Specimens From Ice Age Provide Clues to Origin of Pack-Hunting in Modern Wolves

Related Articles

Wolves today live and hunt in packs, which helps them take down large prey. But when did this group behavior evolve?

An international research team has reported specimens of an ancestral wolf, Canis chihliensis, from the Ice Age of north China (~1.3 million years ago), with debilitating injuries to the jaws and leg.

The wolf survived these injuries long enough to heal, supporting the likelihood of food-sharing and family care in this early canine.

 

“Top predators are rare in the fossil record because of their position in the food pyramid. Devastating injuries that are healed are even rarer. Fossils preserving grotesque injuries from the distant past have long fascinated paleontologists, and they tell stories rarely told,” noted Dr. Xiaoming Wang, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who co-led the study.

Dr. Haowen Tong, professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, led the excavations that discovered the fossils in the Nihewan Basin, a well-known Ice Age site in northern China.

Based on its skeleton, C. chihliensis was a large canine with strongly built jaws and teeth specialized for eating meat and cracking bone. Injuries in the skeleton provide additional evidence for how the animal used to move and behave. The study represents the first known record of dental infection in C. chihliensis, likely incurred while crushing bone to reach the marrow inside, which modern wolves do when hunting prey larger than themselves.

One C. chihliensis also badly fractured its shin (tibia), splintering it into three parts. The injury must have incapacitated the wolf, an active predator that hunted by chasing prey–yet it survived, as evidenced by healing of the bone. Survival suggests that, while recovering, it procured food in some way other than by hunting–likely with the support of a pack.

To help interpret the injuries, the study also examined specimens of another extinct large canine: the dire wolf, Canis dirus, which has abundant fossils at the world-famous Rancho La Brea asphalt seeps in Los Angeles, California. The dire wolf was geologically younger than C. chihliensis, having lived at Rancho La Brea approximately 55,000 to 11,000 years ago. Despite the age difference, the dire wolf–which previous studies had established to have been a pursuit predator of large prey, with a social structure likely similar to grey wolves today–sustained injuries to the teeth, jaws, and legs similar to C. chihliensis.

“It is incredible to see these dental infections and fractured tibia from this early Chinese wolf–and find similar injuries in our dire wolves at Rancho La Brea,” said Dr. Mairin Balisi, National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and co-author of the study. “Museum collections are valuable for many reasons. In this case, they’ve enabled us to observe shared behavior across species, across continents, across time.”

PEERJ

Header Image Credit : Public Domain

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Sungbo’s Eredo – The “Queen of Sheba’s Embankment”

Sungbo’s Eredo is one of the largest man-made monuments in Africa, consisting of a giant system of ditches and embankments that surrounds the entire ljebu Kingdom in the rain forests of south-western Nigeria.

Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared the Landscape With First Humans in New England

Woolly mammoths may have walked the landscape at the same time as the earliest humans in what is now New England, according to a Dartmouth study published in Boreas.

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

10 British Iron Age Hill Forts

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

Stabiae – The Roman Resort Buried by Mount Vesuvius

Stabiae was an ancient Roman town and seaside resort near Pompeii, that was largely buried during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in present-day Italy.

Astronomers Accurately Measure the Temperature of Red Supergiant Stars

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Researchers Overturn Hypothesis That Ancient Mammal Ancestors Moved Like Modern Lizards

The backbone is the Swiss Army Knife of mammal locomotion. It can function in all sorts of ways that allows living mammals to have remarkable diversity in their movements.

Popular stories

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

Exploring the Avebury Stone Circle Landscape

The area was designated part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites by UNESCO in 1986, in recognition for one of the most architecturally sophisticated stone circles in the world, in addition to the rich Neolithic, and Bronze age remains found nearby, such as the West Kennet Avenue, Beckhampton Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill.