It's true: identifying weird stuffed carnivorans is often not easy

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...

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).


More like this


Meh, I was close... at least I knew it was a zorro! I have actually never heard of domesticated culpeos before, but it doesn't surprise me, as the zorros are notorious for their tameness. Also, I'm reminded of a photo I've seen of a partially leucistic black-backed jackal that looks like a photoshopped mash up of a jackal and a Jack Russell terrier.

Oh yeah, sorry Mo. I'll change the article to reflect your brilliance (but... later. I have a crisis on at the moment).

The warrah is actually most closely related to the maned wolf. This was recent finding in the past year, but before that, I kept reading that it was most closely related to the coyote (something that makes no sense).

I have found a study in which black-backed jackals may have been semi-domesticates in Southern Africa. Of course, they may have been nothing more than camp followers, which is where the domestication of canids starts:…

Canid domestication is really not unusual in human history. There are plenty of tales of arctic explorers keeping very tame arctic foxes that joined their crews as adults, not kits.

...what on Earth did they DO to that poor taxidermied specimen?!
It must be the angle of the shot, or else someone should take that taxidermist's license away.

By Practically Un… (not verified) on 19 Jul 2010 #permalink


Domesticated Culpeo is weird. First, it supposedly reached 35 kg, but wild Culpeo is fox sized, max weight in HMW is 14kg. Second, at least Red Foxes are practically untamable - as adults they are solitary and simply don't obey orders. Gives a blow to a theory that only a tiny minority of wild animals are domesticable due to their behaviour.

Ona indians were also weird. Why a heck they didn't wear clothing in cold climate?

Jerzy: They forgot? The migration past the equator must have taken quite a few generations. Clothing would have needed to be invented anew. Is there ever a reason why a particular invention didn't occur in some time and place?

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 19 Jul 2010 #permalink

If you are ever at loss for a subject for a post (Hah!), a review of Canid taxonomy wouold find at least one eager reader. ... There was a popular (but for scientifically literate people) article a few years back in "American Scientist": my impression is that "fox" is best thought of as a purely descriptive term, with species called foxes showing up on widely separated branches of the canid tree.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 19 Jul 2010 #permalink

The term "fox" is really interesting.

The Vulpine foxes are the true foxes. Anything in the Old World that is called a fox is a true fox, except for the bat-eared fox-- although there is some evidence that it's related to them.

All the foxes in North America are true foxes, except the gray fox and the closely related island fox. Those both look like foxes, but they actually represent a very primitive line of the canid family. They retain the primitive characteristic of tree climbing. They do look like true foxes, but they aren't closely related to the red foxes with which they share their range.

The South American foxes, including the culpeo, are actually more closely related to the genus Canis and its allies, Cuon and Lycaon. That's why the genus name for the South American foxes is Lycalopex (wolf-fox).

Here's the dog phylogenetic tree:

The recent paper on the Falkland Islands wolf, mentioned by retrieverman above, is...

Slater, G. J., Thalmann, O., Leonard, J. A., Schweizer, R. M., Koepfli, K.-P., Pollinger, J. P., Rawlence, N. J., Austin, J. J., Cooper, A. & Wayne, R. K. 2009. Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf. Current Biology 19 (20), R937-R938.

Available for free here.

Re: Nathan
Patagonia was populated over 10000 years. So Ona had time to learn. Pretty amazing is that human being can live in cold semi-naked.

It is another fascinating topic - local tribes of human species evolving physiological abilities which most of humanity lack. Now various tribes are either extinct or mixing in the great pot. Sort of genetic erosion of humanity, too.

Retrieverman and Darren!
Ask and ye shall receive! Many thanks for the references and links.

(Retrieverman (NB: this parenthetical remark is just about linguistics, not about tetrapod zoology): We seem to have different intuitions about the semantics of "fox". Your use of "true fox" suggests you think it is what philosophy-of-language types would call a "natural kind term": that it means something like "animal of belonging to the same clade as THESE," where "THESE" is said while pointing to classic European foxes. My suggestion was that it was purely descriptive ("canid with the following list of visible features....").
Would you say that the birds Americans call robins aren't "true robins"? My instinct would be to say that American English and English English apply the word "robin" to distantly related passerines with reddish undersides, but without judging that one dialect uses it for "true" and the other for "pseudo" robins.)

