Scientists have discovered an ancient wolf pup, perfectly preserved in permafrost, in the Yukon. T
This creature dates back to the Ice Age and a gold miner discovered its remains in 2016 near Dawson, Yukon. It was called Zhùr which means wolf in the local indigenous Han language.
The animal, which has been confirmed as a female, appears to have died suddenly when its den collapsed.
The remains contain particularly exceptional details of muscle tissue and allow for an insight into what life looked like in Canada 2.6 million years ago. They are also the oldest wolf ever recorded and may help shed light on animal evolution.
Des Moines University anatomy professor in Iowa, Julie Michin, described the creature: “the most complete wolf mummy that has ever been found.” Ms. Mitch added that the wolf was “100 percent healthy,” saying the only thing missing were her eyes.
The fact that the remains were complete allowed the scientists to “fundamentally reconstruct her life,” the professor said.
The Yukon government paleontologist, Dr. Grant Zazula, described the wolf as “beautiful” and “amazing” and said it had: “nice little feet and a tail and a coiled upper lip showing its teeth.”
Dr. Grant highlights how rare a mummy has been found in the Yukon. For an animal to be embalmed, it must be buried very quickly. The paleontologist explained: “The animal must die in the permafrost site, where the ground freezes all the time, and it must be buried very quickly, like any other fossilization process.”
The longer the dead animal remains exposed, the more likely it is that it will be eaten by predators or begin to decompose.
Ms Mitch attributed the mummification to the fact that the pup died in a lair collapse. “Our data showed that she was not suffering from hunger and she was about seven weeks old, so we feel a little better when we know that the poor little girl did not suffer for a long time,” she added.
At seven months old, the area’s modern gray wolves have only just been weaned from their mother.
This means that by studying the chemicals in the puppy’s hair and teeth, the researchers were able to figure out what the mother would have eaten and it appears that her diet was mostly composed of aquatic foods.
Ms Mitch said they were “surprised” by this finding. “Usually when you think of wolves in the Ice Age, you think that they eat bison or musk ox or other large animals on Earth,” she said.
By analyzing the wolf genome, the scientists also concluded that it is descended from ancient wolves in Russia, Siberia and Alaska, and not the gray wolves of North America.
The discovery of the corpse is thought to be due in part to climate change, which is making the mummies more visible as the permafrost thaws.
Ms. Mitch described the finding as “a small positive side in climate change” but highlighted the fact that “we really need to be careful.”
The remains are currently on display in Canada at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center, Whitehorse.
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