Ancient Japanese wolf may be rare remnant of ice age wolves | Science


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JENA, GERMANY–On the island of Honsh ū in Japan, farmers long valued a little gray wolf as a guardian of their crops due to the fact that its wails cautioned them of raiders such as swines. In folklore, “the Honshū wolf” was viewed as a spirit of the forest and bestowed shrines. But when the wolves got rabies from pets in the 19 th century, farmers shot and poisoned them till the last wolf passed away in 1905.

Now, just a couple of packed Honsh ū wolves, like the one revealed above, exist in museums. But they were certainly agents of a wilder age, as college student Jonas Niemann of the University of Copenhagen discovered to his surprise. When he and his associates evaluated the genome of a Honsh ū wolf skeleton from the Natural History Museum in London, they discovered that this wolf appeared to be an antique of an ancient group of wolves that varied throughout the Northern Hemisphere till 20,000 years back.

Thewolf’s DNA more carefully looked like that of a long-extinct wolf that resided in Siberia more than 35,000 years back than that of living Eurasian and American wolves, Niemann reported here on Friday at the International Symposium on BiomolecularArchaeology Most ancient wolves went extinct when the ice sheets that covered the Northern Hemisphere started to melt more than 20,000 years back and the big mammals the wolves hunted, such as massive, passed away off. But some of their DNA survived on in the Honsh ū wolf, which might use a brand-new window on the development of wolves in addition to pets, states paleogeneticist Mikkel Sinding of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk, who drew out the DNA.

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