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

Where does the "dog" phylogenetic tree you link to in comment 11 come from? It looks as if it could be the one I saw in an article in "American Scientist."
The tree (as would make sense if it is derived from molecular data) does not include fossil canids, and as we know fossils can make a difference: cladistic inference from data about fossils+extant taxa can produce a different topology FOR EXTANT TAXA from that produced by cladistic analysis of data from extant taxa alone.
But it's what we have.
So let's assume this tree gives a good picture of canid evolution. It looks like this:

(gray foxes("true" foxes(South American types,standard dogs))),

where (i) many of the South American species have "fox" in their common names and (ii) what I have called standard dogs include dholes, African Hunting Dogs, and the familiar wolf/jackal/coyote/dog bunch.
(Hmm. I've forgotten. Jackals are traditionally "Canis": are dholes and African Hunting Dogs? If not, traditional "Canis" is paraphyletic!)
So: four major clades, three of which (including the one branching basalmost) are largely composed of species called "fox".
Suggestion: the fox morphology is plesiomorphic for Canidae, conserved in most branches of the family: only the (aberrant) jackal/wolf/etc group has lost "foxiness".

(Which is the impression I remember having from the "American Scientist" article.)

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

Allen: the canid phylogeny retrieverman showed is from (takes deep breath)...

Lindblad-Toh, K., Wade, C. M., Mikkelsen, T. S., Karlsson, E. K., Jaffe, D. B., Kamal, M, Clamp, M., Chang, J. L., Kulbokas, E. J., Zody, M. C., Mauceli, E., Xie, X., Breen, M., Wayne, R. K., Ostrander, E. A., Ponting, C. P., Galibert, F., Smith, D. R., deJong, P. J., Kirkness, E., Alvarez, P., Biagi, T., Brockman, W., Butler, J., Chin, J.-W., Cook, A., Cuff, J., Daly, M. J., Decaprio, D., Gnerre, S., Grabherr, M., Kellis, M., Kleber, M., Bardeleben, C., Goodstadt, L., Heger, A., Hitte, C., Kim, L., Koepfli, K.-P., Parker, H. G., Pollinger, J. P., Searle, S. M. J., Sutter, N. B., Thomas, R., Webber, C., Broad Institute Genome Sequencing Platform (Baldwin, J., Abebe, A., Abouelleil, A., Aftuck, L., Ait-Zahra, M., Aldredge, T., Allen, N., An, P., Anderson, S., Antoine, C., Arachchi, H., Aslam, A., Ayotte, L., Bachantsang, P., Barry, A., Bayul, T., Benamara, M., Berlin, A., Bessette, D., Blitshteyn, B., Bloom, T., Blye, J., Boguslavskiy, L., Bonnet, C., Boukhgalter, B., Brown, A., Cahill, P., Calixte, N., Camarata, J., Cheshatsang, Y., Chu, J., Citroen, M., Collymore, A., Cooke, P., Dawoe, T., Daza, R., Decktor, K., Degray, S., Dhargay, N., Dooley, K., Dooley, K., Dorje, P., Dorjee, K., Dorris, L., Duffey, N., Dupes, A., Egbiremolen, O., Elong, R., Falk, J., Farina, A., Faro, S., Ferguson, D., Ferreira, P., Fisher, S., Fitzgerald, M., Foley, K., Foley, C., Franke, A., Friedrich, D., Gage, D., Garber, M., Gearin, G., Giannoukos, G., Goode, T., Goyette, A., Graham, J., Grandbois, E., Gyaltsen, K., Hafez, N., Hagopian, D., Hagos, B., Hall, J., Healy, C., Hegarty, R., Honan, T., Horn, A., Houde, N., Hughes. L., Hunnicutt, L., Husby. M., Jester, B., Jones, C., Kamat, A., Kanga, B., Kells, C., Khazanovich, D., Kieu, A. C., Kisner, P., Kumar, M., Lance, K., Landers, T., Lara, M., Lee, W., Leger, J.-P., Lennon, N., Leuper, L., Levine, S., Liu, J., Liu, X., Lokyitsang, Y., Lokyitsang, T., Lui, A., Macdonald, J., Major, J., Marabella, R., Maru, K., Matthews, C., McDonough, S., Mehta, T., Meldrim, J., Melnikov, A., Meneus, L., Mihalev, A., Mihova, T., Miller, K., Mittelman, R., Mlenga, V., Mulrain, L., Munson, G., Navidi, A., Naylor, J., Nguyen, T., Nguyen, N., Nguyen, C., Nguyen, T., Nicol, R., Norbu, N., Norbu, C., Novod, N., Nyima, T., Olandt, P., O'neill, B., O'neill, K., Osman, S., Oyono, L., Patti, C., Perrin, C., Phunkhang, P., Pierre, F., Priest, M., Rachupka, A., Raghuraman, S., Rameau. R., Ray, V., Raymond, C., Rege, F., Rise, C., Rogers, J., Rogov, P., Sahalie, J., Settipalli, S., Sharpe, T., Shea, T., Sheehan, M., Sherpa, N., Shi, J., Shih, D., Sloan, J., Smith, C., Sparrow, T., Stalker, J., Stange-Thomann, N., Stavropoulos, S., Stone, C., Stone, S., Sykes, S., Tchuinga, P., Tenzing, P., Tesfaye, S., Thoulutsang, D., Thoulutsang, Y., Topham, K., Topping, I., Tsamla, T., Vassiliev, H., Venkataraman, V., Vo, A., Wangchuk, T., Wangdi, T., Weiand, M., Wilkinson, J., Wilson, A., Yadav, S., Yang, S., Yang, X., Young, G., Yu, Q., Zainoun, J., Zembek. L., Zimmer, A.) & Lander, E. S. 2005. Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog. Nature 438, 803-819.

