The Gray, Gray World of Wolves

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen


Carl Zimmer of the New York Times gives us this story:  DNA Study Reveals the One and Only Wolf Species in North America.

“The first large study of North American wolf genomes has found that there is only one species on the continent: the gray wolf. Two other purported species, the Eastern wolf and the red wolf, are mixes of gray wolf and coyote DNA, the scientists behind the study concluded.

The finding, announced Wednesday, highlights the shortcomings of laws intended to protect endangered species, as such laws lag far behind scientific research into the evolution of species.”

Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University  who  studies the genome of the canids (mammals of the dog family – Canidae) – that is domestic and wild dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals and dingoes —  in her most recent study, highlighted by Zimmer, concludes that all North American wolves are genetically one species with variants, like the Eastern Wolf and the Red Wolf, being hybrids between Grey Wolves (Canis lupus) and the Coyote (Canis latrans).

Interesting, but so what?

Two months ago, in the same newspaper, Joanna Klein, writing in the science section’s Trilobites series, gave us:  Red Wolves Need Emergency Protection, Conservationists Say.

“Conservation groups submitted an emergency petition last week requesting that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service increase protection for the only wild population of red wolves left in the world.

 Red wolves, which are bigger than coyotes, but smaller than gray wolves, are the only wolf species found completely within the United States.”


“It also seeks an upgrading of the status of red wolves, which are endangered, from “nonessential” to “essential.” The change in status would grant reserved habitat to the species and require consultations with biologists over how changes to land use would affect the wolves.”

At the end of May, conservationists were lobbying the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the Red Wolf an “essential” species, in part because the “North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission, a state-run conservation agency funded in part by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, which has called the [federal Red Wolf Recovery Program] a failure and claimed that wolves have damaged private land.”  The details of the program themselves are a matter of controversy and conflict between state and federal biologists.

Carl Zimmer reports that “The gray wolf and red wolf were listed as endangered in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s and remain protected today, to the periodic consternation of ranchers and agricultural interests.  In 2013, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the Eastern wolf as a separate species, which led officials to recommend delisting the gray wolf. Conservationists won a lawsuit that forced the agency to abandon the plan.”

Furthermore, vanHoldt’s study not only identifies the three canids (Grey, Eastern and Red wolves) as a single species (albeit, the latter two are wolf-coyote hybrids), but her paper states bluntly:

“The red wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1973, initiating a captive breeding program by the USFWS. The program began with 12 of 14 founding individuals that reproduced, selected from a panel of several hundred captured individuals that were thought to represent the ancestry spectrum ranging from coyote to pure red wolf and various admixtures of the two forms. These 12 founders were considered to be pure red wolves based on phenotypic characteristics and the lack of segregation of “coyote-like” traits in their offspring. The descendants of these founders defined the ancestry of the several hundred red wolves produced by the captive breeding program and have been the source for a single reintroduced population in eastern North Carolina.”

 The sad fact is that not only is the Red Wolf known to be a hybrid of the Grey Wolf and the Coyote, and has always been since it was first identified and studied, believed to have originated in the last century, but the Red Wolves of North Carolina are a human created species, created in an intentional federally financed breeding program, similar to the creating and breeding of dog breeds.   Well intended but hardly the purpose of the Endangered Species Act

vanHoldt and her team use their study to encourage the extension of the Endangered Species Act to cover such hybrids.

Why write of this little biologists’ tiff here?

To me, it demonstrates how far astray science and the science/policy interface can drift when the science itself is vague, blurry —  based on words and concepts that do not have solid, agreed-upon definitions that are based on solid science understandings.

The word in this story is SPECIES.  If you think that there is one and only one common and agreed upon definition of the word species in the world of biology, you have been criminally under-educated or remain willfully misinformed.  For a brief glimpse of the controversy, you can look at the entirely unauthoritative Species Problem wiki page, which states “there are at least 26 recognized species concepts.”

Several years ago, I personally attempted to discover the “current definition” of species being used by academic biologists.  I had foolishly believed that they must have one, by this time, 40 years after my university education.  My search finally ended when I had a protracted email conversation with a well-respected, well placed academic biologist, whom I had approached based on my digging deep into some journal article of his.  We had quite an extensive discussion only to arrive at his admission that “biology, as a subject, does not have a firm definition of species – never has – and may never have.”

This lack of a firm, scientifically-based definition makes the application science-related policies, enshrined as law, such as the Endangered Species Act – which can have far-reaching social and economic effects on civil society – problematic at best and, worse,  subject to “science fads” and whimsy.

