The ancient gray wolves of Alaska became extinct some 12,000 years ago, and the wolves in Alaska today are not their descendents but a different subspecies, an international team of scientists reports in the July 3 print edition of the journal Current Biology.
The scientists analyzed DNA samples, conducted radio carbon dating and studied the chemical composition of ancient wolves at the Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of Natural History. They then compared the results with modern wolves and found that the two were genetically distinct.
The ancient Alaskan gray wolves are all more similar to one another than any of them is to any modern North American or modern Eurasian wolf, said study co-author Blaire Van Valkenburgh, UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
The research was federally funded by the National Science Foundation.
The ancient gray wolves lived in Alaska continuously from at least 45,000 years ago probably earlier, but radio carbon dating does not allow for the establishment of an earlier date until approximately 12,000 years ago, Van Valkenburgh said.
The ancient gray wolves were not much different in size from modern Alaskan wolves, although their massive teeth and strong jaw muscles were larger. They were capable of killing large bison, Van Valkenburgh said.
The ancient wolves suffered many broken teeth and tooth fractures, she said.
Van Valkenburgh has also studied tooth fractures in ancient animals at Los Angeles Rancho La Brea Tar Pits and in modern lions, tigers, leopards, puma and wolves. The ancient large mammals broke their teeth frequently when they ate, crunching the bones of their prey much more often than their modern counterparts. Why"
Because they were hungry, which may have been because it was difficult to catch and hold onto prey when there was much competition and theft among carnivores, forcing them to eat quickly, said Van Valke
Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles