Archive for the ‘Unidentified species’ Category

Arctic wolf

In perusing the names and descriptions of cryptids canids, I came across two animals that sound very similar. These are the waheela of Alaska and the Northwest territory and Ontario Giant wolf. Both of these are described as larger than normal wolves that are white in color. There is also another wolf from Inuit mythology called Amorak, who is a giant white wolf. The waheela is said not to hunt in packs, which is quite different from modern wolf populations.

What could these be?

Well, I don’t happen to believe that there are any relict populations of dire wolf, hyena, creodont, or bear dog left in North America. I do think, however, that modern wolves are far more diverse in appearance than we realize– and have historically evolved in shapes that are mirrored with some exaggeration in their domestic form.

For example, everyone seems to know about the dire wolf (Canis dirus), but did you know that there were large wolves of the  C. lupus species that have very similar adaptations to those of the dire wolf? These wolves were not dire wolves, but an extinct population of modern wolves. In fact, these wolves are the ancestors of no living wolf or dog population.

The indigenous people of North America surely knew of these larger subspecies of wolves. In fact, they probably knew a very diverse population of wolves, which we cannot imagine today. For not only were there coyotes and dire wolves, there were also many diverse forms of the C. lupus species.  And as we know today, not all subspecies of wolves form packs.

It’s very likely that the waheela and the mythology about Amarok are based on these extinct forms of modern wolf, which have survived in the folklore of the native peoples of their respective regions. Maybe these big game hunting wolves were not pack hunters. Who knows?

Now, the Ontario white wolf could be a similar story– either the dire wolf or some unusual and extinct form of modern wolf has survived in the folklore of the indigenous people.

However, I have a far more likely story.

Everyone knows that there are large white wolves in North America, specifically in the northern reaches of Canada and in the praire provinces. The most famous North American subspecies with white fur-coloring is Canis lupus arctos. It is almost always white in color. They are born gray and stay that color for the first few years of their lives, but then turn white in color.

Now, this subspecies is larger than both subspecies found in the more settled areas of Ontario, which are C. l. nubilus and C. l. lycaon. Neither of those are rather large wolves and virtually none of them are white,  although nubilus sometimes comes in a cream color. Lycaon is almost always gray, although in its fomer range in the US, it was sometimes black.

Most people living in those areas would be more accustomed to seeing wolves that looked like these animals.

But what would happen if an Arctic wolf showed up?

My guess is you’d get legends about a giant Ontario wolf that was white in color.

But how would an Arctic wolf make it the settled areas of Ontario?

Well, as the old Russian proverb goes: “A wolf is kept fed by its feet.” And as a result, wolves have evolved long legs and efficient gaits to travel vast distances.  Sometimes wolves travel hundreds of miles from where they are born. In fact, when you wolves disperse from their natal packs, they very often travel a very long way to set up new territories. It’s a good strategy to prevent inbreeding.

Perhaps a young dispersing Arctic wolf popped up in the settled regions of Ontario, where it was thought to be some sort of giant white wolf.

I think a lot of these cryptid canines are nothing more than unusual subspecies of C. lupus, extinct animals that have survived into folklore, or hybrids. If you cross a domestic dog  (especially those that don’t look like wolves) with a wolf, you have no clue what you’re going to get in terms of appearance or behavior.  You could get a very strange looking animal indeed.

In fact, I think this is why the people of eighteenth century France thought the Beasts of Gevaudan were  some weird creatures. They were larger than any wolf native to France and far more aggressive. It’s very likely that these were hybrids between wolves and some French mastiff (an ancestor of today’s dogue de Bordeaux). The ancestral dogues were very aggressive, and what’s more, they often came in brindle coloration, which describes the “tiger stripess” the beasts perfectly. In fact, dogs of the mastiff type were used as weapons of mass destruction and torture in Spanish colonies in the New World.

I don’t think the waheela or the Ontario giant wolves are hybrids.

I just think they are either extinct subspecies that survived in native folklore or members of extant large white  subspecies that wandered into areas where the locals were not familiar with them.

