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Archive for June, 2019

Dare and big quest

So Dare arrived Monday evening. Quest’s breeder dropped her off, along with the Brown Puppy himself, who had been up in New York State winning a few more points towards his AKC championship.

She is a fire-cracker of a pup. She doesn’t scream in her crate, and she eliminates as soon as her feet hit the ground.  She’s not going to be tough to house train at all.

She is also quite interactive. She already looking me in the eye when I talk to her, and she’s also talking back with her cute little German shepherd moans.

Dare and questy

She and Quest are getting along very well. He never really has any problem with little puppies, and he generally likes other dogs. So those two won’t be much of a problem.

Dare has that German shepherd look in her eyes. It’s hard to describe, but it’s one of their hallmarks. They have deep piercing eyes that fully portray their intelligence.

dare at home

I think she will be an awesome dog. She’s already a super puppy.

dare gaiting

And yes, I must fully admit that I am no longer a golden retriever person. They are good dogs, but they don’t do it for me the way a German shepherd can.

I am so fortunate to know so many good people in the breed in this country. I want to thank Frank De Bem of Kysarah Shepherds in New Hampshire for giving us this wonderful opportunity, and I want to thank Brianna Burkhart, Pamela Martin, and Anya Dobratz for transporting her across the Northeast to get her out here.

So I am happy with this little black and tan pup.  I know that I am in the right breed community, and these dogs are so awesome.

 

 

 

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narwhal hybrid.png

a: beluga skull b. “narluga hybrid” c. male narwhal skull.

In the 1980s, an Inuit subsistence hunter in Greenland killed three gray whales that looked suspiciously like belugas at first. However, they were oddly gray. The fins resembled a beluga’s, while the tail looked like that of a narwhal.

The hunter kept one of the skulls, eventually donating it to science, where became the property of the Greenland Fisheries Research Institute. A scientist working for that institute, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen,hypothesized that this skull came from a hybrid between a narwhal and a beluga.

It was only today that a study was released in the journal Nature that revealed that this whale was indeed a hybrid. The DNA analysis revealed that male beluga mated with a female narwhal to produce the creature.

The skull was quite strange. Belugas have 40 homodont teeth. Narwhals are toothless, except males. The males have one really long canine tooth that sticks out as a tusk. Sometimes, they have two, but most have only one true tooth. It is spiraled like what is expected form the mythical unicorn. They do have only a few vestigial teeth.

The hybrid had 18 teeth, many of which were pointed out horizontally and spiraled like the vestigial teeth of the narwhal.

Isotopic analysis also revealed that the hybrid had a different diet from either parent species, both of which catch fish or squid in the open water. The beluga hunts fish at depths of up to 500 meters, while the narwhal hunts fish or squid at depths exceeding 800 meters. The isotopic analysis revealed that the narluga was eating mostly benthic prey, which means it was eating mostly shellfish from the sea floor.

So this study raises so many questions. Analysis of the narwhal genome revealed that gene flow between the two species stopped between 1.25 and 1.65 million years ago. The initial split happened around 4 million years ago, and that study thought that an viable hybrids would be unable to reproduce. However, the authors of the study cautioned that a larger sample size of individual narwhal and beluga genomes from across their range might reveal more recent dates on when gene flow stopped (if it did at all).

So it is not entirely clear that this hybrid would have been sterile, but we also have no further evidence of hybrids anywhere else.  It is quite possible that these hybrids could be fertile, and if they are, climate change could cause the eventual genetic extinction of the narwhal.

The morphology and feeding behavior this odd whale might point to the origins of the narwhal. Perhaps the ancestral narwhal was a benthic feeding whale that later lost its teeth to become a whale that hunts squid and fish at great depths with an almost toothless mouth.

Having teeth like the hybrid is a great adaptation for this particular diet, because the forward pointing teeth can poke around and dislodge shellfish more easily.

If these hybrids are fertile, then one could see the eventual development of a hybrid whale species that has its own niche as a benthic feeder in the arctic.

It is an amazing find, and chances are there will be more discovered. Further, as scientists examine genomes from belugas and narwhals from a wide geographic distribution, we might see evidence of some hybridization.

Hybridization could also increase genetic diversity in narwhals, but if these hybrids must eat a fundamentally different diet than narwhals do, it might become difficult for these hybrids to add their genes to narwhal populations. They just cannot hang out for extensive periods of time, before they have to split off and engage in divergent feeding behavior.

So this discovery does generate lots of speculation and raises several important questions that need to be addressed.

Pretty cool.

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dare being cute

As I mentioned in my post about letting Anka find a new home, new opportunities were on the way.

When Anka left, though, I was not expecting to get this great new co-own opportunity. Frank De Bem of Kysarah Shepherds in New Hampshire offered us a co-ownership deal with one of his hot show prospects.

So on Sunday, Kysarah’s Dare To Be Different will be part of our household. She is 1/4 West German show line. The rest American show line.

I’m told that she is a total hellion. She has lots of drive and good nerves, which is good because I do want to train her in obedience and herding. The sire has a PT, so we could have a herder on our hands.

So yes, it’s obvious I’ve moved onto a different breed, and when she gets here on Sunday, I’ll give you a full assessment.

But I am so excited about this pup.

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dog eye muscle

Dog domestication needs to be understood as a coevolution between our species and this form of gray wolf.  Today, an amazing finding was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that most domestic dogs have a muscle on the inner part of their eyebrows that allows them to make intense expressions that humans can easily read or anthropomorphize.

This muscle, called the levator anguli oculi medialis, was present in 5 out 6 dogs that were examined.  The only dog that didn’t have this muscle was a Siberian husky, which is considered a primitive dog in most dog classification schemes.

