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Mixed Breeds In The Wild

By Amy Fernandez

Mating mistakes may just have a valid place in the canine universe. We have all heard those unicorn tales about the accidental breeding that produced the showstopper, and yeah, mainly they are on par with flying horses. But a recent bit of revelatory DNA investigation seems to lend a bit of legitimacy to that beloved myth.

Technically, this involves wolves–not show dogs–but they are all canids under the skin, which is how this situation originated. Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that most dogs will happily mate with any and every willing canid that crosses their path.

In recent decades, naturalists have bemoaned the endless genetic drift resulting from coyotes, wolves, and dogs intermixing. At this point, in many parts of the country coydogs and coywolves have become the genetic majority. Therefore, when an amateur naturalist in Galveston, Texas first reported a really odd looking pack of coyotes his queries were dismissed–for years.

Mr. Wooten originally got into this deal when the aforementioned pack made lunch out of his dog. He tracked them down a little too late to save his dog but an up-close look at the offenders told him something was off. “I thought at first they must have bred with Marmaduke or something because they had super long legs and super long muzzles” he recently told the Times.  Being retired and curious, he began documenting the pack and when equally inquisitive neighbors began doing the same, data accumulated. After about a decade of this, still getting zero formal attention, he collected DNA samples from a couple of roadkill specimens and finally in 2016 a pair of evolutionary biologists from Princeton decided to take a look. Wooten was right; these were not plain old coyotes. As it turns out, the pack is at least 30 percent red wolf, which was at one time a prevalent species along the gulf coast. Suddenly, conservation geneticists got really interested.

Officially, the red wolf has been considered extinct in the wild since 1980. The last remaining shred of the species is a tiny pack that has been maintained in captivity since the 1970s. The current theory is that a few of those red wolves evaded capture in that last ditch effort to save them. Attention shifted to propagating the captive wolves and enlarging the population. But sooner or later, line breeding always requires an outcross to maintain genetically viability. Tentative attempts to reintroduce a subset from the captive-bred population in North Carolina did not go well. The wolf recovery project hit a genetic bottleneck, and wildlife management officials weren’t quite sure what to do next.

As it turns out, the genetic material Wooten submitted contains several alleles that don’t exist in that small, captive population. Maybe these aren’t purebred red wolves, but 50 years down the road Mr. Wooten may have discovered a genetic goldmine. Better yet, these hybrids are native to the red wolf’s traditional habitat. This discovery just might be the Plan B to reestablish the species.

So here’s my point. Plenty of intrinsic dog behavior doesn’t translate smoothly into our daily life. But those traits tend to be the basis of the dog’s remarkable evolutionary resilience, such as “eat first, think later.” So just maybe there is an actual reason for their indiscriminate sexual tastes.

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Posted by on Jan 14 2022. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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