Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Indian wolf’

This is now playing on Netflix:

These wolves really do remind me of coyotes, right down to their consumption of fruit when it’s available.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Indian or Iranian wolf.

Read Full Post »

One of the most difficult things I’ve found to write about is the wolf subspecies Canis lupus pallipes. Some erroneously believe that this refers only to the Indian wolf, which has been proposed to be a separate species.

No.

The pallipes wolf is the wolf subspecies that ranges from the Levant to (at least) northern India. It is the larger of the two wolf subspecies native to the Middle East and is one of the likely ancestors of domestic dog.

However, there are some wolves native to the Indian subcontinent that have been found to have a very old mtDNA sequence, which has, of course, led to some speculation as to whether these might be a separate species called Canis indica.  Canis indica wolves would have been part of the pallipes subspecies, but I still don’t think it’s clear that they are separate species at all. These wolves are not morphologically distinct from other Indian pallipes, and they don’t behave differently from them either.

Keep in mind that mtDNA is just inherited maternally, and we already have a good example of a population of a species in the genus Canis in which wide variances in mtDNA occur. The  some populations of East African black-backed jackal have individuals in them that have as much as 8 percent variance within their mtDNA sequences, which is much more than the variance between the proposed Canis indica and other wolves. But no serious scholar suggests that these black-backed jackals represent separate species.

Further, no nuclear DNA studies have found any unique characteristics within Indian wolves. However, most of the studies that look at Indian wolves look at wolves from India, which may not necessarily refer to wolves with this old mtDNA sequence.  These studies have always show that Indian wolves are very closely related to those of the Middle East, which is exactly what we would expect.

And without these corroborating nuclear DNA studies, I am very skeptical that the Indian wolf truly represents a unique species. It may be that within some Indian populations of pallipes, some of the old matrilines within the wolf species have survived. That is an is in itself an interesting find, but that is all that this finding suggests. One cannot automatically assume that the discovery of this old matriline is indicative of a new wolf species, and the same goes for the unique and old matriline that was discovered in the Himalayan wolf.

The truth is that old wolf matrilines have been discovered in India and the Himalayas, and they were also recently discovered in what were once thought to be African golden jackals.  Although no nuclear DNA studies have been performed on these newly discovered “wolves,”  it is likely that these animals also are part of Canis lupus.  It would be very unusual for a hybrid origin for these “African wolves,” because if they were hybrids between golden jackals and smaller wolves that were early off-shoots of Canis lupus, they would have golden jackal mtDNA, not wolf mtDNA. It seems unlikely that female wolves would pair off with golden jackals. I don’t think anyone has ever produced evidence of golden jackals and wolves hybridizing in the wild, although pariah dogs and jackals do occasionally cross, usually from a pairing of a male dog and a bitch jackal.  Such hybrids, however, would have golden jackal mtDNA, so so one might assume that if any wild wolf/jackal hybrids ever existed, they would have jackal mtDNA.

We still need a nuclear DNA analysis of these wolves, and those of the propose Himalayan and Indian subspecies to have a clear answer.

Because of these issues, we cannot use mtDNA alone to determine species status. MtDNA just traces maternal lineages, and it is fraught with errors.  Recently, it was determined that African savanna and forest elephants are much more genetically distinct than had ever been assumed.  The original studies on African elephant mtDNA found that they split about 3 million years ago. However, a recent nuclear DNA analysis found that they actually split apart as early as 6.7 million years ago, which is about the same time that Asian elephants and woolly mammoths diverged.

So when one reads of a new species being discovered through an analysis of mtDNA, it is important to remain skeptical.

For these reasons, I do not consider the Indian wolf to be a unique species– and the same goes for the African and Himalayan wolves.

We need nuclear DNA studies before we start splitting up species.  It is just too easy to be in error using mtDNA studies, even though mtDNA is much easier to use, much easier to sequence, and much less resistant to mutation.

Mitochondrial DNA is just a part of the genome, and what analyses of it actually prove are far more narrow in scope than is often understood.