Keep in mind that we are just now getting to understand how diverse wolves were in pre-historic times. This should be no shock to us. We see this diversity reflected in their domestic forms, which vary in size from the tiny chihuahua to enormous mastiff. We have bulldogs and pekes were very bandy short legs and flattened faces, but we also have long-nosed Afghan hounds and borzoi, which are built on gracile frames with very long legs.

And most of this diversity in shape and size in domestic dogs has come about only in the past few centuries. However, dogs have varied in appearance and type since they were domesticated anywhere from 10,000 to 135,000 years ago.

Now, think about that for a minute. If dogs can evolve into so many shapes and sizes in just a few millennia through artificial selection, imagine what wolves could evolve into through millions of years of natural selection in such varied habitats throughout their historical native range?

So for those reasons, I don’t think the waheela and Ontario white wolf are separate species and certainly aren’t new species of canid.

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European eel

One of the most interesting theories postulated by The Centre for Fortean Zoology is the hypothesis that many lake monster sightings are overgrown eels. Now, this theory was lampooned on Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, and in the youtube upload of the Centre’s documentary Eel or No Eel, the comments are mostly negative. How could there be a giant eel any European lake?

The theory goes that some eels are sterile (“eunuch eels), and unlike other eels, they don’t leave lakes and rivers to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. They simply stay in fresh water, eat, and get big.

We do have some evidence of what happens to European eels that don’t go through their normal life cycle.

In 1859, an eel was confined to a well in Sweden. It remained trapped in the well until it was recaptured in 2008. It was over 149 years old, and yet, it had survived in fresh water all this time. It was 53.5 centimeters  (21.1 inches) long, and its eyes were unusually large.

Now, a 21 inch eel is hardly a giant animal. However, it is possible that an eel living in a more nutrient-filled environment than a well, could grow large during such a prolonged life.

However, I don’t think that the supposed large eels are eels that simply remained trapped in freshwater due to confinement or sterility. I think there is something else at work here.

One aspect of natural selection that is often left out is the human element. Now, we often hear about the peppered mouths of Britain, which come in two basic color morphs. One is lighter and perfectly camouflaged against a tree with lichens and moss on it, while the other is darker and better camouflaged against soot covered tree. With the Industrial Revolution, the darker moths proved to be better camouflaged against bird predation, and thus, the majority of the population became dark-colored. (This trend has since reversed as Britain has tried to clean up emissions from power plant and factories.)

Now, that is a textbook example of how human effect natural selection. I have also postulated that the ancient wolf population from when modern wolves and domestic dogs descend was originally much more dog-like. The wolves were curious about people and were easily tamed. When we began to domesticate other livestock, dogs and wolves began to fully split, as man selected dogs that were unlikey to prey on livestock and man began killing wolves on a large scale. This selection pressure on wolves ratcheted up as the Industrial Revolution made poisons, traps, and fire arms more readily accessible. We have selected dogs to be extremely tame and docile. They don’t fear new things as much as wolves do, and dogs have also evolved innate human reading abilities and associative learning abilities that make them rather interesting animals. Our pesecution of wolves has selected for more reactive, nervous, and fearful animals– animals that are nearly impossible to tame, even if bottle-reared. That’s why I think there is such a heightened difference between the two animals, even though every genetic study suggests that they are very closely related and are probably the same species.

Now, what does all of this have to do with eels?

Well, I think we have to consider eels as fish. More specifically, I think we have to consider eels a commercial fish. Indeed, commericial fishing is really taking its toll on the European eel. Today, it is considered a critically endangered species, and it is on the ICUN Red List. Typically, the reasons for its decline are thought to be the building of dams on rivers, which preven the eels from returning to freshwater to spawn. PCB pollution has recently been blamed for crash in European eel populations.

The European eel is in such a bad state that Norway recently banned fishing for European eels in its waters.

However, there is another factor that has also harmed eel populations. They have been overfished. Eels have been a common “peasant food” throughout European history. In fact, it is only been recently that they have been elevated to fine French dining.

And what happens to all fish species when they are overfished? In virtually every case, the size has been greatly reduced. People take the big ones. One big fish is less labor intensive to land than a bunch of little ones. And let’s not forget that some people trophy fish out the large ones.

And very often, the reduced size in fish species is reported on the news, like this story on whale sharks, this story on Alaskan and Russian salmon (which have a the opposite life cycle of eels– returning from the sea to their natal streams to spawn), and this one which blames commercial fishing for reduced fish size.

