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

Related Articles

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

Camulodunum – The First Capital of Britannia

Camulodunum was a Roman city and the first capital of the Roman province of Britannia, in what is now the present-day city of Colchester in Essex, England.

African Crocodiles Lived in Spain Six Million Years Ago

Millions of years ago, several species of crocodiles of different genera and characteristics inhabited Europe and sometimes even coexisted.

Bat-Winged Dinosaurs That Could Glide

Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Ancient Maya Built Sophisticated Water Filters

Ancient Maya in the once-bustling city of Tikal built sophisticated water filters using natural materials they imported from miles away, according to the University of Cincinnati.

New Clues Revealed About Clovis People

There is much debate surrounding the age of the Clovis - a prehistoric culture named for stone tools found near Clovis, New Mexico in the early 1930s - who once occupied North America during the end of the last Ice Age.

Cognitive Elements of Language Have Existed for 40 Million Years

Humans are not the only beings that can identify rules in complex language-like constructions - monkeys and great apes can do so, too, a study at the University of Zurich has shown.

Bronze Age Herders Were Less Mobile Than Previously Thought

Bronze Age pastoralists in what is now southern Russia apparently covered shorter distances than previously thought.

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

Popular stories

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.