Thanks to everyone who had a go at guessing the identity of the mystery stuffed carnivoran. I am pleased, I suppose, to say that NOBODY GOT IT RIGHT, but some of you did come close.
First of all, given that I specifically referred to the animal as a carnivoran (that is, a member of the placental mammal clade Carnivora), those of you suggesting that it might be a marsupial (like a Thylacine or Tasmanian devil) should consider yourselves chastised. Also, I should note that the file name was specifically written in code and did not contain any clues to the creature’s identity.
The specimen is – as the majority of you guessed – a canid, and I’ll happily admit that the only clues to this are its general shape and gestalt (like I said, sorry the photo isn’t bigger). But it isn’t a Dhole Cuon alpinus, Bush dog Speothos venaticus, Ethiopian wolf Canis simensis, Short-eared dog Atelocynus microtis, Raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, Sechuran fox Lycalopex sechurae, African wild dog Lycaon pictus, Arctic fox Vulpes lagopus, New Guinea singing dog C. familiaris hallstromi, Warrah or Falkland Islands wolf Dusicyon australis or Yamainu or Japanese wolf C. lupus hodophilax [Warrah shown below; painting by John Gerrard Keulemans].
And it wasn’t a ropen, gorgonopsid, Rodent of Unusual Size, amphicyonid, British big cat, little French dog or one of the Queen’s corgis either.
Let’s look at what clues we have. It’s a canid, it isn’t particularly long-legged, and it seems to have a sort of piebald colouration. I know that scale is just about impossible to judge from the photo, but I get the impression that the animal is neither particularly small nor particularly big. A longish, bushy tail is visible. The lack of distinctive features that might link it with such things as Bush dogs, wolves and so on, and the piebald colouration suggest to me that it’s a domesticate. Domestic dog would therefore be a sensible answer, and domestic Silver fox ain’t bad either. But there’s another canid that was domesticated, once. And here’s where we find our answer.
The specimen is in fact….. a Fuegian or Yagán dog: a domesticated form of Culpeo or Andean wolf Pseudalopex culpaeus [wild individual shown below, photo by Christian Mehlführer, from wikipedia]. The stuffed specimen is on display at the Museo Mayorino Borgatello, Punta Arenas, Chile: frankly, I’m very surprised that stuffed specimens still exist, but, well, here’s the proof (if anyone has more information on the specimen, or on stuffed Fuegian dogs in general, I’d be very interested).
This animal is extinct (its wild relatives are not), and very little is known about it. In fact, just about everything we do know can be seen here at Austin Whittall’s Patagonian Monsters blog. It’s only ever really mentioned in passing in the literature, most famously by Hamilton Smith (1839). It seems that the Fuegian dog wasn’t as versatile and useful as Canis familiaris, but this might be unfair given that it may well have been in the early stages of domestication*… Furthermore, don’t forget that many of the domestic dogs that frequent camps and villages around the world are scavengers, refuse-eaters, and hangers-on: they provide some advantage for camp or village life, but they aren’t necessarily big, strong hunting companions.
* Canid remains are preserved at Tagua Tagua in Chile: a Palaeoindian site (dated to 11000-9000 years before present) where fishtail arrowheads were found in association with gomphothere and horse remains. It’s been suggested that these canid remains might belong to the Culpeo (Fiedel 2005), but there’s no direct evidence indicating whether or not these canids were domesticates.
Whenever the domestication of the Culpeo is mentioned, the possibility that the Warrah – the extinct Falkland Island ‘wolf’ – might once have been domesticated or semi-domesticated is also mentioned. For more on that subject, see Islands of otters and strange foxes.
And for more on canids at Tet Zoo see…
- Tet Zoo picture of the day # 13 (on Chrysocyon)
- Extinct Cuban canids and Darwin’s fox
- Homage to The Velvet Claw (part I)
- Homage to The Velvet Claw (part II)
- My mummified fox
Coming next: pronghorns!
Refs – -
Fiedel, S. J. 2005. Man’s best friend – mammoth’s worst enemy? A speculative essay on the role of dogs in Paleoindian colonization and megafaunal extinction. World Archaeology 37, 11-25.
Hamilton Smith, C. 1839. Dogs, vol. 1. In Jardine, W. (ed) Naturalists Library. Lizars (Edinburgh).