The unofficial and unverified maximum length for a European eel is 79 inches (200.7 cm). Now, that’s not a 2o or 30 foot eel, which I don’t think is likely with this particular species. However, if true, that eel was over 6.5 feet long.

Perhaps before European eels were widely exploited as a food source, eels of this size or possibly larger existed in European waters. It is also possible that there could be a throwback or two that still remains in the European eel population. It is also possible that these large eels were more common in more recent decades in remote lakes and rivers. When holiday makers visited these lakes and rivers and encountered these relict populations of eels, they thought they were monsters.

Now, I don’t have hard evidence that eels were much larger in the past. Because they were thought of as a peasant food ( and I’m not blaming peasants for eating them–just for the record), it is unlikely than any good records of them were ever kept in those early years. We’ve only started to pay attention to them when we’ve come to realize that the European eel is now critically endangered. What records we do have come from the past couple of hundred years– centuries after they became common table fare. We may simply be basing our maximum size for the European eel on what is really a species on the brink.

The truth is that in the very near future there might not be any European eels of any size left. But I think it is a logical fallacy to assume that we can determine the maximum size of European eels from the current over-exploited population. Maybe in some remote lake or river, there are a few rather large eels remaining.

The giant eel theory is well worth exploring, but I think the evidence for it may disappear before any can be found, if that evidence hasn’t already disappeared through the centuries of overfishing.

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The Guinea pig is a popular first pet for many children, but the identity of its wild ancestor remains unclear.The Guinea pig is a popular first pet for many children, but the identity of its wild ancestor remains unclear.

The familiar Guinea pig has long been a first choice for parents seeking a first pet for their children. The species is known for is rather placid temperament and relative ease in its husbandry.  It comes in several different coat types, which vary from the long-haired Peruvian to rough-haired Abyssinian to the completely hairless Baldwin, and a wide array of colors, including tortoiseshell and brindle varieties.

However, unlike most domestic animals, we are still unsure of the Guinea pig’s ancestor.  We have several candidates, but it is possible that the domestic Guinea pig’s ancestor is an unknown species.  So let’s explore the candidates.

First of all, in case you didn’t know, Guinea pigs have a totally false name. They are not from any country known today or historically as Guinea, including the island of New Guinea. They also are not swine. They are hystricomorph rodents, and the Guinea pigs and the various South American relatives, including the capybaras, pacas, agoutis, and maras, are considered in infraorder Caviomorpha. The cavies make up a specific group  in the Caviomorpha infraorder, and these things vary greatly in appearance. The most famous of these is the Guinea pig, but the capybara is also pretty well known. The capybara is a giant cavy that lives a semi-aquatic lifestyle. My personal favorite of the cavies of is the mara, which looks like a cross between a Guinea pig, a hare, and an antelope. However, also included in this cavy group are several nondescript rodents that could be the ancestor of the domestic Guinea pig.

The Brazilian cavy (Cavia aperea) is sometimes considered the Guinea pig’s ancestor. It can produce fertile offspring if hybridized with the domestic Guina pig, but after several generations, fertility becomes an issue. Because fertility does not continue through the generations, it is likely the the Brazilian cavy is just a very close relative of the Guinea pig and not its immediate ancestor.

The Shiny Guinea pig (Cavia fulgida) might be an ancestor, but it leaves in Eastern Brazil, which is quite far from where we know that the Guinea pig originated, which is the highlands of Ecuador and Peru.

The Montane Guinea pig or the Tschudi’s cavy (Cavia tschudii) seems to be a more likely ancestor. It is native to the same regions where we know the domestic Guinea pig originated. However, studies of the biochemistry of this cavy and the domestic Guinea pig suggest that they are not the same species. Thus, Tschudi’s cavy is probably not species we are looking for.

