Black Wolves Result Of Long Ago Tryst With Dogs

Between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago wolves bred with their close relative, the dog, who passed on to them the black coat color mutation.  Black wolves are almost exclusively unique to North America.  The black mutation is not present in Europe or Asia, except for a recent Italian hybridized wolf/dog.

Black coats afford some protection for wolves living in forests, offering a form of camouflage but scientists don’t believe that’s the main benefit since camouflage doesn’t really benefit hunting wolves.  Wolves hunt by running down their prey, not by pouncing out of the shadows at them. 

Scientists have hypothesized the black gene may provide wolves a boost to their immune system since the black fur mutation is associated with genes in humans that afford increased immune protection.   It’s all a conundrum that scientists are still trying to sort out.  If the black coat offers wolves increased immune protection, why are most black wolves found in forests and not on the tundra?  Wouldn’t tundra wolves benefit as well?  The science of the black coat is still not settled:

Robert Wayne, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology states: “Apparently, natural selection has increased the frequency of black coat color dramatically in wolf populations across North America,” Wayne said. “It must have adaptive value that we don’t yet understand. It could be camouflage, or strengthening the immune system to combat pathogens, or it could reflect a preference to mate with individuals of a different coat color.”

Aside from sharing coat color, dogs and wolves are very closely related:

Dogs and wolves are so genetically similar their mitochondrial DNA sequence only differs by 0.2%.  In contrast wolves closest wild relative, the coyote, differs by 4% of the mitochondrial DNA sequence. 

Today’s dogs are all descended from a pack of wolves tamed 16,000 years ago on the shores of the Yangtze river, according to new research.”  

Findings in the Journal of Science, point to the existence of probably three founding females the so-called “Eves” of the dog world.

It looks as if 95% of current dogs come from just three original founding females…..Matthew Binns, Animal Health Trust

How sad hunters are now killing the very animal their beloved pet dogs are descended from.  Even more ironic is domestic dogs killed five times more cattle then wolves in 2005. I guess Spot gets a pass on livestock depredation. 

Thousands of years ago the dog gave the wolf the gift of a black coat. It was fitting the dog would give back to their direct ancestor the wolf, who gave them the gift of life.


Posted in: biodiversity, gray wolf/canis lupus

Tags: black wolves,  dogs descended from wolves, wolf research


The Genetic Mystery Of Black Wolves

By Michael White | February 17th 2009 10:03 PM


“Now this is the Law of the Jungle
— as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep
it may prosper, but the Wolf
that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles
the tree-trunk, the Law
runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack
 is the Wolf, and the strength
of the Wolf is the Pack.”

Rudyard Kipling

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 2:02 am  Comments (7)  
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