.... wherein it appears as Fig. 5. There was some brief mention of this important paper in my article on recently extinct island-endemic canids.

Dholes (Cuon) and African hunting dogs (Lycaon) have been regarded as distinct relative to Canis for a long time, so the recovery of both the dhole and hunting dog lineages as closer to the dog-wolf clade than are jackals was a surprise. So far as I know, no-one's changed the nomenclature to reflect the Lindblad-Toh et al. phylogeny, but mention has been made of the fact that Thos Oken, 1816 might be available for the jackal clade: there's a useful discussion of that subject here (the Golden jackal is the type species for Thos, but it was originally named to include the Coyote too).

Many thanks! (And at what point do journals start putting the list of authors in the "On-line Supplementary Information" rather than printing it?)
Vague memory: Canis has dew-claws on forelegs, one or other or both of Cuon and Lycaon lacks them, no? So B.H. (Before Hennig, back in the days when people weren't as sensitive to the distinction between symplesiomorphy and synapomorphy as we are nowadays), taxonomists might have taken "presence of dew claw" as a trait uniting Thos and Canis s.s. to the exclusion of one or the other or both of ...

Thanks again!

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 21 Jul 2010 #permalink

RE the jackals, The available names with priority for "Canis" mesomelas and "Canis" adustus are Lupulella and Schaeffia Hilzheimer 1906, with Lupelella having priority on page number terms.

The position of the dhole and wild dog isn't that surprising really. Fossils attributable to the Lycaon/Cuon lineages are abundant in Europe (Xenocyon, various "Canis"), as are fossils of the stem caninine Eucyon. The ancestry of the African jackals presumably lies with African Eucyon, while the hypercarnivores are the relict of an early offshoot from the large Canis lineage. Jackal is another one of the "fox" terms used to lump anything Eurasian that's bigger than a fox but smaller than a dog. The Golden Jackal (and Ethiopian wolf) are far more wolfy in reality if you look at their dentitions.

