A Beautifully Preserved 18,000-year-old Dog or Wolf Puppy

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My Labrador Retriever

Dogs have been important in my life for as long as I can remember. With suitable training, the animals can become loved and even important members of the family.  They are attuned to our way of life, as shown by their ability to act as service, search, and herding animals. They belong to the family Canidae, which also includes wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and other animals. I find the evolutionary history of dogs very interesting to study. Scientists have recently announced the discovery of an 18,000-year-old dog or wolf puppy beautifully preserved in permafrost. The animal may enable us to better understand how dogs evolved.

Researchers found the puppy in Siberia in 2018. They’ve recently reported the discovery and described some of the things that they’ve learned about the animal. Its body is in amazing condition, especially in the front section. Some areas of the body look a little damaged in the photos that I’ve seen, but the head is so well preserved that it looks as though the animal is sleeping. Further tests are needed in order to identify whether the puppy is a dog or a wolf. Scientists have already discovered that he’s a male and that he died when he was around two months old.

Dogorone

Two of the photos in this article that show the puppy are screenshots from the Centre for Palaeogenetics’ Twitter account. Scientists in the organization are investigating the animal in cooperation with Russian researchers. The Centre for Palaeogenetics is based in Sweden, but scientists from multiple nations are associated with the organization. The original photos of the preserved animal were taken by Sergey Fedorov and published in The Siberian Times.

The researchers have named the animal Dogor. The word means “friend” in the Yakutian language. (The puppy was found near Yakutsk in eastern Siberia.) To English speakers, the name may sound as though it has a different meaning because the puppy is a “dog or” wolf.

Dogortwo

Dogor’s body was preserved in permafrost. According to NASA, permafrost is ground that stays completely frozen for at least two successive years. If a dead animal quickly becomes surrounded by sediments that freeze and if the sediments remain frozen without being disturbed (until we find the animal’s remains), they can prevent a body from decaying.

Siberia contains a lot of permafrost and is an interesting and productive place for scientists to explore. The site where Dogor was found has produced many mammoth remains. The discovery of the puppy is exciting. His eyelashes, nose, teeth, and whiskers are still intact. It’s amazing to think that he lived 18,000 year ago when part of his body is in such good condition.

Presumably the scientists are preserving Dogor’s body carefully even as they do their research. According to The Washington Post, the puppy left the ground as a “lump of soil and ice”, as shown in the Twitter screenshot below. Sergey Fedorov is a scientist as well as a photographer. He works at the Mammoth Museum at the North-Eastern Federal University in Russia. Fedorov told the newspaper that he “carefully cleaned off dirt and debris” to get a better view of Dogor.

The fact that the puppy’s lower lip could be pulled back to reveal his teeth (as shown in the photo above) indicates that his body was at least partially defrosted at one point. This was probably essential in order to do certain tests on the body. Hopefully Dogor’s body is now protected from decay.

Frozen puppy

The puppy’s body is still in Russia, but one of his ribs was sent to Sweden to be tested. Part of his ribcage and spine were apparently exposed before he was discovered, so his body was damaged at some point. The researchers note that the puppy’s body was found in a relaxed pose, however, which implies that he had a relatively gentle death. He may be an example of a late Pleistocene wolf, an early modern wolf, an early dog, or a close relative of these animals. The Pleistocene epoch is often referred to as “the ice age”. As in dogs, young wolf cubs have more rounded faces than the older animals.

One of the researchers says that it’s normally easy to distinguish a dog from a wolf by genetic tests. He also says that the fact that genetic analysis hasn’t yet given a clear picture of Dogor’s identity suggests that the puppy might have been a member of a group that gave rise to both wolves and dogs. The researchers intend to perform further analysis in an attempt to discover more about Dogor.

Wolf north america (2)

A North American wolf (public domain image)

The scientific name of the wolf is Canis lupus. In coastal British Columbia, where I live, the subspecies is Canis lupus columbianus. The dog is sometimes referred to as Canis familiaris. Many researchers consider the domestic dog to be a subspecies of the wolf, however, and give it the name Canis lupus familiaris. People may not think that their pet dog looks much like a wolf. The wide variety of dogs existing today is due to relatively recent human breeding of the animal instead of natural selection.

The time period when dogs developed from wolves is still uncertain. It’s thought to be somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, which is a long period of time. It would be good to determine a narrower time range if this is possible.  Some researchers have made more specific claims about the time when the first dogs appeared, but some of these claims have been controversial.

It sounds like it may be challenging to determine where Dogor fits into canine history. The results of the research could be very interesting, though. Thankfully, one of the researchers has said that the scientists want to do a lot more work in respect to learning about Dogor and his significance. I’m looking forward to reading about their discoveries.

References

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