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Author’s Comment Policy: 

As always, I will be glad to answer your questions about my experience with the definition of the word species.

This essay is a simple comment on the implications of science and science-based-policy that depend on vague definitions and the trouble it can cause.

Disclosure:  I once owned a German Shepard/Wolf cross who was a sweet thing but had the unfortunate habit of playing too rough with my four small children – she would race alongside of them, leap up, take them in her teeth by the backs of their necks, and throw them to the ground, place her fore-paws on their chests and woof:  “I win!”.     I placed her with an ex-soldier who worked with dogs.

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221 thoughts on “The Gray, Gray World of Wolves

  1. “officials to recommend delisting the gray wolf. Conservationists won a lawsuit that forced the agency to abandon the plan.”
    There will be no peace, no justice, and no economic growth until the last lawyer is strangled with the entrails of the last environmentalist.

    • If we got rid of all the lawyers, we would have to create a justice system that doesn’t need lawyers.
      Although it doesn’t feel like it a lot of the time, the law protects both the weak and the strong. There are failed states where there is no rule of law. Justice is dispensed by the local warlord. Maybe you would be happy living under those conditions but I sure wouldn’t.

      • Yes, we used to have the rule of law in the US. It was replaced by the rule of lawyers. There is a difference.

      • …we would have to create a justice system that does’t need lawyers.

        We don’t have a justice system now. If you believe it’s a justice system, then I’d guess you have never been unsuspectingly dragged into what we have now and you have never served on a jury. 😉
        It seems to me that we have a legal system, not a justice system… and over the last 7 years the “legal” part seems to be gray and depends largely on your major political party affiliation.

      • Gabro says: July 30, 2016 at 5:52 pm
        … Unless you also have the better lawyers …

        The best lawyer will find a way to keep you out of court.

      • I once got a lawyer to admit that the “justice system” is simply a set of rules under which lawyers compete amongst each other.

      • Heard the one about the lawyer who refused to defend any innocent clients? They got quite angry if they were convicted. On the other hand the guilty ones were really happy if he got them off, and didn’t have anything to complain about if he didn’t.

      • Well when I finally get to hell, I know I will be quite comfortable, because I won’t be able to get close enough to the fire, for all of the lawyers sitting there !

      • Lawyers are not the problem, they simply give voice to people with complaints. It is ill-conceived laws, and the politicians who enact them, that are the problem.

      • Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad says “We don’t need a criminal lawyer, we need a “criminal” lawyer!”

      • No, Jim. You are a good, old-fashioned Naturalist. I for one know the difference. You get out into, and study, Nature, not the Environment.

      • Peter Polson says: July 30, 2016 at 8:40 pm
        No, Jim. You are a good, old-fashioned Naturalist.

        Now there’s an endangered species. We have become much more urbanized and much less in touch with nature. I suspect that most enviro-ninnies have no direct experience with nature. For them nature is just an intellectual exercise. For sure, they won’t let their kids run free in the woodlands, meadows, and beaches.
        I agree with Aldo Leopold who

        puts forth the idea that humans will never be free if they have no wild spaces in which to roam. link

    • Nature is a surrogate for marxism attacking The Western world cultural and economic basis. And for them something that support their “war” is logical. So if the man made red wolf can be used as a surrogate its logical to them.

