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Desert Diary
Mammals/Domestic Fox


Dogs were apparently the earliest domesticated animal, and although well represented in Chihuahuan Desert archaeological sites, the change from wolf to dog is known to have taken place thousands of years earlier. Although there is little direct evidence concerning the nature of the process, modern studies carried out in Russia seemingly throw considerable light on domestication.

The silver fox is an animal that normally fears man and becomes aggressive if cornered. Starting some 40 years ago, this animal was selected on the basis of a single trait: tamability. Each generation, the most tame 5% of the males and 20% of the females were chosen for breeding. The result after 30 to 35 generations? Not only what one might expect as a result of taming, such as seeking human attention, but display of many of the traits we see in dogs, including floppy ears, an upturned tail, pelts with patches of white, and a number of physiological traits, such as earlier sexual maturity. We can doubt that wolves were domesticated that fast, but the potential for evolutionary change is clearly displayed.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


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.

Red fox

A Red Fox. The silver phase of this species was used in the experiment. Image by John Sarvis, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Web Resources

The domestication experiment rule