Gold miners have uncovered two ice-age mammals in northwest Canada. The miners discovered the mummified wolf pup and caribou calf in 2016 while checking permafrost in the Yukon territory that was melting. To the surprise of many, the mummified wolf pup was well-preserved, and researchers unveiled it in a ceremony on Thursday.
What surprised many is that the fur, skin and muscle tissues were excellently preserved, which is extremely rare, even for mammals preserved in permafrost. However, all three parts are present on the unearthed specimen. Scientists conducted a detailed analysis of it, and they say the radiocarbon dated to more than 50,000 years ago, according to a The Guardian. The mummified wolf pup is so well-preserved that even fine details on its head, tails, paws, skin and hair are present. However, the caribou calf discovered with the wolf pup is only partially preserved, with just the head, torso and two front limbs intact.
“To our knowledge, this is the only mummified ice age wolf ever found in the world,” paleontologist Grant Zazula, who works with the Yukon government, told The Guardian.
“When Grant sent me the pictures and asked me to participate I was really, really excited, I was sort of beside myself,” carnivore morphologist Julie Meachen told The Guardian.
She has been working with ice-age mammals at Des Moines University and is joining the research team examining the mummified wolf pup.
“We want to do an ancient DNA test to see who it’s related to and look at its microbiome to see if there are gut bacteria still there,” Meachen added.
Other researchers around the world were as excited as Meachen about the discovery of this dominant ancient predator and its prey. Both are preserved well enough for future investigation and research to be possible. Scientists will be able to determine factors such as cause of death, diet, health, age and genetics.
“Ice Age wolf bones are relatively common in the Yukon, but having an animal preserved with skin and fur is just exceptional – you just want to reach out and stroke it. It’s an evocative glimpse into the Ice Age world,” University of Edinburgh paleontologist Elsa Panciroli said. “Hopefully further research on this ‘pup-sicle’ might yield some ancient DNA,” she said, adding that it could provide more insight into wolf populations that habituated Yukon at this time. “For example, where did they come from, and how are they related to modern wolves?”
Since the skin and fur of the mummified wolf pup were well preserved, scientists believe the two animals lived in a cold period, according to Jan Zalasiewicz, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester.
“A drier and more arid climate would help to preserve skin and fur, and this typically happens when the climate gets colder,” he said.