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How Did Wolves Evolve into Man's Best Friend?

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By Chris Gayomali

Implausible as it may seem, your harmless little maltipoo puppy descended from a fearsome line of bloodthirsty wolves. And thanks to a new discovery, scientists now have a better idea of how exactly that happened.

Comparing dog and wolf DNA, new research published inNature suggests that dogs possess an evolved set of genes that help them more effectively break down carbs and starches than their ferocious, wild ancestors. It's why our cuddly pals are more likely to go for a dog biscuit than, well, our throats. 

Combing through the genomes of 60 domestic breeds — including golden retrievers and cocker spaniels — Swedish researchers discovered that dogs have a much easier time converting starches into glucose than modern wolves. This means that at some point in dogs' evolutionary history, packs of wild canids struck up a mutually beneficial relationship with early humans, and learned to subsist on people food — stuff like wheat, barley, corn, rice, and potatoes. In exchange, man earned himself a loyal friend and fierce protector.  

"I think it is a striking case of co-evolution," Erik Axelsson, a geneticist at Uppsala University, tells the Washington Post. "The fact that we shared a similar environment in the last 10,000 years caused a similar adaptation. And the big change in the environment was the development of agriculture."

But why did dogs and humans start hanging out in the first place? That's still a matter of contention. Some researchers think that early humans domesticated wolves they found skulking through the trash in village outskirts. Others think humans captured and raised wolf puppies early in their lives and that over time they and their offspring became tame. 

Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog, thinks wolves started following man around when our ancestors were still nomadic. The theory goes that wolves realized that these weapon-toting, bipedal hunters were very effective killing machines, and began following them, taking whatever scraps were left over from a big kill. (Scavenging consumes less energy than hunting, the thinking goes.) Eventually, a relationship was established, and these furry creatures began to travel with us, evolving smaller skeletal frames and shorter jaws over the centuries. 

"You had populations of dog-wolves that became isolated, and in doing so, they began to inbreed," Derr tells NPR. "And when you inbreed, you get genetic peculiarities that arise, and then those peculiarities become part of the population. If they work or become popular or have some function of beauty or utility, then they were kept by the humans — and that population then spreads those through other populations through breeding."

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Animals
Why Male Hyenas Have It Worse Than Females
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A life of hunting zebras and raising young on the savanna isn’t half bad for a female hyena. Sadly, the same can’t be said for their male counterparts. As MinuteEarth explains, things take a downturn for the males of the species once they hit adolescence. No female in their pack will mate with them, a behavior scientists believe evolved to avoid inbreeding, so they head off in search of a different group to join. After dealing with vicious hazing from their new clan, they file in at the bottom of the rank and wait for other males above them to die so that they can slowly gain status.

Even after rising through the hierarchy, the most a male hyena can aspire to is being second place to the lowest-ranking female. Thanks to their bulky build and aggressive behavior, female hyenas enjoy a dominant position that’s rare in the animal kingdom.

After watching the video below, head over here for more facts about hyenas.

[h/t MinuteEarth]

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Art
A Beached Whale Sculpture Popped Up on the Banks of Paris's Seine River
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In Paris, dozens of fish varieties live in the Seine River. Now, the Associated Press reports that the famous waterway is home to a beached whale.

Rest assured, eco-warriors: The sperm whale is actually a lifelike sculpture, installed on an embankment next to Notre Dame Cathedral by Belgian artists’ collective Captain Boomer. It’s meant to raise environmental awareness, and evoke "the child in everyone who still is puzzled about what is real and what is not,” collective member Bart Van Peel told the Associated Press.

The 65-foot sculpture has reportedly startled and confused many Parisians, thanks in part to a team of fake scientists deployed to “survey” the whale. One collective member even posted a video on social media, warning Parisians that there “may be others in the water” if they opt to take a dip in the river, The Local reported.

The whale sculpture is only temporary—but as for Captain Boomer, this isn’t their first whale-related stunt. Last summer, the collective installed a similar riverside artwork in Rennes, France, and they also once strapped a large-scale whale sculpture to the back of a truck and drove it around France.

[h/t Associated Press]

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