Monday, August 3, 2015

Scientists Discover First New Wolf Species in Africa in 150 Years

Side by side comparison of the African golden wolf (left) and the golden jackal (right).

A study carried out by a team of researchers of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have discovered that the golden jackal in Africa is in fact a newly discovered species of wolf in 150 years. National Geographic reported that the research indicates that golden jackals in Africa and Eurasia are really two different species that look similar to each other. The new species, known as the African golden wolf, is in fact closer in an evolutionary sense to wolves than to other members like coyotes, dogs, and jackals. The golden jackal and the golden wolf look nearly identical, except for a slight size difference. Earlier research showed that Africa's golden jackals may be a subspecies of wolves. Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a biologist who lead the extensive DNA analysis, was able to affirm that they are separate from the Eurasian jackal. However, instead of being a subspecies of the gray wolf, they are their own particular species. Koepfli further added that the African golden jackal lineage separated from gray wolves and coyotes roughly 1.3 million years ago. The Eurasian jackal, on the other hand, separated about 600,000 years prior to that. Now, he is proposing renaming this new wolf species Canis anthus while the Eurasian golden jackal would enjoy its current scientific name Canis aureus. When asked why the two species look very similar to each other, Koepfli explained that this morphological similarity might be due to parallel evolution driven by ecological conditions in which these animals live, especially regarding competition from other carnivore species. According to the National Geographic, both animals live in arid desert habitats which can result in small, lean bodies with light coats that do not absorb much sunlight.

It is extremely extraordinary in the world of science that a new species of organism is discovered, and it does not get any better than this recent discovery. It had previously been widely believed that the golden jackal's range extends all the way from Africa into Asia. But now, this recent finding has shown that the golden jackal in Africa is actually a newly discovered species of wolf. This is very similar in the case of the red wolf. That is, initially the red wolf was classified as a subspecies of the gray wolf but recent genetic analysis in October 2012 concluded that it is a distinct species. The African golden wolf is also different from the golden jackal by having a larger skull, and prefers to hunt for food rather than scavenge. This can be seen when it demonstrates intolerance towards scavengers like vultures. The range of the African golden wolf extends from North Africa to the Horn of Africa, covering countries from Morocco to Somalia. Its range includes Egypt, where it was widely believed that the god Anubis is a jackal-headed god. Now, with this new discovery, it seems that Anubis should be referred to as a wolf-headed god. The African golden wolf is truly an extraordinary species and one that needs to be further studied, in order to understand its unique history, biology, and anything unusual to educate this world about the significance about the Earth's biodiversity.

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