The American Kennel Club® (AKC®) invites you to join us on May 1st as we celebrate pride, predictability and purpose of purebred dogs and promote the preservation of these breeds. This year, two Congressional resolutions designate May 1st as National Purebred Dog Day® (NPDD). Senate Resolution 144 introduced by Senator Thom Tillis and House Concurrent […]
I have to admit that I am bit of a Joe Rogan Experience fan. I generally watch the podcasts that are about politics, hunting, and animals. I’m not really into pugilism stuff.
I actually came to Steven Rinella’s work through Joe Rogan’s program, and a few years ago, he mentioned something about Dan Flores and his work on the “American Serengeti,” which is actually a book by Flores that I have not read. It is about the megafauna of the North American Great Plains, and it is a topic I’m somewhat interested in.
But as you know from reading this blog, I am a big coyote fan. I have had an experience with a male coyote in the woods, which I blogged about right after it happened I blogged about right after it happened, and I’ve written some more literary accounts of this encounter (but not for public consumption yet).
I then heard that Flores had a book about coyotes that came out, and I decided to read it.
And I didn’t like it.
I found that he adhered way too much to the paleontology of canids and pretty much ignored all the latest molecular data. At one point in the book, he makes the comparison that the genetic difference between a coyote and wolf is like the genetic difference between a human and an orangutan. I think that assertion comes from an mtDNA study from 1993, which was the first to say that dogs were wolves and that “red wolves” had no unique mtDNA haplotypes. It posited a 4% difference in the mtDNA sequence from wolves and coyotes, which is pretty accurate. (Ironically, this study comes from Robert Wayne of UCLA, whom Flores largely discounts in his interview with Rogan at about 22 minutes.)
But mtDNA studies are notorious for leading people astray when we’re dealing with closely related species that can and do hybridize. For example, initial studies on mtDNA in European wolves found no evidence of dog hybridization, but because virtually all matings between dogs and wolves in the wild involve a male dog mating with a female wolf, the influence of dog genes in European wolves never could be accurately measured. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother, and thus, it misses a lot of genetic information.
More recent full-genome analyses have revealed a greater than 99 percent genetic relationship among wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs. That’s not at all equivalent to the genetic distance between humans and orangutans. In fact, we know that domestic dogs, coyotes, and wolves readily hybridize and produce fertile offspring, and no hybrids between a human and orangutan has ever been documented.
Flores pretty much rejects off-hand the more recent genome-wide studies that have found red and Eastern wolves to be hybrids with wolves and coyotes because Robert Wayne and his colleagues do not use morphological studies or pay much attention to the fossil record of canids in North America. And the Fish and Wildlife Service adheres to the red and Eastern wolf paradigm.
I’m going to defend Wayne and his colleagues here. You really need to be careful about morphological studies in canids. That’s because canids can evolve quite rapidly, and there is a great tendency toward parallel evolution in the family. I can remember when it was seriously discussed that the bush dogs of South America were a potential close relative of the dhole, based solely upon their “trenchant heel dentition.” We now know that the bush dog is very much in the South American canid clade, probably a close relative to the maned wolf. Until very recently, it was believed that the diminutive coyote-like golden jackals of Africa were the same species as the golden jackal of Eurasia, but a recent mtDNA study suggests a much great variance– enough to consider them separate species. The similarities between the two forms of golden jackal likely resulted from parallel evolution. The African “golden jackals” are actually much more closely related to wolves and coyotes, and the name “golden wolf” has been suggested for them.
This tendency to evolve rapidly is something we see in the domestic dog. Every single kennel club critic blog posts photos of dog breeds from different periods to show how much breeds change through selective breeding. Nature selectively breeds, too, and dogs in the wild can rapidly change to fit new niches.
These issues are going to confound virtually every study on canid evolution. This is one reason why we have nothing resembling a consensus on dog domestication. It is very hard to figure out when a sub-fossil wolf is a dog or is too much like a wolf to be a dog.
