The domensal dog that is the dingo

Europeans first exploring Australia were surprised by more than the hopping of kangaroos.

They found that the largest non-human predator on this continent-size island is was a canid merely the size of a coyote (Canis latrans) or a terrier.

This means that the dingo was uniquely small for the largest carnivore in a continental fauna.

Even more surprisingly, they later found that the dingo - far from emulating kangaroos in being unique to Australia - is shared with Thailand ( and, Borneo (, Sulawesi, New Guinea and other peninsular/insular parts of southeast Asia and Indonesia (e.g. see

The dingo seems to have been brought to Australia only 5,000 years ago, despite the human species having arrived 60,000 years ago and the dog having been domesticated in Eurasia 15,000 years ago.

Adding to the puzzle, the dingo differs from both the wolf (Canis lupus) and the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) without being intermediate between them ( For example, the dingo shows colour-polymorphism including a black-and-tan morph ( and never recorded in the wolf.

Most significantly, the dingo cannot satisfactorily be described as domestic, or feral, or wild.

How can we integrate these surprises into a coherent interpretation of the true nature of the dingo?

Perhaps a key is to recognise a new category, which in my latest Post I have called 'domensal'.

The aboriginal people of Australia, in general, neither kept the dingo captive, nor controlled its reproduction, nor used it to perform services such as hunting. Even after being hand-reared, the dingo remains disobedient. It refuses to take orders from even those human individuals whom it treats as kin and to whom it is loyal.

Instead, the essential relationship was as follows.

The dingo was attracted to human camps mainly for edible refuse and consumable human faeces. The people sometimes transferred infants ( and and from dens to their camps, hand-rearing them as children's pets.

Once adult, the dingo was free to leave human company in order to breed with mates of its own choice like a wild animal.

This means that, in its own way, the dingo paralleled my description of the Maasai donkey (in my latest Post, of September 17, 2021).

The equid carried burdens in return for the benefit of protection from wild predators in corrals devoted to domestic ruminants.

By comparison, the canid afforded a supply of pets in return for the benefit of using food-waste at human camps.

Perhaps as a result of the relaxation of selective breeding by humans, the dingo parallels the Maasai donkey in having wild-type colouration. In both cases, remarkably few individuals have the irregular and asymmetrical features of colouration typical of domestic species (

Both the Maasai donkey and the dingo have small bodies, which means that their demands on resources are limited. Throughout its range except for the seasonally cold southeast of Australia, the dingo has average adult body mass of only 10-15 kg, compared to 20-30 kg for the wolf in similar climates.

The dingo has for several thousand years been the only non-human predator capable of hunting adult kangaroos, and has large jaws for its body size. However, it has not compensated in body size to emulate the wolf, instead remaining more similar to a jackal.

The recent arrival of the dingo in Australia (and, probably, New Guinea) is consistent with its ecological niche not being unique to Australia. Across a wide spectrum of island-like situations, the local people have not, for various cultural reasons, considered canids to have utilitarian value. The result is that in Asia/Indonesia the dingo is essentially a street-dog, owned by nobody but in the long term tolerated in certain villages.

Does all of this add up to the following characterisation?

The dingo is the canid most adapted to a domensal niche, which it has managed to occupy over a wide range of climates, human population densities, and human economic systems. Like the Maasai donkey, the dingo is domesticated enough to be non-threatening to humans, and useful enough to be tolerated, but maintains the ambivalent relationship mainly for certain benefits afforded passively by the humans.

Anotado por milewski milewski, 18 de septiembre de 2021 a las 05:59 AM


Infants and juveniles of the dingo differ from adults in facial colouration. This ontogenetic variation is not seen in most breeds of the domestic dog, and it differs also from the wolf.

Anotado por milewski hace 4 meses (Advertencia)

It is interesting to ponder how certain peculiarities of the dingo fit into a domensal niche. For example it is an adept climber of fences, possibly because this aids scavenging. And its howling is peculiarly melodious, possibly making its proximity to humans more acceptable.

Anotado por milewski hace 4 meses (Advertencia)

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