Tschudi's cavy

Tschudi's cavy

Things do get somewhat confusing because in some parts of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, Guinea pigs are very common as domestic animals. Feral populations of these animals can be found, and it can be difficult to determine whether one is looking at a true wild cavy of a different species or an unsusually pigmented feral Guinea pig. For example, one of the first specimens of Tschudi’s cavy that was sent to Europe appeared to be an agouti pigmented domestic Guinea pig. Further, there is a documented cavy near Bogotá, Colombia, called Cavia anolaimae. It is said to be very similar to the domestic Guinea pig, but it often considered to be nothing more than a feral Guinea pig. Another unusual Guinea pig (Cavia guianae) has been documented in northern Brazil, southern Venezuela, and Guyana. It is not clear whether this is also a feral population of domestic Guinea pig, a population of Brazilian cavy, or a new species, which could be the Guinea pig’s ancestor.

However, it is possible that these anomalous cavies are actual the ancestral Guinea pigs. Perhaps through regular hybridization with domestic Guinea pigs that the wild populations of these animals became severely reduced. After all, the parts of South America where the Guinea pig was first domesticated have gone through great upheavals through conquest, civil wars, and other strife. As a result, it is likely that domestic Guinea pigs, where were kept so closely to their villages as a food source escaped into the wild. There, they hybridized with the wild ancestral Guinea pig, whatever it is or was, and then polluted its gene pool until it disappeared through hybridization. This theory is the one I think more likely, but it’s just as possible that the unsual Guinea pig-like rodent sent back with the first Tschudi’s cavy was one of these wild Guinea pigs. It’s also possible that the unsual cavies that are called  Cavia guianae and Cavia anolaimae are relict populations of this wild cavy that is the ancestor of the domestic Guinea pig.

It is hard to believe that we know very little about the domestic Guinea pig’s ancestry. We know what its closest relatives are, but so far, none of them are thought to be their direct wild ancestor. Maybe someone will do an in depth analysis of Guinea pig and wild cavy molecular evolution, which will lead us to the answer. Right now, all we can do is speculate.

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The largest modern wolf on record was a Canis lupus occidentalis.

The largest modern wolf on record was a Canis lupus occidentalis.

I remember receiving a book from a great uncle on Pleistocene mammals of North America. As a boy who was always fascinated with the large animals of East Africa that often appeared on nature documentaries, I was truly amazed that such large creatures once roamed my country. I was deeply impressed with the large carnivores, like the Smilodon species and the American lion (Panthrea leo atrox). But I am fundamentally a dog person, so my eye was particularly drawn to a large species of wolf that once roamed the Americas. At the time, I was reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang, and wolves were my favorite wild animal. However, the name of the extinct species slipped my mind for many year. Then one day happened upon an article that speculated that a relict population of these big wolves could still exist.

Now I began to wonder, could such big wild dogs still exist in the world today? And if so, are they the same species or a close relative of the animal that graced my book on Pleistocene mammals? Well, I began to look at the facts. I plenty of good books on wolves gracing my bookshelf, and thus began a mini-research project. I found lots of interesting things about wolves and their close relatives, and I am offering you these findings as a sort of synthesis, combined with some of my other writings and findings on wolves and dogs that also talk about their evolution and natural history.

The modern wolf is believed to have evolved in Eurasia, most likely in India. However, its ancestors are believed to be a North American animal rather similar to the coyote. From that basic form, we have seen the development of all sorts of different themes and variations evolve.

The largest wolves in the world are of the Rocky Mountain/Mackenzie Valley subspecies (Canis lupus occidentalis). One of these animals was killed in Alaska that weighed 176 pounds. It was a fluke, of course, for this subspecies typically weighs between 100 and 140 pounds. These are big moose-killing wolves that have to have the large size to help bring down their fierce ungulate prey.

Now, domestic dogs do exceed this weight. The mastiff and St. Bernard sometimes weigh in excess of 200 pounds, and at least a few Newfoundlands and Great Danes [sic] have also reached this size.

Because we tend to associate wolves with these larger subspecies, it is easy to forget that many wolf subspecies are significantly smaller. In Wisconsin, it is estimated that the average dog wolf weighs 75 pounds, while the average female weighs 60 pounds. That means that the average wolf in those more southerly populations is about the size of a golden retrieve. However, because wolves have longer limbs in proportion to their body size, the wolves would be taller at the shoulder. The big wolves are limited to the northern reaches of their range.

