We thought we knew almost everything there is to know about the Canid family- dogs, wolves, jackals, foxes – as they are so common across continents.
Yet, a new finding overturns this assumption. The study, describing a new wolf species that has been hiding in plain sight has been published in the Current Biology journal.
The finding concerns the African golden jackal. Which, as it stands, is not a jackal at all. DNA analysis slams the scientific community with yet another surprise. For one and a half centuries, the golden jackals that are common to East Africa and Eurasia have been treated as one species.
The new research, conducted by Klaus-Peter Koepfli proves that the African golden jackal and the Eurasian golden jackal are not one and the same. Furthermore, they are not even related. As it turns out, the African golden jackal has more in common with the gray wolf than the distant European cousin.
The gray wolf is also common to the African continent, as it the Ethiopian wolf. According to the study, the Eurasian golden jackals and the African golden jackals do of course share similarities. Similarities that kept the scientific community in the dark until recently.
While the Eurasian jackals are smaller in size and have weaker teeth and a slightly narrower skull, the African jackal which is now known to be a wolf is slightly larger, yet its fur is lighter and shorter and other desert adaptations mark the difference.
One more thing marks a substantial difference between the two species. According to the research, the European golden jackal and the African golden jackal have not shared a genome in a million years.
The lead author of the study, who is a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, stated:
“I was very surprised”.
The study led by Klaus-Peter Koepfli draws on a study published in 2012 by Philippe Gaubert. The previous research had already proposed the thesis that African golden jackals are not the relatives of Eurasian golden jackals, but rather a subspecies of the gray wolf. This analysis was based on mitochondrial DNA, passed on to cubs by their mothers.
The Koepfli study took these results one notch up. It expanded the range of the research to include more geographic areas, as well as DNA of both golden jackals and wolves. As the study proceeded, the initial assumption that Gaubert’s study would be replicated changed.
With the wealth of material under scrutiny, coming from 128 Canid species spread throughout Kenya, Eurasia and North Africa and including 38 genetic markers, the findings turned out unexpected.
Indeed, the golden jackals of Eurasia and Africa are not related. However, neither is the African jackal a subspecies of the gray wolf. Rather, Koepfli suggests, it is a wolf species on its own.
As such, the wolf in jackal’s clad could soon bear a different name: African golden wolf or Canis anthus.
Photo Credits: ewoods.in