Frozen remains of a 57,000 – year – old wolf cub found in Canada Genetics, Paleontology

An ancient wolf puppy, named Zhùr (meaning ‘wolf’ in the Han language of the local people Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in), lived about 57,000 years ago and died in its lair during a sediment collapse; during its short life it ate water resources, and is associated with ancient Bering and Siberian gray wolves (Canis lupus), according to a new study conducted by the University of Des Moines.

Meachen and others. report detailed morphometric, isotopic, and genetic analyzes of Zhùr that reveal details of its appearance, evolutionary relationships with other wolves, and a brief history of life and ecology. Image credit: Meachen and others., doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2020.11.011.

Zhùr, whose dimensions are 41.7 cm (16.4 inches) from the snout to the base of the tail and weighs 670 g, is the most complete wolf mummy known.

It was discovered in July 2016 in the thawing of permafrost in the Klondike gold fields, near Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.

Her mummified hull was found along a small tributary of the Last Chance stream during a hydraulic defrost that revealed the sediment of permafrost in which it is preserved.

Zhùr’s preservation was exceptional, from papillae on the lips to skin and fur.

“We think she was in her lair and that she is currently dying from a lair collapse,” said lead author Dr. Julie Meachen, researcher in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Des Moines.

“Our data showed she wasn’t starving and was about 7 weeks old when she died, so we feel a little better knowing the poor little girl didn’t suffer for too long.”

Studying stable isotopes from Zhùr’s hair and tooth samples, dr. Meachen and colleagues were able to determine that her mother had a diet rich in water resources.

This probably meant the seasonal consumption of fish from the Klondike River, which still has a modern spawning population of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).

“Usually when you think of wolves in the Ice Age, you think of them eating bison or musk oxen or other large animals on land,” said Dr. Meachen.

“One thing that surprised us was that she ate water resources, especially salmon.”

Through DNA testing of Zhùr and 29 other ancient and modern wolves, scientists have been able to link its genetics to ancient Bering and Siberian gray wolves, as well as modern gray wolves.

This includes individuals from Eurasia and North America, highlighting the connections maintained between these continents as the animals moved across the Bering Land Bridge.

“We were asked why she was the only wolf found in the lair and what happened to her mother or siblings,” said Dr. Meachen.

“It could be that she was the only puppy. Or the other wolves were not in the lair at the time of the collapse. Unfortunately, we will never know. ”

“I feel privileged and grateful to be able to work on a work like this,” said co-author Dr. Matthew Wooller, director of the Alaskan Stable Isotope at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

“The silver background of climate change is that we may see more of it.”

The team article was published in a journal Current Biology.


Julie Meachen and others. 2020. Mummified Pleistocene gray traction. Current Biology 30 (24): 1467-R1468; doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2020.11.011