This is why I trust molecular studies far more than paleontology, and it is why I think the Fish and Wildlife Service is largely misguided in trying to hold onto the red wolf paradigm. It is possible that a recent wolf and coyote hybrid is going to look a lot like an ancient wolf-like canid, and the amount of convergence between the two can be enough to fit character-based analysis that paleontologists and anatomists use.
Also, the Fish and Wildlife Service is government, and in the US, government moves quite slowly. I think it is going to take some time before the molecular data finally corrects these errors, but it doesn’t stop them from being errors.
The comparison of full genomes of wolves and coyotes that came out last summer pretty much ended this debate. Unless you’re going to argue over fossils, which is a dubious undertaking, I don’t think we can say that red wolves, Eastern wolves, or coyotes are what we thought they were.
Granted, Flores probably had the book at the publisher’s by the time this study came out, but the fact that he adheres to the old paradigm because Wayne and Wayne’s colleagues didn’t look at the fossils is pretty troubling.
If I were to rewrite Flores’s taxonomy, I would argue that coyotes have nothing to do with Canis edwardii. That species was an early North American wolf that went extinct, and it could have been related to virtually any species in the genus Canis, including really divergent things like black-backed jackals.
The comparative genome study found that the most recent common ancestor of the wolf and coyote didn’t live 3.2 million years ago, as Flores asserts. Instead, it lived around 50,000 years ago, and it probably was living in Eurasia at the time. This animal was probably an archaic form of Canis lupus or maybe Canis mosbachensis.
When this animal crossed in North America, ancient North American wolves already dominated the landscape. There were also coyote-like forms of wolf, which likely weren’t coyotes at all. The packing hunting wolf niche was already occupied by dire wolves and ancient North American dholes, so this radiation of the Eurasian wolf had to become more of a generalist to survive. The larger wolves, like the dire wolf, and the various forms of large predatory cat killed this ancestral coyote, and over time, it evolved into a smaller jackal-like canid. This is how the coyote likely evolved the fission-fusion strategy of existence that Flores writes about. When the numbers are high, coyotes form stable packs and have relatively few young. They hunt mid-sized prey. When numbers are lower, they hunt rodents and lagomorphs, and female coyotes actually have a hormone change when the numbers are low and produce more ova during their estrus cycles. The females mate at 10 months instead of 22 months, and with more ova produced and more bitches breeding, the population can easily recover from a dire wolf or Smilodon attack. This is also why killing coyotes can actually force their numbers up, and it is one reason our intense persecution of coyotes has resulted in them spreading North, South, and to the East,
This is something that would have evolved in a mid-sized canid in the presence of many other large predators. The fission-fusion strategy has just recently been confirmed in the Cape subspecies of black-backed jackal, which is another smaller canid that has evolved around large predators.
The Cape black-backed jackal is sort of the coyote of Southern Africa. It is generalist predator and scavenger, and it actually does cooperatively hunt small antelope species. It also kills sheep and goats.
It is not, however, closely related to wolves or coyotes. It is a very divergent form of Canis, which may actually be given its own genus (Lupelella) in the near future. It has evolved coyote-like strategies for survival entirely in parallel with the coyote of North America.
This tendency toward parallel and convergent evolution in wild dog species is something that really messes up paleontology and morphological studies, and that is why the genome-wide studies are such compelling evidence. I’m dead-certain that many dinosaur specialists would love to have genomes from descendants of T. rex or the triceratops.
But those animals, like the ancient wolf- and coyote-like canids of North America, have left no descendants.
And what we likely have is a very diverse Holarctic wolf species that includes mid-size convergent jackals, massive megafauna-hunting wolves in taiga of Canada, the desert wolves of South Asia, and the all the weird domestic dogs that we have now.
That’s every bit as amazing as the older paradigm. Of course, I’m a bit of a rogue for suggesting that we include coyotes in the wolf species, but it seems to be right if we hare to adhere to cladistic classification.