      • “Red Wolves” generate interstate commerce. Who knew?
        Enviros needed a legitimate way to claim wolves generated interstate commerce. So they began in the 1970’s by “saving” the “red wolves” when the USFWS trapped what they could of them roaming between Texas and Louisiana, put them in a captive breeding program, and declared the species “extinct in the wild.”
        When the “red wolves’ ” DNA was checked, however, it was found—like the Mexican wolf’s DNA—that feral dogs, coyotes, and inbreeding had polluted its gene pool. Technically, the species was already “extinct” (roughly 75% coyote, 25% red wolf) ” when they were captured , and thus ineligible for any kind of “protection” under the ESA by the EPA’s own “rules”.
        But that wasn’t an impediment for EPA “officials” or agencies like the USFWS.
        Time passed, the “red wolves” multiplied in captivity, and the USFWS proposed introducing their pen-raised mongrels in Kentucky and Tennessee. State officials, stockmen, and others in those states met them at the gate and told them they didn’t want the wolves.
        So the USFWS shifted its red wolf release to federal land in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and nearby Pocosin Lake Refuge, assuring the public if one of their “collared” red wolves strayed off federal land, the agency would simply “…recapture and return the animal to the refuge.”
        The wolves quickly exited these forests and multiplied new generations of collarless wolves that began scouring private land for livestock meals – some more than 100 miles away.
        A landowner who shot one threatening his livestock was fined and required to feed captive red wolves for a year.
        When North Carolina’s Hyde and Washington counties began having similar problems with the wolves, they passed local ordinances making it legal for ranchers and farmers to kill wolves they believed a threat to people or livestock on their land.
        The North Carolina General Assembly joined and supported them.
        A lawsuit —Gibbs vs. Babbitt (
        —was filed challenging the USFWS’s authority to prevent landowners from killing wolves that were killing their livestock. This suit was filed in federal district court for the eastern portion of North Carolina; arguing citizens had the right under state law to protect their property from marauding wolves, the ESA notwithstanding.
        In court, USFWS lawyers argued straight-faced that ranchers and farmers killing wolves that killed livestock and wildlife on their property were “ . . . interfering with interstate commerce, and thus violating the Commerce Clause.”
        What the case really was about was establishing that “red wolves” generated interstate commerce and, equally important, that federal administrative laws generated by agencies like the EPA could be used to override state and local law.
        Establishing the “fact” that wolves generated interstate commerce was critical for the government’s case because the Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibited the states from interfering with interstate commerce (by killing or trapping wolves that were killing their livestock). Once interstate commerce was established in federal courts, it could be used as a shield for the USFWS and other enviro agencies in the states while they expanded their “wolf programs” that would include the importation of Canada’s large arctic wolves, declaring them “endangered” (they’re not even threatened), and setting them loose in Yellowstone where they’ve now decimated the Mountain States’ moose, elk, deer and other big game along with the those states’ billion dollar a year hunting industry and the businesses associated with it. The wolves also have multiplied and spilled out of the park and into other states, killing cattle, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats wherever they find them as they go.
        So, what kind of interstate commerce would red “wolves” generate? Contract lawyers for USFWS argued the kind that tourists generated when they came from places like New York to North Carolina to “hear the ‘wolves’ howl.”
        Gibbs lawyers checked the logbook at the federal forest where the so-called “wolf howling’s” were held and found approximately 200 people had attended these events over the previous decade. And no one knew if they came to hear the “wolves” howl or just happened to be camping there when the “howling’s” were held.
        What other type of “commerce” could be harmed if a red “wolf” was shot? Well, growth of a valuable wolf-pelt industry might be disrupted.
        Gibbs lawyers again checked the historical records and could find no value placed on wolf pelts in the last century in North Carolina. They did find a bounty on wolves beginning in the late 1700s, however
        What other type of “commerce” might be affected? Well, researchers who crossed states lines to get there to study “red wolves” would be deprived of a resource if “red wolves” were shot.
        The Federal District Court for the eastern portion of North Carolina agreed with USFWS lawyers, and the case was referred to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a split decision, agreed with the lower court.
        Here, generally, is the court’s logic refuting the landowners claim they had a right to kill wolves killing their livestock and upholding the “fact” these “red wolves” generated interstate commerce:
        . . . that wolves were “things of interstate commerce because they moved across state lines and their movement was followed by “tourists, academics, and scientists.”
        . . . that the killing of the wolves implicated this “variety of commercial activities associated with interstate commerce and thus were constitutional under the Commerce Clause.
        . . . that landowners killing wolves on private lands would reduce the total number of wolves, which in turn “could reduce the number of wolves on Federal land.
        . . . that the [ESA] regulation allowing [these wolves to roam unchecked] was an integral part of an overall federal scheme to “ . . . conserve valuable wildlife resources important to the welfare of the country.”
        . . . and that since the landowners were killing wolves to protect their livestock, and since livestock were clearly part of interstate commerce, Congress had the authority to regulate the wolves because the law affected interstate commerce and was therefore allowed under the Commerce Clause, even if that effect was a negative one.
        It takes a few minutes to get your mind around that.
        The Supreme Court declined to hear the case on a Writ of Certiorari.

      • If a man growing corn to feed his own cattle can impact interstate commerce, surely a wolf killing that same cow can impact interstate commerce.
        The legal theory in the first case was that had the farmer not grown his own corn, he would have bought the corn in the market, and the corn he might have bought might have crossed over an interstate border. Hence the total amount of interstate trade changed, hence the farmer impacted interstate trade.
        (And thus the concept of a government limited in power died.)
        If a wolf kills a cow, that cow can’t be sold, if it had been sold it might have crossed an interstate boundary.

