their diets. Carotenoids are organic pigments that come from plants and give things like carrots or salmon their bright orange colors. 

The yellow coat serves useful purposes. It acts as camouflage while the wolves are hunting prey. They can hide against dry grasses during predation. Hence, they may have naturally developed this yellow coat color, as it gives them an advantage.

The yellow wolf is the smallest of all African canids, with a length usually around 50 inches long and an average weight between 90-120 pounds.

Enemies of the Yellow Wolves

The African yellow wolf has both enemies and competitors. These include:

  • Black-backed jackals
  • Side-striped jackals
  • Other wolves
  • Hyenas
  • African wild dogs
  • Lions
Black backed Jackal
Black-backed Jackal

African yellow wolves’ enemies generally consist of all other predatory animals living in the Northern part of Africa. 

The African wolf has also been known to prey on jackal cubs. If the adult jackals are around for this, it ends up in fights.

What Colors Do Wolves Have?

Wolves can have a variety of coat colors. The most common wolf color is gray, but black, white, and red wolves also exist in the wild. Lastly, a few wolves have yellow fur coats, as seen in the African yellow wolf.

Wolves’ fur can also change color depending on the season. For example, their fur may be darker and more of an earthy tone in the summer, while it turns to a lighter color during the winter. This is done for better camouflage.

Related: What colors can wolves be?

Gray Wolves

Wolves With Yellow Eyes

Besides the color of their coat, wolves can also have many different eye colors, including yellow, brown, green, blue, and a shade of orange. 

Most wolves have yellow eyes, but it depends on different factors such as age, melanin content in their eyes, genes, and more.

When wolves are born, they have pale blue eyes, just like dogs. This is because the pigment in their eyes isn’t fully developed. As they mature, so does the color of their eyes. When shifting into a yellow color, they go through a phase of having green eyes.

Most wolves have yellow eyes because this is a dominant gene. Dominant genes are more often passed on than recessive genes.

Related: Wolves’ eye colors

wolf face with yellow eyes (1)

Why Do Wolves Have Yellow Eyes?

Wolves have yellow eyes purely due to evolution and light protecting melanin pigment. As stated earlier, the gene that provides wolves with yellow eyes is dominant, meaning, it’s more frequently passed on to wolf cubs.

The eye color of wolves is directly linked to melanin pigment content in their eyes. Eye color comes from pigmentation. Melanin pigments are small black, brown, and red light protecting pigments.

If a wolf has a higher concentration of melanin, it will have darker eyes.

This is also the case for humans. People with brown eyes have a higher concentration of melanin in their eyes.

Flock of Grey Wolf

Conclusion

Yellow wolves do exist and are known as African yellow wolves. This is a species of wolves that inhabits the northern part of Africa and consists of six subspecies, all with yellow-ish fur.

While the wolves aren’t completely yellow, but often a mix of tan, yellow, gray, and black, they’re known as the yellow or golden wolves.

They behave just as gray wolves, hunting for food, living in packs, and generally keeping away from humans.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.