However, during the Pleistocene, there was a large more southerly distributed species of wolf. Unlike the coyote and the modern wolf, this species also ranged into South America. Its size approached that of the Mackenzie valley wolf, often exceeding 150 pounds and occasionally as much as 175 pounds.  The first specimen was discovered in 1854 at Evansville, Indiana, when a jaw bone of an ancient wolf was found in the Ohio River. The teeth on this wolf were larger than any known modern wolf, and the carnassials had a sharper slicing edge. This robust wolf was given the best name of virtually any extinct animal– the dire wolf (Canis dirus). It was this species that captured my imagination all of those years ago, when I first read about them in the book my  great uncle gave me.

Since the discovery of the Evansville specimen, we have found out lots of interesting things about this species.  Thousands of dire wolf remains have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits, and from their  remains, we know that dire wolves had shorter legs than modern wolves. Their heads were larger, which means that dire wolf had a stronger bite than the modern wolves. Dog bite strength is strongly correlated with head size.

At one time it was believe that dire wolves were bone crushers, like hyenas, but more complete analysis of their jaw structure indicates that their jaws were more designed to kill and consume meat, like modern wolves and coyotes. The dire wolf is believed to be a large animal specialist, like the large occidentalis subspecies of Canis lupus. However, this wolf lived at a time when there were all sorts of huge megafauna in North America. This wolf most likely relied on these larger species for food. Think of the dire wolf as something like a naturally evolved mastiff-wolf hybrid that is even more powerful than those two modern animals. It was an animal that used its size and strength to bring down large prey. It was probably not a good courser.

About 16,000 years ago, the great megafauna of North America started to become extinct. The remaining prey species were mostly smaller animals that were much fleeter than the dire wolf could keep up with. The modern wolf lived in North America during the dire wolf’s reign, and it proved to be a better hunter of these smaller species. The dire wolf was able to hold on for a relatively long time, but the modern wolf was much better equipped to survive in this new world of fleet deer and swift jackrabbits. Officially, the dire wolf went extinct between 9,000 and 10,000 years ago.

It is possible that a relict population of dire wolves lived in the Ozarks of Arkansas up until 4,000 years ago, but officially, the species is extinct.

Or is it?

There is little documentation about how dire wolves lived with modern wolves. We do know that coyotes scavenged their kills, but at LaBrea Tar Pits, there are no modern wolves, just dire wolves. We do know that the genus Canis is plagued with infertility issues among species and this infertility among the species makes taxonomic issues very touchy. Just ask wolf experts what a red wolf is, and you’ll get lots of interesting answers.

It is possible that the dire wolf interbred with the modern wolf. I don’t think it was a very common occurrence, if it happened at all. I don’t think that the wolves of the Northern Rockies and Alaska are modern wolf/dire wolf hybrids. They are just big modern wolves that have evolved as moose killing specialists.

But there are reports of big, anomalous wolves. In Native American folklore, there are lots of stories about big wolves that are different from the wolves we see today. Two of these could be dire wolves or memories of the dire wolves that got passed through folklore.

The waheela is said to be a large heavily built wolf, but it is said to have longer hind legs than front legs. It is also not seen in packs. Because so many dire wolves were found at La Brea, it is assumed that they were pack hunters. The shunka warak’in is another wolf-like animal that is said to be larger than a typical wolf. This one also unusual legs, but this one has longer forelegs than hind legs. One of these was supposedly shot in Montana, and the animal was taxidermied. I’ve seen photos of the taxidermied speciemen. It looks like a poorly mounted wolf-dog hybrid. (And that’s another problem with “mystery dogs”– domestic dogs vary so much in appearance that crosses between domestic dogs and wild dogs and even just regular mutt dogs look can look like  an unusual species.)

I think the shunka warak’in is an animal that actually existed. However, it existed in Central Asia and Siberia, which is the ancestral home for the Native Americans. In the Ioway language, shunka warak’in, means “carries off dogs.” I thought that was interesting. I had previously ignored the descriptions of the shunka warak’in’s unusual leg length. Then I read this article about how  may have hyenas kept people out of the America for thousands of years. These hyenas were big creatures, and a major predator of humans. Humans occurred only south of where the hyenas were the major predator, effectively keeping humans out of Eastern Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Berginia.

