Archive for October, 2012

I saw this photo online last week, but I had no idea what the exact story was.

Barred owls are pretty common around here. They are actually quite a bit more common than great horned owls, which actually kill barred owls when they move into their territories.

We call them “hoot owls.”  That’s because they are most famously known for their hooting call that goes like this:

“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”  (The “all” is kind of guttural “aw” sound.)

I have known that great horned owls eat cats.

But I didn’t know that barred owls would do the same.

I wanted to know the full story behind this photo, but I didn’t find out until this morning.

The Daily Mail reports that this photo was taken in Minnesota. However, it doesn’t report whether it was taken by camera trap or by a lucky photographer.

I don’t know if the owl actually got to eat the cat, but this ought to be a nice little warning:

Don’t let your cats roam, especially at night.

The coyotes might get them.

So might the fishers.

And there are at least two species of owl in North America that have a taste for pussy cat.




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Canadian bush meat:


This is from TheWildNorth channel.

These are spruce grouse.


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The Portuguese pointer

This is a Portuguese pointer (Perdigueiro Português).

They are a red-legged partridge dog from Portugal. The red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) is a close relative of the chukars (A. chukar) that have been introduced to North America. They are common game birds in parts of southern Europe. In English-speaking countries, they are sometimes called “French partridge.”

The Portuguese pointer was bred as a hunting dog for the nobility, but they later became common hunting dogs for the lower classes– something like a Portuguese Brittany.

No. It’s not a cocker spaniel/bulldog mix!

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Dave sent me a link to this study in Heredity that looked a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) variability in domestic dogs.

It found that dogs were so diverse in the MHC in their haplotypes that there had to have been at least 500 wolves in the founding population.

It included 128 Asian dogs in this analysis, and it found that Asian dogs had greater diversity in European dogs, and of course, this leads to people crowing about evidence of an Asian origin for the domestic dog.

Not so fast.

MHC haplotypes have generally been lost as Western dogs have become breeds, and they continue to lose them as popular sire issues stratify the already closed gene pools.

Asian dogs, whether they are construed as breeds or not, have not already undergone this process. Or if they have, they’ve done it for very long.

I am not skeptical of the notion that lots of wolves were used to found the population that became modern domestic dogs.

I am, however, quite skeptical of the hypothesis that dogs originated in East Asia.

It’s much more likely that this was a long process that involved many wolves over a long period of time.

And it happened in many different parts of Eurasia.

Further, it’s also very likely that the dog lineages we have now are but remnants of what once existed. We’ve likely lost y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA lineages,  as well as MHC haplotypes, and because we’re looking at only what exists now, it is actually something a dubious undertaking to try to divine dog origins in this fashion.

We are trying to read backwards through using living dogs, but what we really need are studies of DNA samples from very old specimens– which are not easily procured.

I think the process is likely much more complex than we might like it to be, and it had to have involved the agency of both certain wolves and humans. Without both species exhibit some sort of agency, there would be no domestication of the wolf.

Black-backed jackals have scavenged off of man for a very long time. They have lived in our cities and camps. And they are no black-backed jackals with floppy ears and spots and all the other features we associate with domestication.

For decades, people have looked for simplistic answers to the question about how wolves became dogs.

They’ve not found them.

We’re talking about two species that have pretty complex behavior, and to try to reduce them into a grand theory of domestication is probably not the best way to proceed.

It’s likely far more complex than we can understand at this time (if we can ever understand it at all).



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Black-backed jackals are hunters as well as scavengers.  On Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, they hunt Cape fur seal pups:


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From the BBC:

Populations of the world’s rarest dog, the Ethiopian wolf, are genetically fragmenting, scientists say.

Fewer than 500 of Africa’s only wolf species are thought to survive.

Now a 12-year study of Ethiopian wolves living in the Ethiopian highlands has found there is little gene flow between the small remaining populations.

That places the wolves at greater risk of extinction from disease, or habitat degradation.

In a study published in the journal Animal Conservation, Dada Gottelli of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues in Oxford, UK and Berlin, Germany, quantified the genetic diversity, population structure and patterns of gene flow among 72 wild-living Ethiopian wolves.