Nuclear DNA studies are much harder to perform, but they are necessary before we start divining new species from those that have long been classified.

 

Read Full Post »

Remember when I threw a small fit when I came across this site that claimed all the genetic evidence pointed to the coyote as the ancestor of the domestic dog?  Actually, all the genetic evidence thus far has clearly pointed to the simple reality that not only are dogs descended from the wolf (Canis lupus) and has pointed to the Middle Eastern subspecies as the main genetic stock from which all dogs are derived. This evidence also suggests that domestic dogs are a form of Canis lupus, not a unique species or derived from some other canid– be it living, dead, or imagined.

Well, here’s another dubious and poorly thought out theory about the origins of a certain breed of dog. This site claims that the basenji, which is actually very closely related to these ancestral Middle Eastern wolves, is derived from the Ethiopian wolf.

Let me show you where that is wrong:

I know that the Ethiopian wolf was once claimed to have been an African offshoot of Canis lupus. Later genomic analysis found that the Ethiopian wolf is more distantly related to the dog and wolf species than the golden jackal and the coyote. Some golden jackals, it has more recently been revealed, are actually part of the wolf and dog species. These particular wolves have not been compared to the other wolf and dog subspecies using a genome-wide analysis, but my guess is that these “African wolves” (Canis lupus lupaster) are probably closely related to the Arabian wolves and domestic dogs. These wolves do have unique mitochondrial DNA sequences, as do some Indian pallipes and Himalayan chanco wolves, but these might all prove to be much more closely related to dogs and the other Middle Eastern and South Asian wolves than the the mitochondrial DNA analysis would suggest.

However, there is no evidence that any dog is derived from the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis). They do hybridize with dogs and produce fertile offspring, but all of the studies on hybridization have been on the dog contribution to Ethiopian wolves. It is possible that some dogs in the Ethiopian Highlands have some contribution from Ethiopian wolf, but it is a stretch to make the claim that the basenji of  rainforests of Central Africa has anything to do with the Ethiopian wolves living in the harsh alpine country of Ethiopia.

If you want to make things very confusing, some of the newly discovered African wolves are from Ethiopia, but it is not accurate to call them Ethiopian wolves.

Canis lupus lupaster ≠ Canis simensis

And neither have been found to be ancestral to Canis lupus familiaris, which is mostly derived from Canis lupus arabs and Canis lupus pallipes.

***

This site also make a claim that black-backed jackals crossed with basenjis, too.

The only thing I need to do with that one is laugh.

Black backed jackals, let me repeat, cannot interbreed with domestic dogs.

Golden jackals, yes. Golden jackals are much more closely related to the wolf and dog species than they are to anything else that is commonly referred to as a jackal.

See where they are on the dog family phylogenetic tree pictured above? African wild dogs and dholes are actualy more closely related to wolves and dogs than black- backed jackals are.   And no hybrids between the dog and wolf species and these two canids has ever been produced, even though they should be placed in the genus Canis.  If black-backed and side-striped jackals belong in the genus Canis, then dholes and African wild dogs clearly do.

Black-backed jackals are actually the oldest extant species in the genus Canis. And no one has found that black-backed or side-striped jackals, which are found only in Sub-Saharan Africa have ever crossbred with dogs. Although many prick-eared dogs have been claimed to be part black-backed jackal, not a single hybrid has been produced so that a DNA sample could be taken.

My guess is that these hybrids simply don’t exist.

Read Full Post »

dingo wolf dad

Now, what I am about to mention is something now widely considered in the discussion about dogs and wolves.

The common assertion is that dogs are not wolves because when dogs go feral, they don’t become the large, big game hunting wolves that we all know from nature documentaries and zoos. I’ve always found this argument to be rather faulty for reasons I shall explain.

I submit that the reason why dogs don’t become wolves is because it is far easier to scavenge off of people than return to their ancestral lupine form in terms of phenotype and behavior.