What I found interesting, though, was the only record of humans during the hyena period in this part of Asia was the skull of a dog. The dog was too small to have survived in the wild, which is how we know it was a domestic animal. The dog was probably captured near a human camp. The hyenas then carried its body into a cave, where they tore it apart.

Now, these hyenas were in the same basic area where the people who became the Native Americans originally lived before they crossed the Bering Land Bridge. The stories of dog killing hyenas could have survived in the folklore of Native Americans through the generations. The description of the shunka warak’in’s leg lengths sound very much like that of a hyena.

Now, these two animals in the folklore are probably not dire wolves, but I have found one animal that sounds a bit like a dire wolf. The Ontario giant wolf is a described as a big, heavily built wolf that supposedly lives or lived around the Great Lakes region. However, it was a white animal. I don’t know whether the dire wolf was a white animal or not. However, a northern race of this animal could have evolved a white pelt.

However, it could also be that the Ontario white wolf was an Arctic wolf that wandered south after dispersing from its natal pack. Wolves have been know to travel up to 1,000 miles from their natal packs to start their own. The wolves of the High Arctic are big wolves, almost as large as the occidentalis subspecies. They are of a heavier built than the Eastern North American wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) and the Great Plains wolf  (Canis lupus nublius), which are native to the region. If you were used to seeing these smaller races of wolf, encountering one of those big white wolves would be a shock. If you didn’t know they were the same species, then it is possible that you could think of them as some sort of giant wolf.

To be honest, I have not seen any accounts of large anomalous canids in North America that cannot be explained as subpecies of the common wolf, coyotes, hybrids between coyotes and wolves, or hybrids between dogs and wolves or dogs and coyotes. I think people fundamentally do not understand that wolves are very diverse species. If you think about it, domestic dogs are the result taking wolves and breeding them into every exaggerated shape imaginable. These exaggerations come from a species that has wide variations in its appearance in the wild. The biggest wolf on record was the aforementioned occidentalis specimen. The smallest was the extinct shamanu (C.l. hodophilax) of Japan, which was often as small as 15 pounds.

Further, coyotes also vary in appearance. There are black ones, red ones, gray ones, and even white ones. The biggest coyotes are nearly wolf-sized, weighing as much as 60 or 70 pounds. These are found in Eastern North America. The smallest coyotes are shamanu-sized creatures that live in Central America as far south as Panama.

Now, as I’ve said before some of the variation in wolves and coyotes comes from interbreeding with domestic dogs. Black coloration in North American and Italian wolves and in coyotes is now believed to come from interbreeding with domestic dogs. The gene that causes the black color evolved first in domestic dog populations. Wolves in Italy were discovered to have dewclaws on their hind legs. No other wolves had this feature. However, domestic dogs sometimes do have these dewclaws. When it was determined that this feature also evolved first in domestic dogs, scientists are now using the existence of these hind dewclaws as diagnostic feature of hybridization.  The wolf researcher Adolph Murie speculated that the wide variation that existed in Alaskan wolves came from hybridization with domestic dogs.   It is also likely that the Beasts of Gevaudan was a Dogue de Bordeaux or other mastiff-type crossed with a wolves. So when an unsual “wolf” is seen, one cannot discount the possibility that Fido might have had something to do with it.

As much as I would love for dire wolves to still exist in some form, I don’t seen any convincing evidence to suggest that they do. Their genes could exist in some population of modern wolves or maybe even coyotes, but those genes have not been found.  (If someone could locate a pristine stample of dire wolf DNA, we could find answers to some of these questions).

There are interesing issues with classifying the genus Canis. The interfertility among most of the animals in that genus is but one of them. The other is that Canis lupus is historically a genetically diverse species. A study of the remains dogs and wolves from caves in Belgium suggests that the ancestral Canis lupus population was extremely genetically diverse. This means that modern wolf populations could have very unique genetics and still be of the same Canis lupus species.