      • Wrusssr – Your comment simply reminds me that, should I ever have the misfortune to run for office, it will be on a platform of total war against bureaucratic / governmental encroachment into the affairs of the private citizen. Ugh, what a completely horrendous and sickening story.

      • ‘A landowner who shot one threatening his livestock was fined and required to feed captive red wolves for a year.’
        Is there anything in the judgement that stops him poisoning the feed?

      • Well in California, many studies have shown that a lot of livestock losses to coyotes, are in fact the result of marauding bands of family pet dogs, that go out for the day committing mayhem, and then go home to be petted and then well fed on “dog food ” by Purina.

      • If you grow up in California ranch country – especially the smaller ranches, which have more neighbors and tended toward gentrification earlier – you experienced that problem first hand. Where we lived a deputy sheriff (later full-blown county sheriff) had to german shepherds that he allowed to run free. Their chief amusement was chasing other peoples’ sheep, cattle, horses, chickens and such. He would grin “indulgently” at a complaint from a neighbor and tell you that the killers of your sheep or … were really coyotes. His dogs were just playing. We had a quarter horse that was scary smart. One morning he let the dogs chase him until he caught them – two passed-on AKC, purebred livestock killers. My dad called him to let him know where corpses were and the knucklehead had the gall to try and demand that my dad pay for his dogs. Dad just said, “your dogs, dead in my pastrure, chasing my horses? Sue me.”

    • Lawyers are just pawns in the game. Follow the money. That applies for everything. Our enemies are not our brothers, neighbors, or foreigners, they are our own treasonous leaders, beholden to something other than the people.

  2. If the survival of a species means continuation of its DNA, then even Neanderthals are not extinct as its known that many populations in Europe have some Neanderthal DNA from inter-breeding many 10’s of thousands of years ago. In this sense, all canine DNA will survive in the population of human bred dogs.

  3. It’s not just wolves.
    Getting an animal on the Endangered Species List isn’t all that hard to do–getting it OFF the list is like holding back the tide with a broom. Everyone has to have a say so and the definition of SPECIES gets rewritten to accommodate whatever policy agenda is set forth.

    • The problem is not so much delisting some species that has recovered from near extinction but finding a way to get the various NGOs & regulatory agencies to surrender their gravy train. Science be damned; people make money saving the environment. What are they going to do when the job is done?

      • @Jay Dee:
        Exactly, everyone has their own agenda to keep their piece of the pie and make it larger. Damn the science, just redefine the term–that way the money won’t be cut.
        You should see the shenanigans surrounding the round goby in my neck of the woods right now…it is enough to make any biologist sick.

      • Question for Jenn Runion ==> Where is your neck of the woods? what’s the story on the round goby?

      • @ Kip Hansen:
        Run a search for round goby in Great Lakes and the lower Fox River which flows into Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. Right now the policy is to close the locks, dump any and all water into a holding tank, portage a boat and then sanitize it before it can go into the lake. I haven’t kept up on it because I don’t own a boat; but quite honestly the entire thing is b.s. with policy makers confused if they should wind their butt or scratch their watch.

  4. I agree with Mr Hansen, but not for his reasoning. Species are an antiquated notion that can’t be defined. Species originated as a visually and physically distinguishing feature set between two closely related animals. Birds, for instances, were given a variety of species at the start of this method of classifications. Since then, however, we have learned that they will change colors very rapidly from area to area while being all-but identical genetically.
    As we developed newer and more sophisticated ways to examine flora and fauna over the last several centuries, species have both been created and removed from the family trees because we had more and more accurate ways to identify the animals. Now, we identify them by their genes, and that has shown how few actual hard lines in the sand between “species” there are.
    More frustrating is that if you say “the red wolf isn’t a species”, that may be perfectly true today – but hybrids become their own species classification over time. It is suggested, for instance, that homo sapiens crossbred with neanderthals. Does that mean that we aren’t a “species”?

    • The concept of species is still valid, although even in multicellular, sexually-reproducing organisms, it’s not always possible to work out the details. There are subspecies and ring species, for instance.
      But humans are definitely a species, since all the other species intermediate between us and our nearest relatives, chimps and bonobos, are extinct.
      Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans are also best understood as a single species, descended independently from H. heidelbergensis, but still capable of producing fertile “hybrid” offspring.
      Were there still any H. erectus-grade people around, we could probably also interbreed successfully with them, and there would be some sickos only too happy to do so.

