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Archive for December, 2011

Believe it or not, but this image is of two domestic dogs.

“WTF?” you say.

Yep.

This image comes  from The Natural History of Dogs (1840) by Charles Hamilton Smith and William Jardine.

On the left is an alco. If one reads the description of the alco, it is a small dog of Meso-America, probably something like what we think the ancestor of the chihuahua was like. The authors mention these dogs living as feral animals, which is currently a de rigueur comment on all official histories of the chihuahua. The only difference I can see is that alco is described as looking like a Newfoundland puppy, which means they were likely almost always drop-eared. These little parti-colored dogs were known in Mexico from the early days. Some texts, like Mary Elizabeth Thurston’s The Lost History of the Canine Race, calls them “techichi.”  Techichi are popularly known as the ancestor of the chihuahua, but the mummified dog in Thurston’s book that is said to have been a techichi is long-haired and black and white– and has floppy ears.  It is a myth that all dogs owned by Native Americans before the arrival of Columbus were all large and wolf-like. Some were quite small, and some were brachycephalic.

The dog on the right is much screwier.

Look at the head.

It looks like some kind of rodent.

I think the reason why this animal looks so bizarre is that the authors rather haphazardly conflate several different things called dog, including something that isn’t a dog at all. The engraver who produced the image was William Home Lizars, who lived in Scotland. I can’t find any evidence that he was ever outside of Europe.

The authors, however, likely confused him about what this animal looked like in their texts.

The authors came across a tawny dog in what I am guessing is San Juan del Rio in the state of Querétaro in central Mexico. The authors call this dog a “techichi,” which Thurston conflates with the alco. This conflation may or may not be correct, but it is closer to being correct than conflation that Hamilton Smith and Jardine produce.

We have seen only one individual of this race, by the Indians called Techichi. It was a long-backed heavy looking animal, with a terrier’s mouth, tail, and colours; but the hair was scantier and smoother, and the ears were cropped. It is likely that the specimen seen by us at Rio de San Juan was of the same race as the Techichi described by Fernandez.

To this race belongs the Carrier Indian Dog observed by Dr. Richardson, and described by him, in a letter we had the pleasure of receiving, as having a long body, with legs comparatively short, but not bent, and short (not woolly) hair (pg. 156).

Richardson’s dog was probably the Hare Indian dog, which was much smaller than the travois dog of the Plains Indians. This dog was described by Sir John Richardson, and he described the dog as being like a small black and white coyote. The dogs were used for hunting, and he extolled its virtues as a hard running dog. These dogs were not used for hauling, but they would carry a twig or mitten in their mouths as they ran– which is where Hamilton Smith and Jardine get the “carrier dog” name. Richardson thought the breed was a domesticated form of coyote.

It may have been exactly that, but the breed has since gone extinct. And no remains have been found for modern science to examine.

Now, Hamilton Smith and Jardine start going down several rabbit holes in their discussion of Native American dogs. They mention William Bartram’s black wolf dog, which Bartram encountered guarding herds of Seminole ponies. They also talk about a black wolf-like dog from Canada that was very much like the old Newfoundland (St. John’s water dog) in temperament.

And then the authors mention Maximilian von Wied’s encounter with wolfish dogs on the Great Plains, which he thought were derived from wolves. The authors disagree with Maximilian, claiming that the dogs derive from”Caygotte” (coyote), a view they shared with Richardson. Of course, the dogs on the Plains were larger than the Hare Indian dogs, and they were used primarily for hauling. Maximilian would also talk about these dog mingling with the large wolves of the Great Plains, which leads one to believe that if they had any wolf in them, it was the Holarctic wolf and not the coyote.

If Hamilton Smith and Jardine had left their discussion with the discussion of Caygotte as the ancestor of the Native American dogs, it would not have been confusing, but in the next sentence, the authors posit that “[T]here [is no] reason for rejecting the prairie dog (Lyciscus latrans) as one of those who have contributed to furnish breeds of original American dogs” (pg. 156).