This ability to make such intense expressions that we regard as cute or “puppy dog” faces would have selective advantages in ancestral dog populations. Looking cute could elicit nurturing behavior from humans, who would make sure the dog got better food, and dogs with this muscle would have had a greater chance of survival and passing on their genes than dogs that were lacking it.

So, dogs have indeed co-evolved with humans. They have evolved several cognitive short-cuts that allow them to communicate and learn from us, and they also have evolved ways of manipulating us to benefit themselves.

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fox cat

Wildcat taxonomy is hotly contested, especially with the 2017 revision of the taxonomy of Felidae, which posits that the wildcat of Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia is a different species from that of Europe and the Caucasus.

The island of Corsica, once home to many insular endemic mammals during the Pleistocene, has always had a legendary wildcat, one that farmers claimed was a predator of goats and other livestock.  However, it was debated about whether this cat was a European wildcat or just a feral cat.

However, in recent days, various outlets have reported that a team of scientists is now examining this cat more closely.  Its DNA is different from the mainland European wildcat.

One hypothesis is that these “fox cats” arrived with the second human colonization of Corsica, which would put it closer to the ancestor of domestic cats than to the European one.

The current thinking is that this Corsican fox cat is a new species, but more analysis is going to be performed before anyone can make that conclusion.

If this animal arrived with people and is derived from the Middle Eastern population of Felis lybica, then it is a feral cat. However, it is a different sort of feral cat than one finds in parking lots and old warehouses.

This discovery will take a lot more work to figure out fully what it is. It may be a new species of cat, or it may give us better clues on how cats were domesticated.

It is an amazing find, and I have so many questions. And they will likely be answered in the not to distant future.

 

 

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anka

Dogs come into our lives. Sometimes, they just live out their days as wonderful companions. Others wind up changing our lives for good.

Anka was the dog that change my perspective entirely. I never liked German shepherds, and I really didn’t like the working ones.

But after spending a week working with one of these dogs, I knew I would never want to be without one.

Her arrival coincided with the arrival of Quest, and Quest has wound up opening many doors for me. I came to know people with top of the line German shepherds of the three or four major types, but as time went on, new opportunities began to avail themselves.

Last November, I realized that I was about to come into to some opportunities, ones that meant I would have to spend less time working my unregistered sable dog. At the same time, she was developing some serious same sex aggression towards other female dogs, and she was losing her tolerance of Zoom, our male whippet.

We were able to manage her aggression through crate and rotate, but because I would be getting new German shepherds like her in the near future, I would be forced to spend less time with her.

And that’s no life for a truly exceptional dog.  So Anka now lives on a farm with two young boys to take care of. This dog has strong tending instincts, and she has a profound fondness for children. So I sent her to live in the perfect home– where she is the only dog.

I cried more over placing this dog than any other, but I know that my decision was a correct one. If I lived with only one dog and just wanted an active pet, I would have held onto her. She is a truly special animal, and I will always get a bit gooey whenever I see a sable working German shepherd.

As for those new opportunities, well, stay tuned to this space.

These new opportunities would never have happened without Anka. I wish I could thank her somehow, but I guess thanks is living on that nice acreage and having the perfect life.

And so the future comes. And it holds many beautiful adventures to come.

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lined seahorse

Seahorse always fascinated me. When I was a kid, we’d go to the souvenir shops at the beach in North Carolina, and of course, there would be many shells and sand dollars to buy. And you could pick up a dried-out seahorse. The racks would be full of dried out seahorses, hundreds and hundreds of them.

I never really thought about seahorses as being potentially threatened by anything. My child brain could not fathom how much trouble they could be facing.  But even those species that live off the coast of the United States and Canada are under threat from pollution and over-development. They are also in demand for Chinese traditional medicine, and with the Chinese economy growing as rapidly as it has for the past few decades, this demand has only increased the pressure for both species.

Two species found in the Western Atlantic are the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) and the longsnout or slender sea horse (H. reidi).  The lined sea horse has a more northerly distribution than the longsnout, but their ranges do overlap from North Carolina to Venezuela. The two species do not readily hybridize in the wild, though they certainly have done so in captivity.

With the lined sea horse being listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN and the longsnout as “near threatened,” there are real conservation concerns for both species, and they are indeed being bred in captivity now with hopes of giving a boost to the dwindling wild populations.

However, these two species are often housed together in aquarium and zoos, and they have interbred.  A recent paper in the Journal for Zoo and Aquarium Research has identified a simple molecular technique for identifying hybrids in captive populations, but the paper also notes the possible issues with hybrids.

The obvious problem is that conservation plans for restoring species are designed to restore a particular species, not hybrids between the two. Yes, this is the big boondoggle behind conserving species that hybrid with another, but it is one thing to have hybrids readily occurring in the wild. And it is quite another if hybrids largely exist because of aquarium practices.

So the authors urge zoos and aquariums to stop putting these two species together and to work much harder at maintaining “purebred” populations of each species.

However, the authors point out that the hybrids could be useful for conservation in another way. With improved seahorse husbandry techniques, various farms could potentially breed populations of hybrid seahorses and fill the needs of the growing Chinese market.

These two species may have split from their common ancestor over 14 million years ago, but hybrids between fish species can happen between species that have been divergent for many millions of years.

Humanity’s effects upon the ocean have been greatly underestimated.  Much of what has happened to the ocean has been out of our sight for so long that we assumed that all was fine.

But future for many species of seahorse is not secure at all, and if we are to be proactive and work on restoring diminishing stocks of various species, we must work on controlling potential problems that can come from hybridization in captivity.

So for conservation purposes, we must try to keep strains distinct for those that could be released into the wild, but for the Chinese medicine market, breed the mutts.
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