As with most things in this world, the evolution of the Wolf is up for debate. Biologists believe the wolf evolved from primitive carnivores known as “Miacids”. These prehistoric creatures ranged in size from something equivalent to a gopher up to a large dog. 52 million years ago is a long way back to start the history of the wolf we know today. But to understand the wolf, you should understand its history.
The Miacids evolved to the first canids relatively late in their evolutionary cycle. Some biologists believe the canids originated in North America, then spread to Asia and South America. Others believe the canids originated in Asia and spread to other two land masses. The evidence isn’t clear enough to determine where the canids originated, but that they did exist primarily in these areas from their early Beginnings.
Robert Wayne (a researcher from the University of California) suggests a number of wolf like species evolved from a common canid. The following is a piece of his synopsis.
- Canis lupus: The first gray wolf . First appeared in Eurasia during the Pleistocene period, about 1 million years ago.
- Canis dirus: The dire wolf. Believed to be a descendants of Canis lupus which migrated to North America around 750,000 years ago. Canis dirus is larger and heavier than its ancestor, but the two species seem to have coexisted for about 400,000 years. As its prey began to vanish due to climate changes, the dire wolf gradually became extinct as well. Vanishing completely about 7,000 years ago.
Canis lupus got its official classification from a Swedish scientist named Carl von Linne in 1758. The name can be loosely associated to Carl’s own surname. In Latin, Carl Linne becomes Carolus Linnaeus, thus Canis Lupus was a born label for a magnificent creature.
|¹ Notochord: an elongated rod-shaped structure composed of cells forming the supporting axis of the body.
² Vertebrates: having a backbone or spinal column.
³ Placental: mammals that give birth (as opposed to laying eggs).
Sub-Species can be divided into two categories. First, the most common classification of wolves prior to 1992, defined 24 different sub-species or racial groups. However, in 1992 at the Northern American Wolf Symposium, and based largely on the research of taxonomist Ron Nowak, a new classification of 5 groups was created. Here are both categories:
- Kenai Peninsula wolf (Canis alces ª 1925) One of the largest in North America.
- White Wolf (Canis arctos) Found in the high Arctic.
- Small Gray Wolf (Canis baileyi) The smallest North American Gray Wolf. From Mexico through the South Western U.S.
- Newfoundland Wolf (Canis beothucus ª ?) Reported as almost pure-white.
- Bernard Wolf (Canis bernardi ª 1918-52) Limited to the Banks and Victoria Islands in the Arctic. Described as white with black-tipped hair along the spinal ridge. It was not recognized as a species until 1943.
- Columbia Wolf (Canis Columbianus) A large wolf found in the Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta.
- Crassodon Wolf (Canis crassodon) Found in the Vancouver Island, this is a medium sized grayish wolf.
- Fuscus (Canis fuscus ª 1940) Found in the Cascade Mountains, this was a brownish-colored wolf.
- Grizzly Wolf (Canis griseoalbus) Found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba this is a very large wolf.
- Hudson Wolf (Canis hudsonicus) Found in northern Manitoba and the NW Territories, this is a light colored wolf.
- Mountain Wolf (Canis irremotus) Found in the northern Rocky Mountains, this is a medium sized light colored wolf.
- Labrador Wolf (Canis labradorius) Found in Labrador and northern Quebec.
- Lago Wolf (Canis ligoni) Found in Alexander Archipelago islands in the arctic, this is a small dark colored wolf.
- Timber Wolf (Canis lycaon) Found in eastern Canada and the U.S. The first subspecies to be recognized in North America in 1775. It originally had the largest range of territory in North America.
- Mackenzie Wolf (Canis mackenzii) Found in the Northwest Territories, it was not recognized as a species until 1943.
- Arctic Wolf (Canis manningi) The smallest arctic wolf found in the Baffin Islands. It is a white or light colored wolf and was not recognized until 1943.
- Arizona Wolf (Canis mogollonensis ª 1935) Found primarily in Arizona and New Mexico, it was a medium sized wolf.
- Texas Wolf (Canis monstrabilis ª 1926) Found primarily in Texas and New Mexico. Almost identical to the Arizona and Small Gray Wolf species.
- Buffalo Wolf (Canis nubilus ª 1926) Also known as the Great Plains Wolf, it was usually light in color.
- Mackenzie Valley Wolf (Canis occidentalis) Found in western Canada, this is a large wolf, typically Gray in color.
- Hunter Wolf (Canis orion) Found in Greenland, this is a white or very light colored wolf.
- Alaskan Wolf (Canis pambasileus) Found primarily in Alaska and the Yukon. This is a dark colored wolf.
- Tundra Wolf (Canis tundrarum) Found in the arctic tundra, this is a light colored wolf.
- Southern Rocky Mountain Wolf (Canis youngi ª 1935) Found in the southern Rocky Mountains, this wolf was a light buff color.
ª Indicates an extinct species. Followed by the year it was classified as extinct.
- Canis occidentalis
Contains most of the Alaskan and western Canadian species. Includes: alces, columbianus, griseoalbus, mackenzii, occidentalis, pambasileus and tundrarum.
- Canis nubilus
Contains most of the SE Alaskan, central and northeastern Canadian and western U.S. species. Includes: beothucus, crassodon, fuscus, hudsonicus, irremotus, labradorius, ligoni, lycaon of Minnesota, manningi, nubilus and youngi.
- Canis lycaon
Contains the southeastern Canadian and northeastern U.S. subspecies. Includes: lycaon (except for the Minnesota lycaons).
- Canis arctos
Contains the Arctic islands and Greenland species. Includes: arctos, bernardi and orion.
- Canis baileyi
Contains the species from Mexico and the extreme southwestern U.S. Includes: baileyi, mogollonensis,and monstrabilis.
Sure is a lot of stuff to say wolves evolved into a variety of breeds. But at least it has some science behind the statement.
You might like some of these resources about wolf evolution.
- PBS The Evolution of The Dog
- National Geographic – Wolf to Woof (requires magazine subscription)
- Northern Lights Wildlife – All About Wolves
© 1997-2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D., Springwolf’s Kosmos. All Rights Reserved.