This former genetic diversity is further added when some wolves were found in the Alaska permafrost. They resembled large modern wolves of the occidentalis subspecies, although they were quite bit more robust in appearance. When the jaw structures were examined, the wolves were found to have much more powerful jaws than any known population of wolves. Because this find was in Alaska, the animals were known not to be dire wolves. However, these wolves had such powerful builds and jaw that it is believed that they were capable of killing mammoth, even though they looked very much like modern wolves. When their DNA was sequenced, their DNA sequence that was found to match any extant wolf populations. What the scientists had found was a specialized population of wolves that evolved to hunt large prey species.  Where these bone crushing wolves fit into the natural history of wolves is a very good question. Because these wolves lived 12,000 years ago, it is possible that one or two of these wolves lived into historic times. It’s also likely that the memory of wolves like this worked its way into Native American folklore and added to the stories about the waheela and shunka warak’in. Further, we know that wolves have the ability to evolve into rather robust forms, which could also be augmented with hybridization with massive domestic dogs.

The theory that the dire wolf still exists in some form sounds appealing. However, it is very unlikely. Instead,  we have something even more amazing. It is this remarkable elasticity exhibited by wild dog to evolve into different shapes to exploit new niches in the ecosystem. This elasticity has been used in our selective breeding of domestic dogs to produce all manner of exotic shapes, some of which are now quite deleterious to the health of the dog. However, in the wild, this elasticity allowed the ancestral Canis to evolve into the little pot-licking black-backed jackals of Eastern and Southern Africa that evolved to snatch morsels of meat from the kills of the great carnivores, and this elasticity has allowed for the dire wolf to evolve into a predator that preyed on the megafauna, the equivalent of the lions and hyenas from which the black-backed jackal scavenges.

This elasticity is believed to come from tandem repeats in the dog’s DNA sequence. This genetic eccentricity has been as useful to dogs as our tool use and innovation has been to us. Dogs can simply evolve into new forms rather quickly. However, it also allows humans to totally mess up the domestic dog’s body structure, producing forms that are very unhealthy.

So it is unlikely that these mystery dogs of North America are extant dire wolves. I wish they were. I would love it if such unusual wolves still lived here. I do hold  the possibility that their genes could be found in some North American wolf population, but I don’t think it is very likely. I think it is more likely that the unusual wolves found in Alaska might have some descendants in a population of modern wolves that have not had their DNA sequenced. I don’t have much hope for the dire wolf, even if one population could have survived 4,000 years ago.

Because if they still were around, we could write a heck of a Jack London novel about them!

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One of my favorite little things people do on these reports is they never give you any scale. The original press reports about the animal said it was 3 feet long. That’s about how big a raccoon is. This particular raccoon was fatter than the original one, and its skin was much more decomposed. The original animal was most likely a juvenile. In August, young raccoons begin to disperse from their natal territories, and many of them die within their first year of life.

This new decomposing raccoon is fat. In the winter months raccoons put on the pounds to keep warm and to have reserves in case of hard times. However, a raccoon living in the region where this beast was found would never experience hard times.  It would have plenty of easy to access food all the time. We humans leave more than enough things for raccoons to eat, and some people even feed them, which is a very good way to create a colony of nasty nuisance raccoons. Keep in mind that a raccoon can kill a small dog or cat, and they are more than capable of seriously injuring people or larger dogs. And they are a vector for rabies, which could easily reach epidemic proportions again in New York State.

Now, if you think that either of these animals are anything more than decomposing raccoons, I’m sorry, you’re just wrong.

This animal most likely doesn’t have anything to do with the swine flu, biological warfare, or other government conspiracies. The government might be interested in controlling raccoon numbers. After all, I don’t think there are too many people on Long Island with coonhounds.

I mean we all love conspiracy theories, and nobody trusts the US government.

In doing some research on the Montauk Monster, some “naturalist” said that the original couldn’t a raccoon. The legs were too long.

That’s nonsense. Raccoons have rather long legs– especially young ones. They can easily outrun a person or even a hard-running coonhound. Further, North American raccoons get rather shaggy, and this long hair covers up their physique. Juveniles that haven’t spent the winter gorging on garbage and those dear poor country ‘coons that have to hunt for their own food have much lighter frames.

However, if you look at the Second Montauk Monster, you can see that this is definitely a fat raccoon. The descripting of the digits on its front paws are exactly we would expect from a raccoon. Raccoons have “fingers.” In fact, I can take to some mud puddles right now that have what look like baby hand prints with long claws on them. Those are the tracks of a raccoon’s front paws. The raccoons use those front paws to catch things like tad poles, frogs, and crayfish. Their digits are rather sensitive and can feel the prey

I can’t believe that so many “experts” can’t figure this out.

