- A gold miner in Canada’s Yukon found the 57,000-year-old body of a female wolf pup in melting permafrost.
- According to a new study, it is the most complete wolf mummy ever found.
- The wolf’s fur, teeth, and soft tissues are intact — only the eyes are missing.
- Researchers think the 7-week-old pup died after her den collapsed.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A 7-week-old gray wolf pup was in her den in Canada’s Yukon 57,000 years ago when it collapsed. The animal was killed instantly, but the wolf was frozen intact and buried under permafrost.
The cold meant that the body barely decayed over the subsequent millennia.
“She is complete, with all her soft tissues intact and even her fur. This is a very rare find,” Julie Meachen, a professor of anatomy at Des Moines University, told Business Insider.
Meachen is the lead author of a study about the wolf published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
The carcass, which a miner found in the Klondike gold fields in 2016, is the most complete wolf mummy ever seen, Meachen added. Her team named the pup Zhùr, which means “wolf” in the local Indigenous Hän language.
“Since Zhùr was so intact, we can learn a lot from her short life,” Meachen said.
By examining the tiny body, researchers can glean clues about what Earth was like during an era when it was much colder and broad swaths of the world were covered in ice. They can also find out how ancient wolves lived and what they ate.
Every part of the wolf pup was intact except the eyes
Meachen said handling the wolf’s body felt exhilarating.
“I was very ginger with her, as I didn’t want to damage anything,” she said.
Meachen and her colleagues took X-rays of Zhùr’s skeleton and analyzed samples of the pup’s fur and tooth enamel. They found that the animal’s bones had not yet fully developed, which is how they determined she was just 7 weeks old at the time of death. The body is just over a foot long and weighs 1.5 pounds.
They knew the pup was female, since the genitalia was perfectly preserved.
The only parts Zhùr was missing were her eyes.
“Eyes are very soft and gelatinous, so they are the first thing to disintegrate when an animal dies,” Meachen said. “The eyes are open to the elements and bacteria, and they probably desiccated quickly, which is why they appeared so shriveled and seem completely absent.”
By analyzing traces of minerals in the pup’s tooth enamel, the researchers found Zhùr had most likely been weaned recently and that the wolf family’s diet consisted of fish — possibly salmon — from the nearby Klondike River.
The team also compared Zhùr’s DNA with that of modern-day 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 Zhùr’s ancestors…