... and, indeed, there are some living animals that have been classified as Golden jackals by some, and as wolves by others (referring to Canis aureus lupaster of northern Africa).

Just for the bibliographical record... the "American Scientist" article I keep referring to is:
Elaine Ostrander, "Genetics and the shape of dogs," American Scientist vol. 95, no 5 (September-October 2007), pp 406 ff.
(Apparently freely available online at the "American Scientist" website!)
And I ***did*** see the tree there: its first illustration is reproduced from the Lindblad-Toh et mult. al. article.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 21 Jul 2010 #permalink

So I guess Russian pig-dog was wrong?

So far as I know, no-one's changed the nomenclature to reflect the Lindblad-Toh et al. phylogeny, but mention has been made of the fact that Thos Oken, 1816 might be available for the jackal clade: there's a useful discussion of that subject here (the Golden jackal is the type species for Thos, but it was originally named to include the Coyote too).

Well... the golden jackal is not in "the jackal clade" formed by the side-striped and the black-backed jackal, so the name Thos cannot be applied to "the jackal clade".

But we don't even need to care about that. Opinion 417 says Thos is not an available name, so Thos is not an available name; it was kissed goodbye in 1956.

Lupelella having priority on page number terms

No. Page and line priority do not exist. When synonyms were published at the same time ( = in the same work), the First Reviser gets to choose which one to give priority -- and does not have to give any reasons whatsoever.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 26 Jul 2010 #permalink

Oh yeah, opinion 417. I forgot about that. But note my choice of wording in the first place: "mention has been made ... that Thos Oken, 1816 might be available". Ahh, the passing of the buck, and the application of ambiguity... forever may they be our saviours :)

Thanks again, Darren, for the reference to the Lindblad-Toh et al. article -- the phylogenetic analysis of the Canidae is hidden in a section late in the article, and I think I probably didn't look at it when it came out in 2005.
The list of authors is... impressive. 43 human beings and the Broad Institute Genome Sequencing Platform listed on the first page, with 190 human members of the B.I.G.S.P. listed on the last! It's a cultural thing. In my discipline (logic and philosophy) single-authored papers are still the majority with few collaborations going beyond two or three. My sense is that Palaeontology is still like that in general, but Lindblad-Toh and her co-authors are in a field closer to medical research, where massively co-authored papers are common.
And, returning to the bee in my bonnet about "foxiness" being plesiomorphic for the Canidae: if Hesperocyon were alive today, would people call it a fox?

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink

My sense is that Palaeontology is still like that in general

Collaborations of 2 or 3 people are clearly more common than single-authored papers, and 5 authors aren't unusual either. But you're of course right that a paper with 13 authors is still an extremely rare outlier (I can think of one).

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 28 Jul 2010 #permalink


a [paleontological] paper with 13 authors is still an extremely rare outlier (I can think of one)

Does anyone know when that Open Dinosaur Project paper will be published? Isn't it going to have a busload or two of authors?

Does anyone know when that Open Dinosaur Project paper will be published? Isn't it going to have a busload or two of authors?

It's a fair question. To answer the easy part first: yes, it will have a busload of author, nearly 50 in fact -- for details see… and especially pp. 61-62.

As to when ... that is largely dependent on Andy, who'd hoped to have a draft manuscript together before the field season, but obviously we missed that window. I can't give specific dates, but I'm guessing the plan is to pick it up before the end of this year, and maybe even submit in 2010.

Random query about Canid taxonomy: when I was a kid (1950s), the North American Red Fox was distinguished specifically (as Vulpes fulva) from the Eurasian Vulpes vulpes.

In the next several decades Mammalian taxonomy seems to have gone lump-ish (to give a few non-Canid examples: Cervus canadensis was sunk in elaphus, and Ursus horribilis into arctos), and the North American Red Fox became Vulpes vulpes (as it is labeled on a recent Canadian postage stamp).