We do, however, have an example of a domesticated dog reverting back to a wolf form. However, the form it returned to is more of one of the subtropical races of wolf, rather than moose and elk-hunting wolves from the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. No dog has ever returned to that particular form, simply because in all cultures in the northern part of  Northern Hemisphere there are both garbage dumps and a cultural tradition of dog keeping (and I use that term very loosely). Both of these features make it easier for dogs to remain dogs.

The dog I am talking about is the dingo. The dingo is sometimes considered its own subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus dingo). However, it actually descends from East Asian pariah dogs that came to Australia 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, pariah dogs in Southern Asia looked a lot like pariah dogs do now. They  probably had floppy ears and curled tails. They were like the pariah dogs we find throughout the Third World. They are the pot lickers and primitive sanitation engineers of these societies. A few are used as hunters, especially in New Guinea, and a few are used as livestock guardian dogs (like the ones in the Ethiopian wolf video I posted yesterday).

The pariah dogs arrived in Australia through trade from Indonesia.

The native peoples of Australia did keep the dingoes as pets, but every account I’ve read of them, the dingoes were not fed. They had to go hunting on their own.  Not all bands of Australian natives were interested in them, and as the dogs spread through the continent, they became more and more wolf-like.

In fact, I’ll submit that a dingo is a domestic dog that became a wolf.

They do form packs and hunt on their own. They pair bond, and the males help their mates care for their young.  Most feral domestic dogs don’t do these things. However, there have been cases of some pariah dog males helping bitches rear their litters.

For generations, Indonesian dogs arrived in Australia, where they were absorbed into the dingo population.

I find it very interesting that the original theory about the dingoes derived from the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). However, we know that Indian wolves are rather unique genetically, and they probably had no role in the development of the domestic dog.

It is also a bit bigger than the typical dingo, weighing as much as 70 pounds. Most dingoes are around the 30 to 40 pound range. (The given weights on US dog sites insanely over-estimate the dingo’s size).

However, there is a wolf subspecies that does aproach this size and conformation, and what’s more is that it evolved for a similar arid environment.

This subspecies is, of course, the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs). It stands about three inches taller at the shoulder than the tallest dingoes, but in terms of head and body size, it is very similar to the dingo of Australia.

Arabian wolf

It is because of the similarities between dingoes and Arabian wolves that I think we can make that the case that this is a good example of a pariah dog evolving back to a wolfish form.

It punches a large hole in the argument that feral dogs never become like wolves. They become like wolves when they are forced to hunt for a living.

I have never understood why we assume that all wolves are like the ones from Northern Eurasia and Northern North America. Those may be the most numerous wolves, and they may have played a role in the development of the domestic dog through the ages.

But not all wolves are of this type. The subspecies that are subtropical in origin, like the red wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Arabian wolf are all smaller animals, with slighter bodies and smaller heads.  (The red wolf may be a separate species, but no one has convinced me yet.)

The only way to test my hypothesis is to get rid of humans. If  humans were to disappear from the Northern Hemisphere, I think we could see the gradual evolution of domestic dogs toward a big game hunting wolf phenotype and behavior. Just like the Asian pariah dogs in Australia had to become wolves to survive in the bush,  domestic dogs would have to become wolves to live without us.

The old saying is that “Dogs make us human.”

Well, the corollary is that humans keep dogs in their dog-like form. Without our waste or  our dog-keeping cultures, dogs have no reason to remain as dogs. Without us, the niche that dogs fill no longer exists, and the organism is better off becoming a wolf.

And the dingo is a dog that became wolf for precisely that reason. Hunter-gatherers may have liked them,  but they didn’t have the conditions that allowed them to live as dogs. Those dogs had to hunt for a living.

And that’s why I still consider the dog to be subspecies of Canis lupus,  which is in keeping with the tradition of classifying domestic animals with their wild forebears.

Read Full Post »

dingo wolf dad

Now, what I am about to mention is something not widely considered in the discussion about dogs and wolves.

The common assertion is that dogs are not wolves because when dogs go feral, they don’t become the large, big game hunting wolves that we all know from nature documentaries and zoos. I’ve always found this argument to be rather faulty for reasons I shall explain.

