Archive for August, 2010

This female wolf has made a living for herself in Brașov, Romania– a major urban center.


I post this video to tear apart this poorly considered theory, which holds that domestic dog isn’t derived from the wolf.

The crux of that theory is that wolves cannot live near humans without causing trouble.

And while wolves can and do cause problems, not all of them do– as this wolf clearly demonstrates.

As for the genetic “evidence” in that theory, we have a very poor picture of the genetics of ancient wolf populations. Many ancient wolves have been found to have totally unique MtDNA haplotypes. The Alaskan bone crushers and the wolves that lived in Europe 30,000 to 40,000 years ago had unique MtDNA haplotypes that have not been found in living wolf populations.

That could explain why there is such a gap between dog and wolf MtDNA sequences.

However, the piece doesn’t discuss how big the differences are.

Wolf and dog MtDNA haplotypes vary at most by 0.2 percent.

Genome-wide studies have found that dogs and wolves are very closely related.   (See page 13.)

Knowing what I know abut wild canid behavior, it would make more sense that the dhole would have been the ancestor of the domestic dog. It is more socially tolerant than wolves are. In fact, it is not unusual for pariah dogs to run with packs of dholes.

But the dhole cannot hybridize with the dog.

The wolf can, and wolfdogs are quite fertile.

Wolf can and do attack people, but it’s not like this is a universal trait. To say that we couldn’t domesticate the wolf because some wolves consider us prey is a bit laughable. The truth is that wolves are intelligent animals that vary in their temperament and life experience. Some wolves may decide that people are prey. Others may decide to scavenge off of us.

With wolves, the worst thing we can do is try to make broad generalizations about them. So much of their behavior is learned that what may be true for one wolf or one population of wolves may simply not be true for others.

Dogs are derived from wolves that learned to work together and live with humans. They not derived from some unknown mystery canid that has yet to be identified.

We do not know the exact ancestor of the domestic sheep. We also don’t know one of the ancestors of the domestic donkey.

But we do know where dogs came from.

This alternative theory is full of gaps. Every claim in it can easily be refuted. The fact that is presented as if there is a great conspiracy theory to claim that dogs are wolves makes it even more annoying.

You may not consider dogs to be the same species as the wolf, but it is pretty clear that dogs was derived from ancient wolves.

It’s that simple.

The overwhelming evidence in the form of genetics, archeology, and animal behavior suggests that the wolf is the dog’s ancestor.

Not a conspiracy theory at all.

It’s a reality theory.

And in science, to refute such overwhelming evidence requires an extraordinary amount of proof that this evidence is wrong.

I’ve not seen it here.

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I had hamster called the Black-eyed Bitch, because she was a black-eyed cream- -just like the hamster in the photo above.

And she would bite, even when she was “tamed” she would bite.

Golden hamsters bite. I’ve never known one not to try it.

But I’m being told that there are hamster strains now that have been rigorously selected for benign temperament.

I could have used those back when I decided to become a hamster farmer.

It was one of those childhood flights of fancy.


I break with convention here and still call Mesocricetus auratus “the golden hamster.”  The trend is to call them Syrian hamsters.

However, the scientific name actually means “Golden mid-sized hamster.”

So I’m going to call them golden hamsters, even if the vast majority of captive hamsters in that species come in lots of different colors.

The wild-type coloration lovely golden brown:


I know lots about the behavior of this species.

One thing that always fascinated me was the little scent glands on the hips of a male hamster.

Right above the hips there are these little glands that produce a secretion that he rubs against his cage (or, in the wild, his burrow) to leave a scent.

On a wild-type hamster, he actually bleaches out the fur that grows above those glands.

If he smells a female hamster in season, he goes into marking with those glands big time.

Hamsters communicate by scent. That’s because they live solitary lives in the wild, and their home ranges tend to be quite large for such a small species. If a male and female meet and she’s not in season, they will fight. The female is usually much larger than the male, and she can kill him.

So when the female hamster comes in season, she  produces an odor that even humans can detect. (I know I can.)

When the male hamster smells that odor, he will travel several miles to meet her.

Using such  strong chemical communication is quite useful for this unusually solitary species.

The signal acts as a kind of green light for the male. Otherwise, he’d be risking a lot to come into a female’s range when she’s not receptive.

Captive hamster breeders don’t have to recognize the smell. Just putting your hand on the female is enough to make her assume the position.