The team sampled wolves living within six of the remaining seven remnant populations, as well as from one population at Mount Choke, that has since become extinct.

They found that genetic diversity was relatively high for a species that has declined to fewer than 500 individuals.

That may be because discrete populations of wolves survived in Africa after the last glaciation period, which ended 18,000 years ago, and a number of rare gene types became fixed and maintained in these separate groups.

However, this isolation is now working against the wolves.

Researchers studied gene types at 14 separate locations on the wolf genome. They found that there is now weak gene flow between the Ethiopian wolf groups.

There is very little that actually can be done to save Ethiopian wolves. If Ethiopia would create massive corridors between wolf populations, they might stand a chance.

However, this species is unusually habitat specific. They may have once been quite wide-ranging over Ethiopia, and they once may have had a more eclectic diet.

But the only populations that remain are in the Ethiopian Highlands, and these animals live almost entirely on rodents.

Unlike any other Canis species, this one has become specialized to a particular habitat, and this habitat is simply not fairing very well with climate change.

Now, this is an intelligent animal, and they might be able to adapt to a more diverse diet and to a different habitat.

But “might” doesn’t mean that they are.

And thus far, they have not shown any signs of adapting their diet or moving into different habitats. And in this case, they’re probably screwed.

These canids have maintained their genetic diversity because they reproduce via a pair bond, and they have inbreeding avoidance behaviors.

This may also explain why some Ethiopian wolves will try to mate with domestic dogs. They need new blood, and they’ll take it even from a domestic animal.

But the hybrids have been culled from the Ethiopian wolf population, probably unwisely. After all, both common wolves and coyotes have been found to have some domestic dog ancestry, and dog genes have not destroyed the wolf or coyote populations.

It’s also likely that Ethiopian wolves have always had some introgression of dog genes. After all, there was a very flawed mtDNA study that suggested that Ethiopian wolves evolved from common wolf ancestors 100,000. A more comprehensive DNA study found that they actually diverged from the other interfertile Canis 3-4 million years ago. That mtDNA study is why we call them “Ethiopian wolves” today, even though they are actually more genetically distinct from common wolves than golden jackals are.

I don’t have much hope for the Ethiopian wolf.

They are an interesting offshoot of the Canis lineage.

Who knows what these animals were like when they were once more widespread in Ethiopia?

They had to have been much more adaptable than they are now.

The common wolf is nothing like this animal.  From the swamps of Florida to the frozen wastes of Greenland and from the searing sands of Arabia to the Russian taiga, the common wolf has adapted to a wide array of habitats and prey species.


The common wolf is actually succeeding as a species. It is very unlikely that it will go extinct now..

But its cousin in Ethiopia, which has gone the route of specialization, is probably not going to make it.

Now, they might be able to maintain themselves as inbred population, but seeing as the species has retained quite a bit of diversity even though they are now rare, the species probably hasn’t evolved much inbreeding tolerance.

So they may not last if they have to continue through inbreeding.


I have some little quibbles with the BBC piece. I mentioned one of them earlier.

The claim that Ethiopian wolves evolved recently from the common wolf is supported only through mitochondrial DNA studies, which are not the best tool for determining when species split from each other.

The other is the claim that common wolves and red foxes are habitat specific. They aren’t at all. Wolves in the New World were found from the swamps of Florida to Alaska and from the Valley of Mexico to Greenland. In the Old World, they were found from Senegal to Ethiopia and across the Middle East to India and Burma. They were found throughout Asia and all of Europe, including Ireland and Great Britain.

That’s not a habitat specific animal at all.

And red foxes are even less so. They are currently the most widespread of all wild carnivorans.

Finally, the claim that wolves don’t disperse far from their natal packs is not supported by the evidence. Wolves have been found traveling hundreds of miles from the packs in which they were born in search of new territory.

Ethiopian wolves may not exhibit this behavior, simply because they have become so specialized to the Ethiopian Highlands habitat.

And this area is quite finite.

And if the ecosystem of the Ethiopian Highlands continues to degrade due to overgrazing and climate change, they are fairly vulnerable.

And they likely won’t last long.





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One ugly barn cat


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