By Ian Wishart
The stuffed body of an extinct wolf found hiding in the attic of the Otago Museum in New Zealand has provided a scientific breakthrough on an enduring biological mystery.
For two hundred years, ever since Charles Darwin stumbled across them, scientists have pondered how the recently extinct Falklands Islands wolf came to be living on a remote territory 500km from the South American mainland.
Now, a chance discovery of a long-forgotten stuffed Falklands wolf at Dunedin’s Otago museum has given scientists the breakthrough they needed.
Using DNA extraction techniques, the wolf’s genome was compared with a sample originally collected by Darwin, and found to be related to six teeth from an ancient species, Dusicyon avus. Researchers have determined the Falklands wolf diverged from its older cousin about 16,000 years ago, and probably walked across frozen sea ice to the Falklands during the last ice age, with the population becoming trapped there when the ice began to melt.
The last known Falklands wolf died in 1876, and for all we know ended up in the Otago Museum attic, a forgotten ice age relic only now giving up its clues.
The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Communications.