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March 4, 2021
A Canadian gold miner found a 57,000-year-old wolf-pup still covered in fur. Scientists estimate that it lived for 6 to 7 weeks, in an underground region that was covered in permafrost at the time of its death. Due to this, her body was preserved for 57,000 years. The details of its lips, claws, each paw, and brown fur were clearly visible. The wolf pup gives clear data of animals living during the age of long-extinct mammoths.
Neil Loveless, a fourth-generation placer miner claimed it was remarkable that she was found at all. “Placer mining is typically a closed-loop system,” Loveless wrote in an email, “so the sediment and water are not going back into a stream. Sediment is being settled out then removed from the pond and spread around for reclamation.”
“I just happened to be on one of those walks when I saw what I thought was a chunk of moss,” Loveless said in a phone interview, “but it didn’t quite look right, so I gave it a kick and that kind of moved it.” Cognizant of the history of the area, in which non-native miners in the 1800s dug down into the permafrost searching for gold, Loveless said, “I thought it must have been maybe a puppy that had fallen down into the shaft about 100 years ago, but that was just my quick assumption because it was so intact and in such good shape.”
He called the local paleontologists, brought it home, and stored it in his freezer to prevent further decay. He then handed the pup over and Grant Zazula – a Yukon government Paleontologist, tested it with radiocarbon dating. “When we got the date back and learned that it was over 50,000 years old, we’re like, ‘Ok. We’ve got a story here, and we’ve got to do something.’ And that’s when I made the phone call to (Julie Meachen) right away,” Zazula said in a video chat.
Meachen, an associate professor at Des Moines University, has great expertise in Pleistocene predators like wolves and saber-toothed cats. At the annual meeting of The Society Of Vertebrate Paleontology, he described her findings. The wolf’s pup has been declared as the oldest complete wolf pup mummy.
Molly Cassatt – Johnstone, a research associate at Paleogenomics laboratory at University Of California explains that permafrost helped to preserve her DNA. 10 follicles of her hair were used to determine her molecular clock. “In genetics, a molecular clock is based on the accumulation of mutations in the DNA over a period of time,” Cassatt-Johnstone wrote in an email. “All species have a molecular clock, and different areas of the genome will accumulate mutations at different rates. So, depending on where you are looking and for what, the molecular clock rate will differ.”
The pup’s mitochondrial DNA offered them a chance to know how she was related to the “greater genetic diversity of the species” and discovered that its mitochondrial DNA does not directly match with the grey wolves that exist today; this suggests that at some point some wolf populations in the region were wiped out.
ARTICLE: EJAZ SHAIKH
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH
PHOTO CREDITS: GOVERNMENT OF YUKON