      • “Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans are also best understood as a single species, descended independently from H. heidelbergensis, but still capable of producing fertile “hybrid” offspring.”
        A surprising number of “good” species are capable of producing fertile hybrid offspring. Almost any pair of dabbling (Anas) duck species for example, or all large falcon (“Hierofalco”) species.
        However this happens only quite rarely in nature, so the species remain separate, though there is some slight gene flow between some of them.
        It seems this was the case with Homo sapens, neanderthalensis and “denisova” too. There is only evidence of about three hybridization episodes between sapiens and neanderthalensis, and one between sapiens and “denisova”. That is not much over 10,000 years or longer.

      • Yes, reproductive isolation by region or behavior makes for valid species and subspecies.
        For most of their history, the three human subspecies were geographically isolated. Only when moderns spread out of Africa did they get the chance to interbreed. The two Eurasian subspecies were soon genetically swamped or wiped out.

      • “Yes, reproductive isolation by region or behavior makes for valid species and subspecies.”
        I’ll break down why I think that the species classification is wrong, using region and behavior:
        Take humans: Asian, Caucasian, Near Eastern, Arabic, African, Scandinavian, Native American. These are all roughly groupings of ‘race’ and they were all largely confined into different regions until recently and tend to have different behavior profiles (some of which is cultural which only adds complexity) and they all roughly share similar physical features that aren’t shared with the other groups. Humans aren’t a single species just because they can hybridize, right?
        Take dogs: St Bernard, Chihuahua, Golden Retriever, Pit Bull, Chow, Miniature Dachshund. These are all roughly groupings of ‘breed’ and they were isolated into different regions until recently and they tend to have different behavior profiles (some of which is training, which only adds complexity) and they all roughly share similar physical features that aren’t shared with the other groups. Dogs aren’t a single species just because they can make mutts, right?
        In both of these cases, they are considered the same species because they are genetically identical, excepting the phenotype that’s expressed. In the natural world, this happens all the time. just off the top of my head, I can think of multiple examples of birds, lizards, and other mammals that fall under this sort of “genetically close / phenotypically diverse” umbrella.
        “The concept of species is still valid, although even in multicellular, sexually-reproducing organisms, it’s not always possible to work out the details. There are subspecies and ring species, for instance.”
        That’s why I disagree. The KPCOFGS classification system is flawed as it was designed for a completely different purpose – primarily identifying organisms by sight and basic physiology. It’s not suited to the way we find the natural world. ‘Ring species’, for instance, is an attempt to bridge this classification need. I would say it’s akin to trying to use a card catalogue to lookup internet websites. Yes, you can probably do it, but why haven’t you moved to DNS? Why haven’t we changed to a better system that reflects the actual paradigm we have evidenced ourselves into?

      • Arsivo,
        Since humans replaced the archaic subspecies globally by around 30,000 years ago, there have never been reproductive barriers. Despite having regional phenotypes, there was constant gene flow among the geographic groups. Even the Americas and Australia were in breeding contact with Asia. In spite of apparent geographical differences, humans are in fact all very closely related, having undergone the bottleneck associated with the Toba eruption. Chimps, though limited to parts of Africa, show much more genetic diversity than our global species.
        Dogs are a domesticated subspecies of wolf, with many “cultivars”, products of artificial (man-made) selection.

      • “Despite having regional phenotypes, there was constant gene flow among the geographic groups. ”
        If there was such gene flow, why is locale more of a corollary in phenotype than descent? In other words, why do you find ‘Asians’ in Asia and not pockets in, say, the Middle East? The phenotype variation with constant gene flow would have evened out significantly before the industrial age. There are, of course, gradients in the phenotype. Not every group of animals has a Congo River to separate them.
        “In spite of apparent geographical differences, humans are in fact all very closely related, having undergone the bottleneck associated with the Toba eruption.”
        Yes. But many other animals share this similarity and are(or were) classified as different species. The distinctions you make in terms of “closely related” are too vague and variable to be used as a classification mechanism.
        “Chimps, though limited to parts of Africa, show much more genetic diversity than our global species.”
        Bonobos are Chimps, though. Bonobos are a part of that diversity. And yet they are classified separately. That is my problem.
        “Dogs are a domesticated subspecies of wolf, with many “cultivars”, products of artificial (man-made) selection.”
        Dogs are selectively bred wolves – the differences, genetically, do not make them a separate category.