Now, if you read a little deeper into the Hamilton Smith and Jardine text, “Lyciscan dogs” are what we would call the coyote, which the authors divide into the Caygotte and the North American prairie wolf.  The prairie wolf gets the name “Lyciscus latrans,” which we now call Canis latrans– the coyote. However, the authors use Caygotte, the supposed Basque name for this dog in Mexico, to extend not only to what we would call the Mexican and Central American coyote but to several species of South American wild dog, some of which might be nothing more than wolfish variants of the domestic dog. The authors then enter an aside which posits that a legendary dog in India, which is said to have been a hybrid between a dog and a tiger, is actually a Lyscican dog– an Old World variant of this coyote tribe. I guess the dog and tiger hybrid suggestion was too silly for them! The South American “Caygotte” is probably a reference to the culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus), which superficially looks like a small coyote, but it is actally part of the South American “fox” genus (Lycalopex— “the wolf foxes.”).

If the authors had been more careful in their wording of the common name for the supposed ancestor of the ‘”carrier dog/Techichi” and  called it a “prairie wolf,” I don’t think Lizars would have produced such a bizarre image.

Hamilton Smith and Jardine use the word “prairie dog”  instead of “praire wolf,”  but it is obvious the authors mean prairie wolf.  They use the scientific name Lyciscus latrans.

William Home Lizars was not a scientist, so my guess is that when he saw that these animals looked like they might be derived from a prairie dog, he looked up a prairie dog.

A prairie dog is a rodent– a type of ground squirrel. They native to the Great Plains of North America from South Central Canada to Northern Mexico. They live in vast colonies that include extensive burrows, which we call “prairie dog towns.” Whenever, a dangerous animal appears on the scene, one prairie dog will warn the others through barking– well, it kind of sounds like barking– and that’s how they got this name.

My guess is that when Lizars saw prairie dog as possible ancestor of the techichi/carrier dog, he looked up the prairie dog. He saw the squirrel, and he also saw that the authors mention it as being tawny. Prairie dogs are tawny squirrels.

So he made the carrier dog look like a hybrid between a chihuahua and a prairie dog. Not only is a prairie dog long-backed and tawny, it looks like its ears have been cropped.

Black-tailed prairie dog

Now that’s  about as fanciful as the tiger dog hybrids!

One can see what sort of conflations people could produce from having very imperfect information about natural history.

The image at the top of this post comes from conflating the techichi with the Hare Indian dog and the other wolf-like dogs of the Native Americans.  The supposition that some of these dogs were derived from coyotes or “prairie wolves”  became mixed up with the prairie dog.

And the result is an image of a sort of chimerical animal that would probably scare the living daylights out of anyone who happened to encounter it.

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A few days ago, I received this news in my inbox:  The chimp who played “Cheetah” in the Tarzan movies died on Christmas Eve at the age of 80.

I didn’t cover it for one really big reason.

I’ve never heard of chimp making it to 80. I’ve heard of them living into their 70’s. 80 is possible, but I would have thought that more notice would have been paid to Cheetah’s really advanced age.

Well, it turns out that there is no proof that the chimp that died on Christmas Eve was Cheetah.

From ABC News:

A Florida animal sanctuary says Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s, has died at 80. But other accounts call that claim into question.

Debbie Cobb, outreach director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, said Wednesday that her grandparents acquired Cheetah around 1960 from “Tarzan” star Johnny Weissmuller and that the chimp appeared in Tarzan films between 1932 and 1934. During that period, Weissmuller made “Tarzan the Ape Man” and “Tarzan and His Mate.”

But Cobb offered no documentation, saying it was destroyed in a 1995 fire.

Also, some Hollywood accounts indicate a chimpanzee by the name of Jiggs or Mr. Jiggs played Cheetah alongside Weissmuller early on and died in 1938.

In addition, an 80-year-old chimpanzee would be extraordinarily old, perhaps the oldest ever known. According to many experts and Save the Chimps, another Florida sanctuary, chimpanzees in captivity generally live to between 40 and 60, though Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., says it has one that is around 73.

A similar claim about another chimpanzee that supposedly played second banana to Weissmuller was debunked in 2008 in a Washington Post story.

Writer R.D. Rosen discovered that the primate, which lived in Palm Springs, Calif., was born around 1960, meaning it wasn’t oldest enough to have been in the Tarzan movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age that starred Olympic swimming star Weissmuller as the vine-swinging, loincloth-wearing Ape Man and Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.