I submit that the reason why dogs don’t become wolves is because it is far easier to scavenge off of people than return to their ancestral lupine form in terms of phenotype and behavior.

We do, however, have an example of a domesticated dog reverting back to a wolf form. However, the form it returned to is more of one of the subtropical races of wolf, rather than moose and elk-hunting wolves from the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. No dog has ever returned to that particular form, simply because in all cultures in the northern part of  Northern Hemisphere there are both garbage dumps and a cultural tradition of dog keeping (and I use that term very loosely). Both of these features make it easier for dogs to remain dogs.

The dog I am talking about is the dingo. The dingo is sometimes considered its own subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus dingo). However, it actually descends from East Asian pariah dogs that came to Australia 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, pariah dogs in Southern Asia looked a lot like pariah dogs do now. They  probably had floppy ears and curled tails. They were like the pariah dogs we find throughout the Third World. They are the pot lickers and primitive sanitation engineers of these societies. A few are used as hunters, especially in New Guinea, and a few are used as livestock guardian dogs (like the ones in the Ethiopian wolf video I posted yesterday).

The pariah dogs arrived in Australia through trade from Indonesia.

The native peoples of Australia did keep the dingoes as pets, but every account I’ve read of them, the dingoes were not fed. They had to go hunting on their own.  Not all bands of Australian natives were interested in them, and as the dogs spread through the continent, they became more and more wolf-like.

In fact, I’ll submit that a dingo is a domestic dog that became a wolf.

They do form packs and hunt on their own. They pair bond, and the males help their mates care for their young.  Most feral domestic dogs don’t do these things. However, there have been cases of some pariah dog males helping bitches rear their litters.

For generations, Indonesian dogs arrived in Australia, where they were absorbed into the dingo population.

I find it very interesting that the original theory about the dingoes derived from the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). However, we know that Indian wolves are rather unique genetically, and they probably had no role in the development of the domestic dog.

It is also a bit bigger than the typical dingo, weighing as much as 70 pounds. Most dingoes are around the 30 to 40 pound range. (The given weights on US dog sites insanely over-estimate the dingo’s size).

However, there is a wolf subspecies that does aproach this size and conformation, and what’s more is that it evolved for a similar arid environment.

This subspecies is, of course, the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs). It stands about three inches taller at the shoulder than the tallest dingoes, but in terms of head and body size, it is very similar to the dingo of Australia.

Arabian wolf

It is because of the similarities between dingoes and Arabian wolves that I think we can make that the case that this is a good example of a pariah dog evolving back to a wolfish form.

It punches a large hole in the argument that feral dogs never become like wolves. They become like wolves when they are forced to hunt for a living.

I have never understood why we assume that all wolves are like the ones from Northern Eurasia and Northern North America. Those may be the most numerous wolves, and they may have played a role in the development of the domestic dog through the ages.

But not all wolves are of this type. The subspecies that are subtropical in origin, like the red wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Arabian wolf are all smaller animals, with slighter bodies and smaller heads.  (The red wolf may be a separate species, but no one has convinced me yet.)

The only way to test my hypothesis is to get rid of humans. If  humans were to disappear from the Northern Hemisphere, I think we could see the gradual evolution of domestic dogs toward a big game hunting wolf phenotype and behavior. Just like the Asian pariah dogs in Australia had to become wolves to survive in the bush,  domestic dogs would have to become wolves to live without us.

The old saying is that “Dogs make us human.”

Well, the corollary is that humans keep dogs in their dog-like form. Without our waste or  our dog-keeping cultures, dogs have no reason to remain as dogs. Without us, the niche that dogs fill no longer exists, and the organism is better off becoming a wolf.

And the dingo is a dog that became wolf for precisely that reason. Hunter-gatherers may have liked them,  but they didn’t have the conditions that allowed them to live as dogs. Those dogs had to hunt for a living.

And that’s why I still consider the dog to be subspecies of Canis lupus,  which is in keeping with the tradition of classifying domestic animals with their wild forebears.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: