Wolves are creatures that you probably don’t want to encounter in the wild. From the safety of your own home, though, you can appreciate these majestic beasts as the strong and beautiful animals that they are.
Black wolves are especially striking, with their dark fur coats making a stunning contrast against their snowy wooded habitats. Aside from their coloring, they look just like any other wolves, but as it turns out: these gorgeous predators actually have a complicated and fascinating history…
Black wolves are found in the forested areas of North America, and at first glance they look like a variation of a more common gray wolf.
But they’re hiding a secret that not many people know.
In actuality, the black fur is the result of inbreeding between wild wolves and domestic dogs that began over 45,000 years ago!
A team of scientists led by Tovi Anderson, a biologist at Stanford University, compared the genes of wolves from Yellowstone National Park and the Canadian Arctic to those of domestic dogs and coyotes. In each species, they found that the black individuals have the same mutation, which first arose tens of thousands of years ago.
The genetic anomaly was found to be older in dogs, suggesting that the domestic animals were the ones who introduced the mutation to the wild species in the first place and spread it through inbreeding.
Flickr / Angell Williams
The fact that black wolves have survived for so long in spite of the mutation means that the darker coat is actually an advantage in the wild, although biologists aren’t exactly sure what that advantage could be.
Dr. Anderson says: “This is pretty unique. Typically, you’d expect gene flow from domestic to wild animals would not be beneficial.”
Scientists do know one thing: all of this inbreeding between domestic dogs and wild wolves occurred in North America. There are no black wolves to be found in Europe or Asia, except for one small population in Italy that’s hybridized with dogs very recently.
How incredible to learn that this striking animal has such a fascinating history!