While a number of chimpanzees played the sidekick role in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and ’40s, Rosen said in an email Wednesday that this latest purported Cheetah looks like a “business-boosting impostor as well.”

“I’m afraid any chimp who actually shared a soundstage with Weissmuller and O’Sullivan is long gone,” Rosen said.

Cobb said Cheetah died Dec. 24 of kidney failure and was cremated.

“Unfortunately, there was a fire in ’95 in which a lot of that documentation burned up,” Cobb said. “I’m 51 and I’ve known him for 51 years. My first remembrance of him coming here was when I was actually 5, and I’ve known him since then, and he was a full-grown chimp then.”

Film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osbourne said the Cheetah character “was one of the things people loved about the Tarzan movies because he made people laugh. He was always a regular fun part of the movies.”

In his time, the Cheetah character was as popular as Rin Tin Tin or Asta, the dog from the “Thin Man” movies, Osbourne said.

“He was a major star,” he said.

At the animal sanctuary, Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting and liked to see people laugh, Cobb said. But he could also be ill-tempered. Cobb said that when the chimp didn’t like what was going on, he would fling feces and other objects.

Another reason why I was skeptical of the story is that the CNN reporting of the death claimed that Cheetah liked listening to contemporary Christian music.

Chimps are highly intelligent animals.

No intelligent animal would listen to that crap on purpose.

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It took me a while to figure this one out.

It’s not what you think.

The Answer.

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Painting by George Stubbs (circa 1800).

The dog appears to be a lurcher or a specially bred “deer greyhound”– greyhound crossed with something big and heavy.

I think the doe is a fallow deer.

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Aelurodon ferox

Aelurodon ferox was a species of wild dog that lived in North America between 10 and 16 million years ago.

It was about the size of a wolf– weighing between 88 and 100 pounds.

It was not a wolf at all.

It was sort of a wolf before there were wolves.

You see, North America, there was a subfamily of the dog family that was solely endemic to North America.

They were called the Borophaginae (technically, “the bone eaters” but are more popularly known as the bone crushers).

Some of these dogs had quite powerful jaws– much more so than those of  a modern Northern big-game hunting wolf– and rather large size.

These dogs are often popularly referred to as “hyena dogs,” which makes things even more wonderfully confusing. African wild dogs were sometimes given exactly the same name.

The largest Borophagine dogs were in the genus Epicyon, and these dogs were very much like large hyenas. They had very powerful jaws and robust teeth that allowed them break large bones in much the same way modern hyenas do. (Wikipedia says that there was a species of Aelurodon that was as large as a tiger. I can’t find the reference. Wikipedia is probably wrong.)

This image of Aelurodon ferox comes from Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History (2010) by Xiaoming Wang and Richard Tedford.

You’ll note that the image of Aelurodon ferox shows a dewclaw on the hind legs. All Borophagine dogs had dewclaws on their hind legs. No modern wild dogs have this feature, except domestic dogs and wild dogs that inherited this trait through crossbreeding with domestic dogs with this trait.  (These dewclaws on the hind legs have been a great diagnostic feature for determining if Italian wolves have dog ancestry.)

Dogs derive from ancestors that had five digits on each toe.  Bears and raccoons have five digits on each foot, as did the ancestors of dogs, bears, and raccoons.

However, dogs have evolved to be long distance runners, and as they have developed into runners, they have evolved specialized running feet.  These feet are digitigrade, which means they walk on their toes.  Having one less toe on the ground allows for more efficient movement, so the fifth toe on the inside has moved away from the bottom of the foot and up the leg.  The fifth toe in most modern dogs is found only on the front legs. African wild dogs have actually lost the fifth toe on the front legs, but it is found on all other dog species.

Borophagine dogs evolved from ancestors with five digits on each foot. They were capable of running long and hard, like wolves and other modern dogs, but they had not yet lost the dewclaw on the hind legs.

So there were once wolves that were not wolves and dogs that had hyena features living in North America, and these animals had dewclaws on their hind legs.

 

 

 

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Neville is an Irish water spaniel who is missing in the Watertown, South Dakota, area.

According to the Craig’s List ad about him, he went missing west of town and is wearing a blue Flexi lead.

Check the ad for more info.

 

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Freak pug

Everyone needs a dog with no muzzle!

 

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