Etymology of Aardwolf

The aardwolf looks like a thin striped hyena and its name is a mixture of the Afrikaans words aard (nature, earth) and wolf—therefore, “earth wolf”.

Like the aardvark, it lives mostly off termites and other insects; it also resides in Africa.

Scientifically, the aardwolf comes from the subfamily protelinae and its genus name is proteles (from the Greek protos and teleos).

The species name is p. cristata—which is derived from the latin cristatus.

Protos is a word that indicates that something comes before all others; it means foremost or first or best or top or initial or elementary or front or prime.

Teleos means end or purpose or goal.

Thus, proteles means “complete in front” due to the existence of five toes on the fore feet.

This is further explained in the 1904 book North American Fauna written by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aardwolf in Other Languages

Italian: lupi di terra.

Portuguese: lobo-da-terra.

Spanish: lobo de tierra

Many languages don’t have a specific word for aardwolf and simply use a variation of the binomial name (proteles cristata). For example, the French call the aardwolf “protèle”.


Enenkel, K. A. E. Zoology in Early Modern Culture Intersections of Science, Theology, Philology, and Political and Religious Education. Leiden: BRILL, 2014.

Fish and Wildlife Service. North American Fauna. 1904.