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The African wild dog possesses the most specialized adaptations among the canids for coat colour, diet, and for pursuing its prey through its cursorial (running) ability. It possesses a graceful skeleton, and the loss of the first digit on its forefeet increases its stride and speed. This adaptation allows it to pursue prey across open plains for long distances. The teeth are generally carnassial-shaped, and its premolars are the largest relative to body size of any living carnivoran except for the spotted hyena. On the lower carnassials (first lower molars), the talonid has evolved to become a cutting blade for flesh-slicing, with a reduction or loss of the post-carnassial molars. This adaptation also occurs in two other hypercarnivores – the dhole and the bush dog. The African wild dog exhibits one of the most varied coat colours among the mammals. Individuals differ in patterns and colours, indicating a diversity of the underlying genes. The purpose of these coat patterns may be an adaptation for communication, concealment, or temperature regulation. In 2019, a study indicated that the lycaon lineage diverged from Cuon and Canis 1. 7 million years ago through this suite of adaptations, and these occurred at the same time as large ungulates (its prey) diversified.

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