This poor understanding of genetic studies actually ruined what could have been a great book on coyotes.
If you’ve ever looked into a coyote’s eyes, it is like looking into the eyes of a very bright dog. They have so many dog-like mannerism that is hard not to see the similarity.
But you’re actually looking into the eyes of a super wolf. This is the wolf that took all we could throw it at, and it thrived beyond our wildest expectations.
In Anthropocene, the meek do inherit the earth.
You know your dog loves you when s/he smiles at you this way! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
You guys, this is my favorite What I’m Wearing Now in a while. Spring is finally here, like for real (the occasional semi-warm day doesn’t count), and man is it glorious. There is nothing more freeing to me than being able to look in my closet each morning and (usually) pull out pieces suited for warmer temperatures. This month I’ve been really lucky, because not only did I spent the first week of it in Arizona, it’s been mostly beautiful outside since we returned home as well. I’ve picked up a few new dresses for the season, pulled out my cut-offs and kimonos, and have been feeling a whole lot more inspired when it comes to my clothes.
In addition to the pieces you see above, I’ve been wearing a whole lot of affordable Target finds – like this dress and this dress (both under $ 30!) – which I couldn’t include in the collage simply because the only images I could find were of people wearing them. (You may recognize this one from Monday’s outfit post, and you’ll see me sporting this one in an upcoming post as well.) I’ve also been wearing these sandals nonstop and even got a matching pair for Essley (also coming in an outfit post soon). And like last month, I’ve been rocking hoop earrings almost everyday, along with this gorgeous set of 7 pairs of earrings I snagged at Free People for only $ 18. My favorite denim jacket has been on steady rotation as well. Style life is good in springtime.
I’m looking to pick up some new lightweight tops to wear with cut-offs at the weather gets even warmer in the coming weeks, and would love to hear any suggestions you have for your favorites!
A Facebook post from a friend of mine who is traveling in Northern Kentucky. Sunday afternoon, settin’ a spell on the front porch of the General Store with Miss Katie, eating caramels and drinking iced tea. The mayor of Rabbit Hash is a pitbull named Brynneth Pawltrow; her vice mayor is a terrier named JackJack; […]
If you were to travel the back roads along the wild border between Calhoun and Gilmer Counties and mention my name to some well-worn local, you would probably get “You mean that guy who kills all the turkeys?”
I am Scottie V. Westfall III. Junior is my father. The elder has passed on.
I have never killed a turkey, though I’ve certainly seen the birds slinking along on gray November days, the sort of days when you hope against all hope that a white-horned stag might come slinking out of the thickets and into rifle range. When the bipedal fantails come trudging out of the gray gloom, I’ve been sorely tempted, but I’ve held my fire.
Not in season. Let them be.
My grandpa killed 8 turkeys in one season. The limit is 2.
He saw them as the Holy Grail of wild game. He made his own calls and spent hours scouting and “chumming” them. “Chumming,” of course, meant the copious dropping the “yellow call” in the March woods, and “yellow call” was cracked corn. Baiting turkeys was illegal as taking more than the yearly bag limit.
He and often argued over conservation issues, but he liked playing the scofflaw, a sort twentieth century version of the old European poacher who loved to flaunt the king’s edicts about the king’s game.
Turkey hunts in spring begin before the sun rises. The birds start moving and then start courting once there is just enough light to see, and the big tom birds drop from their treetop roosts and go about the business of fighting and fanning before the often reluctant hens.
The trick is to hit the woods before the birds come down and begin the process of “talking turkey.” The talk a man gives the tom bird is supposed to be that of a dopey but receptive hen that is looking for a male company but just can’t make her way toward him.
If a tom is “henned up” with plenty of female company, he’s not likely to leave them to look for the yelping idiot on a distant ridge. He’s going to be content to stay with his harem and fan and puff up for them.
The best hunters have strategies for the birds, but the very best– the ones who shoot 8 birds in a season– use the yellow call. They risk the game warden’s fines, but if he really wants the bird, it’s a risk that some will take.
