How scientists cracked puzzle of the Falklands wolf

The origin of the mysterious Falkland Islands wolf, which was persecuted to extinction in the late 19th century, may finally have been solved – 175 years after Charles Darwin puzzled over the nature of this curious fox-like creature.

A DNA analysis of four stuffed museum specimens has revealed that the wolf did not, as previously thought, come to the Falklands as the pets of early South American natives who voyaged to the islands, but travelled there long before humans had populated the Americas.

The genetic study of tissue samples taken from the four stuffed specimens has revealed that they last shared a common ancestor more than 70,000 years ago, showing that the species must have come to the Falklands long before the end of the last ice age.

But even though the study has gone some way to clarifying the evolutionary origins of the Falklands wolf, the species still represents a great biogeographical conundrum because the Falklands have never been connected to the South American mainland and no other land mammals – not even small rodents – have managed to live there.

“It is really strange that the only native mammal on an island would be a large canid. There are no other native terrestrial mammals, not even a mouse,” said Graham Slater of the University of California, Los Angeles, whose DNA analysis of the Falklands wolf is published in the journal Current Biology.

“It’s even stranger when you consider that the Falklands are 480km [300 miles] from the South American mainland. The question is, how did they get there?”

When Darwin wrote about the wolf in 1834 during his travels on HMS Beagle, he noted how peculiar it was for such a large animal to be living on a remote archipelago. He also commented on its unusually tame nature, which led others to speculate that the animals must be the descendents of escaped pets brought to the archipelago by natives.

The wolves grow to the size of coyotes or larges foxes, but are much stockier with thick, reddish fur and short muzzles, rather like grey wolves. Little is known about their behaviour but they probably lived off nesting ground birds, seal pups, insects and other grubs.

The DNA study found that the closet living relative of the Falkland Islands wolf, Dusicyon australis, is the maned wolf, an unusually long-legged, fox-like canid that lives on the South American mainland. But they last shared a common ancestor some 6 million years ago, Dr Slater said. “Canids don’t show up in the South American fossil record until 2.5 million years ago, which means these lineages must have evolved in North America. The problem is that there are no good fossils that can be assigned to the Falklands wolf lineages in North America,” he said.

Another close relative of the Falklands wolf is likely to be a canid species, called Dusicyon avus, which lived in Patagonia but went exinct about 7,000 years ago, Dr Slater said.

The Falklands wolf quickly went extinct after Europeans arrived on the islands from the 17th century. The last wolves are believed to have been killed in the 1870s by sheep farmers.

Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments