While blasting water on a wall of frozen mud in the Yukon, Canada, a gold tinker made an extraordinary discovery: a fully protected wolf pupil that had been locked in the permafrost for 57,000 years. The remarkable status of the puppy named Zhùr by local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people gave researchers insight into her age, lifestyle and relationship to modern wolves. The findings appear 21 December in the journal Current biology.
“She is the most accomplished wolf mother ever found. The first author, Julie Meichen, Associate Professor of Anatomy at Des Moines University, says she is basically 100% intact.” And the fact that she is so complete It has allowed us to do so many lines of investigation on him to basically rebuild his life. “
One of the most important questions about the zuar that researchers tried to answer was how it was preserved in the pamafrost to begin with. It takes a unique combination of circumstances to produce a permafrost mother.
“It is rare to find these mummies in the Yukon. The animal has to die at a permafrost location, where the ground remains frozen all the time, and they have to be buried very quickly like any other fossil process. “If it stays on the frozen tundra for too long, it will rot or eat.”
Another important factor is how the wolf died. Animals that die slowly or are hunted by predators are less likely to be found in pristine condition. “We think she was in her den and fell into the den and died immediately.” “Our data showed that she was not hungry and she was about 7 weeks old when she died, so we feel a little better that the poor little girl did not suffer for very long.”
In addition to learning how Zuar died, the team was also able to analyze his diet. As it turns out, his diet was greatly influenced by how close to water he lived. “Generally when you think of wolves in the ice age, you think of them eating bison or musk oxen or other large animals on the ground. One thing that shocked us was that she was eating aquatic resources, especially salmon. “
Analysis of Zaur’s genome also confirmed that he descended from the ancient wolves of Russia, Siberia and Alaska, which are also ancestors of modern wolves. Although Zuar’s analysis gave researchers many answers about wolves of the past, there are some outstanding questions about Zuar and his family.
“We’ve been asked why he was the only wolf to be found in the den, and what happened to his mother or siblings,” Machen says. “It could be that he was only a puppy. Or other wolves were not in the den during the fall. Unfortunately, we will never know. “
The sample holds special significance for local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, who have agreed to put the Zh displayr on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center in Whitehorse. She is clean and protected so she will stay intact for years to come, allowing her to travel to other Yukon locations. And the research team predicts that more and more Permfrast mummies may be found in the coming years.
“One small aspect of climate change is that we’re going to find more of these mummies as the permafrost melts,” Viren says. “It’s a good way for science to better cover that time, but it also shows us how hot our planet really is. We really need to be careful. “
References: Julie Machen, Matthew J. Wooller, Benjamin D. “A Mummified Pleistocene Gray Wolf Puppy” by Barst, Juliette Funk, Carly Crann, Jess Heath, Molas Cassatt-Johnstone, Beth Shapiro, Elizabeth Hall, Susan Hewiston, and Grant Zazula. 21 December 2020, Current biology.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.cub.2020.11.011
This work was supported by MAF Murdock Charitable Trust at UAF by Dr. Provided by Matthew Voller.