      • That’s right. Dogs are a subspecies of wolf.
        Humans show regional differences because the gene flow among geographical groups isn’t enough to overwhelm the local distinctions.
        But we are all the same species, and, as I noted, one with very minor differences, compared to most mammalian species, including chimps.

      • “But we are all the same species, and, as I noted, one with very minor differences, compared to most mammalian species, including chimps.”
        And that is my point. There are many “species” delineations that are phenotypical only. If you use regional and behavioral variations to drive “species” then dogs aren’t one species and neither are we. The convention is too imprecise to be useful.

      • “By any definition, humans are a single species and dogs aren’t.”
        By your own rubric, that is an incorrect statement. Are you wrong or are your rules?
        And in that vein, I can find multiple researchers that would call your noted differentiation lines both right and wrong. The tool is broken, sir.

      • “Please name them and present their arguments. Thanks.”
        The fact that “species” doesn’t use a hard definition is hardy controversial, and is handily illustrated by your own unspoken conditionals that you apply to your own rules.
        Perhaps you would be better suited to reading the literature and arguing directly with those that you disagree?

      • No, I;m arguing with you. It is your contention that unnamed persons agree with you. Please cite them and their arguments. Your unsupported claims count for less than nothing.
        I know what species are. You apparently don’t. You’ve claimed that they don’t exist, or something–it’s highly unclear–so the burden is on you to state your view clearly.

      • “No, I;m arguing with you. It is your contention that unnamed persons agree with you. Please cite them and their arguments. Your unsupported claims count for less than nothing.”
        I made no such assertion. I specifically said “I can find multiple researchers that would call your noted differentiation lines both right and wrong.” Now at what point did I say that they agreed with me?
        “I know what species are. You apparently don’t.”
        I have shown you repeatedly that what you know is flawed using your own provided definitions. You obviously believe what you believe, that doesn’t make it correct or useful.
        “You’ve claimed that they don’t exist, or something–it’s highly unclear–so the burden is on you to state your view clearly.”
        I’ve made my point clear. That you don’t grasp it is fine, but that reflects upon you.

      • You’ve made no point whatsoever.
        You claim without any evidence that species don’t exist. Or something. It’s not at all clear.
        Then you claim further that reputable specialists agree with you, but you can’t name a single one or reproduce their arguments.
        I’m laughing at you, along with everyone else.

      • “You’ve made no point whatsoever.”
        Baseless claim.
        “You claim without any evidence that species don’t exist.”
        Strawman argument.
        “Or something. It’s not at all clear.”
        And/or Argument from ignorance.
        “Then you claim further that reputable specialists agree with you, but you can’t name a single one or reproduce their arguments.”
        I never made this claim. The claim was specifically about your provided definitions as I already demonstrated to you. And now you willfully misconstrue it into a strawman.
        Ad hominem.
        “I’m laughing at you, along with everyone else.”
        Appeal to the majority.
        Enjoy your laughter.

      • Do you deny that you claimed people supported your view?
        For the umpteenth time, who are they?
        You’ve got nothing. Nothing at all. But unsupported assertions.

      • “Do you deny that you claimed people supported your view?
        For the umpteenth time, who are they?”
        I’ve already asked you once where I made that claim.
        “You’ve got nothing. Nothing at all. But unsupported assertions.”
        Since you are hinging your argument on a strawman, I would have to tell you that you need to say this into a mirror for it to be correct.

      • Any strawman was of your own devising.
        My argument hinges on reality, as observed by all my biological colleagues since at least Linnaeus and even those of native peoples throughout the world.
        The reality of species has not been in the least damaged by your baseless assertions.

      • “Any strawman was of your own devising.”
        I’ve already documented your multiple poor arguments.
        “My argument hinges on reality, as observed by all my biological colleagues since at least Linnaeus and even those of native peoples throughout the world.”
        Appeal to Authority
        “The reality of species has not been in the least damaged by your baseless assertions.”
        The “reality of species”, which by context I assume you mean that there are different flora and fauna in the world, wasn’t what I was talking about. I’ve stated it plainly multiple times and have used at least one metaphor.

      • You have stated nothing, let alone a rigorous scientific definition.
        Had you ever studied biology, which obviously you haven’t, you’d know that the standard definition of “species” is “populations of organisms that have a high level of genetic similarity”.
        The details differ for microbes and for sexually reproducing, multicellular organisms, but this definition remains valid.
        You have everything to learn, grasshopper. Come back when you’ve had even a single undergrad level biology course.

