The dingo is an indigenous Australian species with a true blue color

Of all the wild animals in Australia, one stands out as having an identity crisis: the dingo. But our recent Zootaxa article argues that dingo dogs should be considered a good well Species on multiple fronts.

This is not just an issue of semantics. The way someone refers to a dingo may reflect their values ​​and interests, as much as it does science.

The way scholars refer to dingoes in print reflects their background and workplace, and the Western Australian government has recently made a controversial attempt to classify dingoes as “non-native animals”.

Read more: Why the WA government is wrong to play identity politics with a dingo

How we define species – called taxonomy – influences our attitudes and long-term goals for its conservation.

What is a dog?

Over many years, the dingo has been called by many scientific names: rabies lupus (subspecies of wolf), Familiar canis (pet dog), and canis dingo (Its own species within the genus Canis). But these names have been applied inconsistently in both academic literature and government policy.

This discrepancy partly reflects the global arguments for naming dogs. For those who adhere to the traditional ‘biological’ species concept (where a ‘species’ is a group of organisms that can mate), one might consider the dingo (and all other types of dogs that can mate, such as wolves, coyotes, and armadillos). ) to be part of a single, highly variable and widely distributed species.

members Canis gender: wolf (the gray wolfCoyote-American wolfCanis Lateran), Ethiopian wolf (Canis Simensis(Black Backed Jackal)Canis Misomillas), dingo (canis dingo) and a representative of the domestic dog (Familiar canis).

But the concept of “biological” species used to name species came long before modern genetic tools, or even before many hybrids were identified by their DNA (such as the “red wolf”, an ancient hybrid of gray wolves and wolves found in Southeast United State).

Few people would really argue that a Chihuahua, a wolf, and a wolf are the same species. In fact, there are many more comprehensive and logical ways to classify species. In our latest research paper, we argue that a comprehensive approach to species identification is essential in the case of the dingo and other dog.

Our work conclusively shows that dingoes differ from wild dogs and domestic dogs based on different criteria.

Really wild

The first criterion is that dingoes are wild animals, and they live completely independent of humans. This is fundamentally different from domestic, feral, or wild dogs, which must live near human settlements and depend on humans for food and water in some way to survive.

Yes, the dingo may have arrived in Australia with humans, and we know that the Australian aborigines had a close relationship with the dingo after the latter’s arrival. But none of these observations exclude the dingo from being wild.

Read more: Dingo Barking: Why You Think Most Dingo Facts You Think You Know Are Wrong

For example, the relationship with humans does not constitute strict definitions of domestication. Consider the red fox (foxes), which was also introduced to Australia by the people and is now free range: it is also not considered domesticated. No wild animals like the birds we feed on in our backyards are domesticated just because we occasionally feed on them.

Environmental role

In fact, dingoes have been living in the wild and independent of humans for a very long time – they have a distinct and unique evolutionary past that diverged about 5-10 thousand years ago from other dogs. That’s more than enough time for the dingo to evolve into a naturalized predator now integral to maintaining the health of many Australian ecosystems.

Read more: Dingo Dinner: What’s on the List of Australia’s Top Predators?

Dogs do not have the brain power or body adaptations to survive in the wild, nor can they play the same ecological role as a dingo. From this environmental perspective alone, the two species are not interchangeable. The dingo is the only large predator in Australia (between 15-20 kg) and as such plays a vital role in Australia’s environment.

shape and size

Viewed on its own, the general shape of the body and skull does not easily distinguish between wild dogs and dogs, mainly due to the huge diversity between the different breeds of domestic dogs.

But there are some important body differences between free-range and dingo dogs, particularly in the cranial area (shown here and here).

3D skull reconstructions of a dingo (bottom) and a loose dog (top), highlighting the differences in skull morphology mentioned in the text.


Dingoes (and other really wild dogs) have some unique behaviors that distinguish them from dogs (although similar in shape, there are often exceptions among synthetic dog breeds). For example, the dingo has a different reproductive biology and caregiving strategies.

There are also differences in brain function, such as the way the two species solve problems, and both dingoes and dogs communicate differently with humans.

Read more: Why do dingoes attack people and how do we prevent them?


While dingoes and dogs clearly share an ancestral relationship, there is a lot of genetic data to support the distinction between dingoes and dogs.

While dingo dogs share a ancestry with ancient Asian dogs 10,000 years ago, dingoes were geographically isolated from all other dog species for several thousand years, and genetic admixture occurred only recently, likely spurred by human intervention.

Since the 1990s, genetic markers have been used extensively by land managers, conservation groups, and researchers to distinguish dingoes from pet dogs.

Summary of the evolutionary relationships between wolves, dingoes, and modern domestic dogs. The dingo and other ancient dog breeds such as the singing dogs of New Guinea constitute a distinct breed separate from modern domestic dogs that have undergone successive generations of artificial selection.

What is at stake?

Even acknowledging the dingo’s mysterious and distant past, bringing puppies and dogs together is unjustified.

Describing dingoes as “feral domestic dogs” or another misnomer ignores their unique, long and intrinsic wild history in Australia.

Read more: Why do some grazing animals want to keep their dingo, not kill it?

Improper naming also has dangerous implications for their treatment. Any designation less than “Dingo” could be used to justify their legal persecution.

Losing more dingoes could have serious negative environmental consequences, including potentially putting other Australian native animals at risk of extinction.

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