Here’s the photo of the original second animal. It is only 3 feet long, and it has a tail.

The skull is really what gives it away. Look at the dentition. The first three top and bottom premolars are exactly the same as this raccoon skull.

Now, dogs have carnassial teeth and premolars that are the same shape, but they are spaced rather differently. And in a dog like a boxer, the carnassials and premolars are don’t line up at all. That’s why neither Montauk Monster was a brachycephalic dog. A brachycephalic dog will have very unusual spacing with its teeth, not near perfect alignment. The spposed misaligned jaw in the first monster does not correspond with a boxer or bulldog’s jaw structure. Typically, the lower jaw juts too far foward in these dogs. When dogs have the upper jaw jutting forward it is usually in doliocephalic breed, like a greyhound, rough collie, or a borzoi.

It is also probably not a cat. The carnassials of a cat are much more robust than that of any dog or raccoon. Even a small cat has relatively large carnassials.

To me, the skull is the dead diagnostic feature that says this animal, like the last one was nothing more than a decomposing raccoon.

Whether it has anything to do with the “swine flu”– well, I think the Montauk Monster probably had more to do with the JFK assassination than the swine flu.

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The animal is reported to be a mountain lion/cougar/puma (all the same animal) living in Roane County, WV. The photo was taken in an area of the county in which several people claim to have seen the “fell beast.”

However, the photo is so grainy that we really can’t tell much. All we have is an image of animal slinking through the undergrowth. We have no scale on which to judge this specimen’s size.

I don’t think this particular animal is Puma concolor.

It is probably one of two common species that aren’t often seen, even by experienced woodsmen.

It is hard to discern the shape of the head, but I think it looks a bit doglike.

However, the length of the tail is also quite hard to discern.

I am thinking that this is a longer-tailed animal with a dog-like face.  In which case, the animal we’re looking at is the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Gray foxes are interesting animals in that they do have a cat-like body and move with the sleek motion of a small cat. In fact, some Latin American countries call these animals “mountain cats” or “deer cats.” They often shed out a lot of their coat in the summer months, exposing a kind of tawny or grayish undercoat.

Like this one:


Or this one:


And if you saw this one going through the undergrowth, in an instant you’d shout “mountain lion!”


These are all gray foxes. In the summer months, some individuals shed almost their entire coats. In this phase, they are called “Samson foxes”– because they lose a lot of their hair.

Gray foxes also have lots of black on the top of their tails. They have an ability to raise the  black hair on their tails whenever they feel threatened, just the same way that dogs raise their hackles.

Now, it could also be a “cross fox,” which is a color phase of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva). Cross foxes do occur in the wild in West Virginia, but they are quite rare. This form is an intermediate between the normal red fox and the melanistic and silver forms. However, this particular animal has now white on the tip of its tail, which is the main identifying mark for the red fox.

However, if this specimen’s tail is short, then we do have a feline that could easily fit the bill.

The smallest species of lynx lives in these woods. The bobcat or red lynx (Lynx rufus). In this part of the world, it is not unsual to see a grayish bobcats with very faint spots.


Now, why do I not jump onto the puma/cougar/mountain lion bandwagon?

I do think it’s possible for a small remnant population of cougar to still live in West Virginia. West Virginia is rugged terrain, and it has large areas without large-scale settlement. My guess is that if one is going to be found in West Virginia, though, there are far more remote areas than this place, which isn’t that far from both Parkersburg and Charleston. My guess is that one would turn up in the Monogahela National Forest or some other area in the High Alleghenies, not in the foothill.

My own amateur zoologist’s opinion is that this animal is a Samson gray fox.

Just so you can get an idea of how gray foxes move, I am posting this video of a Jack Russell, which were bred to bolt foxes(!) and an imprinted gray fox:


You can see how a gray fox can be mistaken for a cat, and there is a reason why they move so much like cats.

You see, gray foxes retain an interesting behavior that was once common among primitive wild dogs. Gray foxes are not bound to a terrestrial existence. They can still climb trees. They share this trait with the raccoon dog and their close cousin, the island fox of the Channel Islands.


So what do you think?

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