And because the female cycles every four days, it is easy to figure out when to put the female in the male’s cage.

The gestation period is only 16 days– the shortest of all placental mammals.

The females tend to have rather large litters, and it’s also not unusual for a female to eat a few of her babies. Even ensuring that the female has enough protein in her normal diet isn’t enough to stop all cannibalism.

These animals are very different from dogs. If they weren’t so cute, I seriously doubt that anyone would have considered them as children’s pets.

They were originally domesticated from a single litter that was captured near Aleppo. A zoologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem named Israel Aharoni captured this litter in 1930. It is from this litter that all domestic hamsters in the US descend.

They were bred to be laboratory animals.

That’s all they were meant to be.

A colony was established in Britain in the 1930’s.  These all were then put in the hands of private breeders, who began producing them as pets.

A cute hamster is something that can be easily be marketed to children.

However, keep in mind that these animals are nocturnal. I have seen a few that have been conditioned to be diurnal. You can actually buy them at Harrods.

However, as nocturnal animals, you really don’t get much opportunity to interact with them.

And they really don’t have social behavior.

I don’t believe for a second that a hamster can actually bond to you.

They may associate your scent with food, and that’s about it.

I had one that escaped that actually came out from behind the wall to me. I thought this was very cool, but I now realize that it was only because I gave him hamster yogurt treats that he came calling from his hiding place.

Hamsters are bad about escaping. Very bad. You have to check the locks and hatches on their cages every time you put them back. Or they’ll flee captivity.

Good names for golden hamsters are Papillon (Henri Charrière) and Houdini. I had about four named Houdini.

I would hardly call them ideal children’s pets.

But they are an interesting animal to get to know.

I think they might be better marketed to busy adults who really want a much more independent animal.

They really don’t require that much care.

And because they are so emotionally different from us, they are kind of like sharing space with an alien life form– one with an entirely different set of instincts, drives, and perceptions.

I didn’t appreciate those differences when I had them as child.

I don’t think many children can.

But if you really want to be with an animal very different from humans, I can’t think of a better choice.

They are just different.

And that makes them fascinating.

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The “Labrador” jumping from the boat isn’t a Labrador.


There are two interesting aspects of this clip.

The first of these is I see no Newfoundlands.

I thought Newfoundlands made up the mainstay of these working dogs.

All I see in this clip are Labrador and golden retrievers.

The other interesting thing is they are actually doing something working (or at least trial and test) retrievers aren’t encouraged to do.

They are encouraged to find the shortest, most efficient route to the object.

In the North American retriever culture, we want straight lines.

I can’t think of a more fun job for many retrievers than this water rescue work.

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Can you ID it?


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What’s the deal?

Why is it that one of my top search terms is “dry mouth St. Bernard”?

I have written about St. Bernards.

But not dry-mouthed ones.

Are those the ones that don’t drool?

I didn’t think they existed.

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Giant lions

These are not ligers.

These are male lions that have been castrated and fed a lot.


Their caretaker is very well-informed about Jacobsen’s organ.

I know where my vestigial Jacobsen’s organ is located.

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Nothing like this exists today.

And nothing like it has ever existed in this hemisphere.

Extinct Australian megafauna is always fascinating.

With the exception of things like the muskox or the pronghorn, most of our species have been shared with Eurasia.

Australia’s mammals have evolved in isolation, which is why so many truly unique things can be found there.

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Native Afghan hound photos

Jess at Desert Windhounds has post on them here.

These are in Pakistan. The shaggy Afghans are found in both countries.

Yes. They still exist in the mountains of South Asia.

That “classic mountain type” is a nice looking dog.

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The Württemberg pointer was a German gun dog, a derivative of the old Spanish pointer, which still exists today.

These heavier pointers were the first of the index dogs.

The Spanish pointer is most likely the oldest variety.

In fact, although the term “spaniel” is thought to reflect the Spanish origin of those dogs, it is more likely that the pointers were first founded in Spain.

Spaniels most likely derive from red and white hunting dogs of the Gallic Celts.

This dog was replaced by the faster moving Kurzhaar (German short-haired pointer).

The Kurzhaar was also derived from the Spanish pointer.

However, it is a lighter pointer that has evolved into an HPR.

The Kurzhaar is the best-known of the German HPR’s, and the Württemberg pointer no longer exists.

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Most of the dogs in this George Earl painting are (English) pointers. A few English setters and one Irish red setter are in attendance.

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