In recent years trhe trend seems to have gone the other way again: the Wapiti is Cervus canadensis again, and (as discussed on Tet zoo) Giraffa cameleopardis has been split into several species. Is there a move afoot to re-instate Vulpes fulva? And, if not, is that because Holarctic Red Foxes are really more uniform genetically than other clades that have been split recently, or just because nobody has bothered?

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

The latest phylogeny for extant canids, taking in both molecules and morphology, seems to be:
Title: The evolution of South American endemic canids: a history of rapid diversification and morphological parallelism
Author(s): Perini FA, Russo CAM, Schrago CG
Source: JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Pages: 311-322 Published: FEB 2010…
if that link works.
I'm not into canidae specifically, but this paper seemed more straightforward than the earlier ones.

In Perini et al the Falklands island fox has again split company from the maned wolf, and rejoined Dusicyon (or the other names for that genus)as the original (?) morphological description.

A Wang & Tedford,2008, DOGS: their fossil relative and evolutionary history
gives an introduction to some fossils.

Reviews of fossil families that are accessible to general biologists (not even the general public) are almost lacking. I've been searching for something that gives a good account of the fossil Felidae, including the smaller cats. Wikipedia knows of "Felis attica" but what animal is this actually? Given the "Felis" might be anything (even a tiger if the name is old enough).

By Gerdien de Jong (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

Apologies to David Marjanovic: he's right, paleontology is significantly more collaborative than I guessed (though still nowhere near the genetics and medical research level of multi-authorship).

I spot-checked. The latest issue of "Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology": 27 articles (and short communications) with from 1 to 6 authors: mean just below 3, median just over 2.
(For comparison, the four most recent issues of "Journal of Philosophical Logic" have 22 articles, two with 2 authors, the rest singly authored.)

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 29 Jul 2010 #permalink

Actually the Selk'nam (that is how the Ona people called themselves) are very interesting. They are related to the Tehuelche groups of southern Patagonia (deglaciation flooded the Strait of Magellan isolating them on Tierra del Fuego). By the way, they did not go around naked they wrapped themselves in guanaco furs (see Lucas Bridges Uttermost part of the Earth). Their neighbors, the Yagans (Yamána) wore little or no clothes. The Selk'nam dog was a domesticated fox, a unique situation. The southernmost people in the world had the oddest "dog".

the Wapiti is Cervus canadensis again

Yes, but the line between C. elaphus and C. canadensis no longer runs through the Bering Strait. It separates southwestern from northeastern Siberia these days.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 10 Aug 2010 #permalink

Random query about Canid taxonomy: when I was a kid (1950s), the North American Red Fox was distinguished specifically (as Vulpes fulva) from the Eurasian Vulpes vulpes.

In the next several decades Mammalian taxonomy seems to have gone lump-ish ... and the North American Red Fox became Vulpes vulpes (as it is labeled on a recent Canadian postage stamp).

If I remember my Fox (the author not the canid) correctly, Eurasian Vulpes vulpes was introduced into eastern North America where it freely interbred with V. fulva to the point where there's no longer any genetic or morphological distinction between them.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink


Why, for heaven's sake? I think (British) V.v. was introduced to Australia to make fox hunting possible, but since eastern North America already HAD foxes.... I think we North Americans owe starlings and "English Sparrows" to a 19th century American Shakespeare enthusiast who wanted his compatriots to be able to have the experience of seeing every species of bird mentioned in the plays, but !!!!

People are weird.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 26 Aug 2010 #permalink

As far as I can tell, prior to European settlement of North America, the red fox was restricted largely to boreal regions in Alaska & Canada, as well as the mountains of western North America (Rockies, Cascades, Sierra Nevada). Red foxes started showing up in lowland areas in eastern North America due to introduction, and possibly also range expansion due to changes in habitat and elimination of larger predators (grey wolves & cougars).

hi darren .why dont u tell me why my prints are thylacine or why they are not. i have a head shot of another animal. its on flickr put in (thylacine pad)i have over 70 pics of interesting thing , im going to put up about 300 pics over the nects 6 mts

By ray harvey (not verified) on 31 Aug 2010 #permalink