      • “You have stated nothing, let alone a rigorous scientific definition.”
        Baseless claim.
        “Had you ever studied biology, which obviously you haven’t,”
        Baseless claim.
        ” you’d know that the standard definition of “species” is “populations of organisms that have a high level of genetic similarity”. ”
        Had you ever studied biology, which you obviously haven’t, you’d know that the standard definition of ‘species’ is “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.”
        Note that I have not spoken about the definition and made clear that this is where my departure from Mr Hansen was. By the way, your stated rule of “reproductive isolation by region or behavior makes for valid species and subspecies.” violates that standard definition.
        “The details differ for microbes and for sexually reproducing, multicellular organisms, but this definition remains valid.”
        Except when you don’t want it to, right?
        “You have everything to learn, grasshopper. Come back when you’ve had even a single undergrad level biology course.”
        Seeing as you don’t even have the basic species definition right, your condescension is underwhelming.

      • “Note that I have not spoken about the definition and made clear that this is where my departure from Mr Hansen was. By the way, your stated rule of “reproductive isolation by region or behavior makes for valid species and subspecies.” violates that standard definition.”
        Actually, re-reading your definition, it was I who was in error. My original reading of your statement omitted “reproductive” from “isolation by region…”
        My apologies.
        But, as a note, my complaints are with the merits of the classification system and not the definition itself. That is more where Mr Hansen was going.

    • Reply to Arsivo ==> You use the word species as if there was a set, agreed upon definition for it. When you use “species” in your comment, what definition, what “species concept’ are you intending us to assume you mean?
      “Does that mean that we aren’t a “species”? — Well, we can’t tell from the question, because you use an ambiguous word – species.
      Give me your working definition of species and I’ll be able to answer.
      The Red Wolf is “not a species” not because it is a hybrid, but because it does not meet the usually understood definition of a species — along the lines of “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. Organisms that reproduce sexually and belong to the same species interbreed and produce fertile offspring.” By that definition, they are not a species, but more analogous to a “breed” — as we understand dog breeds.
      In this particular case, the Red Wolf was intentionally bred by humans for specific physical traits considered “Red Wolf-not-coyote” — like breeding a dog for traits considered inline with the desired traits for a Jack Russel Terrier.

      • well, if specimens can not interbreed and produce viable offspring, then they are definitely not the same species.
        speciation means differentiation and sure, there can be disputes about whether what can happen does happen but as long as the nature of the distinction is defined, then truth can be told.
        an assertion of species-hood simply requires the definition of the context to be valid and verifiable.
        simples, reallly.
        the problem arises when somebody attempts to assert a ‘truth’ in the absence of context.
        that’s not a biology problem; it’s an epistemological failure.

      • Reply to gnomish ==> It is not an “epistemological” failure, it is a lack of definition error — a failure of Biology to have formulated — or re-formulated — a definition for the wqord or concept –> species. Biologists pontificate about vanishing species, endangered species, new species, extinction of species — all without having an agreed upon definition — so they may be , and often are, all talking about vastly different things.
        It is not that we have trouble knowing or knowing how to know about species….it is that we have failed to clearly define what attributes a group of living things must have in order to be considered a species — or to keep that definition current with advances in biology.

      • heh- you just repeated everything i said but without reference to the definition of definition.
        lack of defintion is the epistemological failure of which i spoke.
        a definition is the set of distinguishing characteristics which must be present for inclusion in the set.
        look for the sense and you’ll find it in everything i say. i’m really good at this.

      • ” You use the word species as if there was a set, agreed upon definition for it. When you use “species” in your comment, what definition, what “species concept’ are you intending us to assume you mean?
        “Does that mean that we aren’t a “species”? — Well, we can’t tell from the question, because you use an ambiguous word – species. ”
        Sir, my objection of the word “species” is that it is a poor delineator in a categorical system. Except when using rules from others, such as Gabro, to show how it’s flawed, I don’t get into the definition.
        It is a poor delineator for precisely the reason you state: Ambiguity. But it’s not the ambiguity that is the crux of the problem, as useful cataloging systems tend to have a little bit of ambiguity to allow for elasticity. The real problem is that they took a classification product that was used to delineate on the basis of “species” via differences that were visually- and physiologically-based and kept extending it without dropping the original definitions. This makes the catalog built on this system entirely useless.