Before there was ever a turkey season, my grandpa set out a bunch of game-farmed Eastern wild turkeys in the back country. The dumb things were too tame to be sporting birds, so he took to harassing and harrying with sticks.
And they soon learned to fear man, and they thrived in the backwoods. When their numbers were high enough, my grandpa opened his own season and shot a tom. He was totally flaunting the North American model of wildlife conservation. He’d set out private birds on private land, and now he was opening his own private season.
I can’t say that I approve of such things. I’m more or less in love with public wildlife model that has served our game species so well. I don’t hate conservation laws, which are mostly based upon the most rigorous science available.
But a few days ago, I saw a few big toms out fanning in a pasture. The greenness of the new April grass painted a pastel promenade ground, and the bird’s iridescent feathers were shining in the April sun.
I saw in them the beauty that had so beguiled my grandfather. They drove him into the scofflaw world of sniping turkeys with a .243. They were what led him the regular haunts in the March woods with buckets of yellow call.
“You gobble. You die,” said the vanity plate on my his Ford pickup.
And for the turkeys he took, it certainly meant death.
But in their gobbling, he truly lived. He was a wild beast of the woods as his ancestors were, hunting hard the wild game without any regard for such artificial abstractions as law and conservation science. It is the way that our kind lived for much of our 200,000 year existence. It is a way that has brought down many species, including the passenger pigeons which used to fill the skies on warm spring days.
The pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, more than 19 years before my grandfather was born. They died off as the wild turkey nearly did. We just couldn’t stop killing them.
The turkey was saved, though, and is doing well. And the bag limits and seasons get more liberal every year.
I think of my grandpa when I see these birds on clear April days. I know that he would be out there questing for them, yearning for them, coaxing them, ready to harvest as a wild hunting man should.
And I can only come up short. I’m an ersatz hunter-gatherer, wet around the ears, domesticated by the post-industrial world.
Yet still seeking that essential wildness that lies in gray woods of my people.
When we were in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, we decided to head out to our favorite place to explore and take photos. It’s a piece of unoccupied land in the Sonoran desert not far from Robbie’s parent’s house in Scottsdale, and while it’s admittedly surrounded by the obvious civilization of the city, it feels completed secluded when you’re there. We go there every year to snap pictures (usually for outfit posts but also for fun), and this year Essley wanted to come with us. We’ve been trying to teach her about nature and the environment, and this seemed like a great way for her to learn about a completely different type of ecosystem than what she’s used to where we live, while also having some fun. (We also have a cool Earth Day inspired project stemming from this photoshoot; stay tuned for more on that in a couple of weeks.)
We were planning to go out to dinner that night so I was already sort of dressed up (for me, anyway), and while the photos we took weren’t purposely for an outfit post, it kind of turned out that way. And funny enough, Essley and I were not intentionally dressed alike. I know, I know – that seems impossible, considering how similar the dresses appear in these photos. But it’s true. In person, the pieces are quite different – mine is a fabric-heavy, super flowy, sort-of-bell sleeve woven fabric dress with a lot of embellishment, and Essley’s is a simple jersey knit cotton jumper dress. The patterns are also not that alike in person, but in the photos they’re almost identical. We didn’t realize how much we appeared to be twinning until we looked back through the photos. Essley and I don’t often do the mommy and me dress alike thing, but I think I might kind of like it…
Posing for pictures with Ess is always fun – we love to get silly when we do it and there is a whole lot of laughing (and seriously awkward outtakes). But the best part was seeing how excited she was about the details of the desert – the plants, the land, even the way the sun was setting. I call it “her wonder” and it is genuinely the best thing ever, you guys.
We took some other photos on a different day (without Essley that time) in one of my new favorite casual (as if I wore anything else) outfits that I’ll share soon. And that will probably conclude my outfit posts for the year knowing my track record but hey, it’s a fun change for a non-fashion blog, right?