Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary


You may find it difficult to visualize your fuzzy little puppy as a wolf, but most biologists are quite comfortable with the idea—with modifications, of course, including smaller teeth and smaller brains.

Recent research suggests that the taming of the wolf happened in East Asia, though questionable whether it happened once or several times. There's considerably less certainty about when, possibly 13,000 to 15,000 years ago—or perhaps much earlier. Other recent research suggests that dogs can tune in to human communicative signals significantly better than even our closest primate relatives. Wolves are not good at this, indicating that it's a product of domestication. It seems that a number of animals can pick up a clue as to where something is by following the gaze of another, but it's at least possible that only humans and dogs "get it" when a person points or uses other signals. And since even most puppies "get it", it almost certainly is genetic. The hunters and gatherers of the early Chihuahuan Desert were blessed indeed with such talented hunting companions.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

gray wolf

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). Image by Gary Kramer, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Hare, B., M. Brown, C. Williamson, and M. Tomasello. 2002. The domestication of social cognition in dogs. Science 298:1634-1636.

Leonard, J. A., R. K. Wayne, J. Wheeler, R. Valadez, S. Guillen, and C. Vila. 2002. Ancient DNA evidence for Old World origin of New World dogs. Science 298:1613-1616.

Vila, C; Amorim, I.R., Leonard, J.A., Posada, D., Castroviejo, J., Petrucci-Fonseca, F., Crandall, K.A., Ellegren, H. and Wayne R.K. 1999. Mitochondrial DNA phylogeography and population history of the grey wolf Canis lupus. Molecular Ecology, 8:2089.

Vila, C., P. Savolainen, J.E. Maldonado , I.R. Amorim, J.E. Rice, R.L. Honeycutt, K.A. Crandall, J.Lundeberg, and R.K. Wayne. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science, 276:1687-1689.

Savolainen, P., Y. Zhang, J. Luo, J. Lundeberg, and T. Leitner. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610-1613.