A 57,000-year-old mummified wolf pup was found in Yukon permafrost. It's so well preserved that everything but the eyes is intact.
A close-up view of the head of the mummified wolf pup found in the Yukon shows its teeth. Government of Yukon
A gold miner in Yukon, Canada found the 57,000-year-old body of a wolf pup in melting permafrost.
According to a new study, it is the most complete wolf mummy ever found.
The fur, teeth and soft tissues of the wolf are intact - only the eyes are missing.
Researchers believe the 7 week old puppy died after their den collapsed.
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A 7-week-old gray wolf pup was in her den in Yukon, Canada 57,000 years ago when it suddenly collapsed. The animal was killed instantly, but the wolf was frozen intact and buried under permafrost.
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The cold meant that the body hardly deteriorated in the following millennia.
"It's complete, all soft tissues intact, and even the fur. This is a very rare find," said Julie Meachen, professor of anatomy at Des Moines University, to Business Insider.
Meachen is the lead author of a study on the wolf published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
The carcass that a miner found in the Klondike gold fields in 2016 is the most complete wolf mummy ever seen, Meachen added. Her team named the puppy Zhùr, which means "wolf" in the local indigenous Hän language.
"Since Zhùr was so intact, we can learn a lot from her short life," said Meachen.
By examining the tiny body, researchers can gain clues as to what the earth was like at a time when it was much colder and large parts of the world were covered in ice. You can also find out how ancient wolves lived and what they ate.
Every part of the wolf pup was intact except for the eyes
Meachen said dealing with the wolf's body was exhilarating.
"I was very nervous with her because I didn't want to damage anything," she said.
Meachen and her colleagues took X-rays of Zhùr's skeleton and analyzed samples of his fur and tooth enamel. They found that the puppy's bones had not yet fully developed. So they found out that they were only seven weeks old at the time of death. The body is a little over a foot long and weighs 1.5 pounds.
A full length view of the wolf pup mummy. Government of Yukon
They knew the puppy was female because the genitals were perfectly preserved.
The only parts Zhùr was missing were her eyes.
"The eyes are very soft and gelatinous, so they are the first to disintegrate when an animal dies," Meachen said. "The eyes are open to the elements and bacteria, and they are likely to dry up quickly, which is why they seemed so shrunken and completely absent."
An x-ray of a wolf pup found in the Yukon permafrost. Government of Yukon
When analyzing the traces of minerals in the pup's enamel, the researchers found that Zhùr had most likely recently been weaned and that the wolf family's diet consisted of fish - possibly salmon - from the nearby Klondike.
The team also compared Zhur's DNA with that of modern wolves. They found that the mummified pup was related to ancient gray wolves that once lived in Eurasia, as well as modern gray wolves from North America. The genetic similarities suggest that Zhùr's ancestors migrated across the Beringland Bridge between the two continents.
The nature of Zhùr's death preserved the wolf
The wolf pup as found in the Yukon permafrost. Government of Yukon
It is unusual, Meachen said, to find intact animal mummies in the Yukon.
"The animal has to die in a permafrost place where the ground is constantly frozen, and it has to be buried very quickly, as with any other fossilization process," Meachen said in a press release. "If it's in the frozen tundra too long, it will decompose or be eaten."
The analysis of Zhor's diet showed that the animal did not starve to death. Therefore, Meachen believes the puppy died instantly when its den unexpectedly collapsed.
"We were asked why she was the only wolf found in the cave and what happened to her mother or siblings," she said. "It could be that she was an only pup. Or the other wolves weren't in the cave during the collapse. Unfortunately, we'll never find out."
As the earth warms up, more animal mummies are emerging from the permafrost
Discoveries like these are likely to become more common as temperatures continue to rise on Earth.
As the planet warms up, the permafrost - ground in the northern hemisphere that remains frozen year round - begins to thaw. While it is melting, Ice Age creatures like Zhùr, buried for tens of thousands of years, are discovered.
"That's probably the only silver lining for global warming," Meachen said. "Scientists are excited to find these mummies and at the same time appalled because we understand the impact this will have on further climate change."
A carcass of an Ice Age cave bear found on Great Lyakhovsky Island between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea in northern Russia. Northeastern Federal University via AP
In a similar finding in September, Siberian researchers announced that they had found a perfectly preserved adult cave bear - with its nose, teeth and internal organs still intact. Scientists believe the bear died 22,000 to 39,500 years ago. Its species, Ursus spelaeus, lived during the last ice age and died out 15,000 years ago.
There are also remains of woolly mammoths from the last Ice Age on the Lyakhovsky Islands, where the bear was found.
In 2019 in nearby Yakutia, scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf's head with fur, teeth, brain and a face cloth on the banks of a river.
A severed wolf's head from the Ice Age was found in Reuters
Siberian permafrost has also revealed two perfectly preserved, extinct cave lion babies, as well as an ancient baby horse that died in a mud pit 42,000 years ago. The foal's hair, skin, tail, and hooves were all intact.
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