      • Arsivo-
        the definition of a word is that it has a definition.
        otherwise it is indistinguishable from a grunt or snort.
        if you don’t get that you won’t be able to think because words are our tools of cognition.
        logic can not be performed with grunts.
        any logical proposition that can be validated requires the conditional predicate, which is the context.
        drop the context and you can not prove anything much less claim any truth to the statement.
        the inadequacy off a word to encompass things not in its definition is not a bug, it is the power and the glory.
        it’s what makes it possible to perform logic
        logic is the practice of non.contradictory identification.
        if no logic, no reason.
        that is a logical proposition, see? and you can not falsify it because it is axiomatic, which means it’s self evident.
        if you don’t understand that, you are not thinking.
        thinking is the use of reason to parse the universe. it is the means of knowing something in a way that can be validated.
        it’s all black and white. if you see a blur of gray it’s because you are not looking at fine enough resolution to see the dots.

      • and yeah- if necessary for clear thought, you define your terms for purpose.
        the ‘interbreeding’ definition of ‘species’ is not applicable to living things that don’t reproduce sexually, for instance.
        if you want to define a bacterial species you have to use an applicable definition.
        it simply does not matter what definition you use as long as you state it in your proposition.
        whether you use centimeters or inches does not matter as long as you don’t try to use a rubber ruler.
        strict definitions make for clear thinking.
        it’s all black and white.

      • Gnomish,
        Self-evidence is a crutch, not a tool.
        If you cannot see the use, the function is missing.
        Logic can justify everything, which means it cannot its own means to an end.
        If it’s all black and white, you haven’t seen between the stars.

      • “it seems i had the last word, then.
        grunt away.”
        Can you provide a singular definition (or series of definitions) of the word ‘species’ that cannot be shown to be misapplied to a species?
        I haven’t yet run across that definition (or series).

      • Arsivo, you are obsessing.
        maybe you’re an aspie, i don’t know – but there really is no need to get worked up over the fact that things you are familiar with have no satisfactory word to represent each and every one of them.
        you can make up a word to label anything you like.
        the only thing you need to do to use it for communicating with others is explicitly define it when you use it.
        but let’s put that aside – your desire is
        “a singular definition (or series of definitions) of the word ‘species’ that cannot be shown to be misapplied to a species?”
        this is easy – i’m happy to accommodate you.
        “a species (of living thing) is a kind of thing that possesses a collection of attributes that distinguish it from all other kinds of things.”
        lol- unhappy macnam, right?

    • So . . . if I go to the pound to adopt and ask if they have any new species of “hybrids”, some animal control officer won’t say: “You mean Heinz 57’s? Sure, got a whole pen full of ’em out back.”
      Isn’t this sort of what the EPA is saying?
      Oh wait. Think I got it. The EPA is declaring that what’s not longer a pure species–Airedale,Beagle, German Shepherd, Pit Bull, Scottie, Doberman, Chihuahua, Bloodhound, etc.– but happens to be a mixture of any, all, or portions of these species — can now be called a “new hybrid species” that can be declared “endangered” and that can be “improved” by protecting its . . . habitat? Wait . . . I think I’m getting confused again . . .

    • My paleontology professor educated us on the difficulty of defining ‘species’. He settled on the notion that creatures were members of the same species if they could and would willingly reproduce under natural conditions.

      • Reply to Louis Hooffstetter ==> Not a terrible working definition….but would blowup modern taxonomy. That has roughly been the usual casual definition used by many — but not necessarily taxonomists.

      • In the 1980’s, the US Fish & Wildlife Service tried to establish a breeding population of Red Wolves on Bull’s Island in the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge north of Charleston, SC. It did not go well. Although several litters of pups were born, the adolescents refused to stay on the island and breed with their siblings & cousins. Instead, they swam to the nearby mainland and mated with whatever receptive canines they encountered: deer hounds, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, etc. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated the island and a few years later the remaining wolves were removed and returned to captive breeding programs at the Alligator River facility and the Cape Romain SeeWee Center. Today, they are essentially a ‘breed’ of canine maintained by the USFWS. If released to the wild, they will again interbreed with dogs and coyotes, and become mutts again.

      • Reply to Louis Hooffstetter ==> Yes, Louis, I believe that is what the North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission complains about in regards to the USFWS’s Red Wolf Recovery Program there. They release the purpose-bred Red Wolves who promptly escape the reservation, eat livestock, and mate with any frisky canid they come across.
        But the requirements of the ESA keep them at it, despite lack of success by any measure.

  5. It seems to be a replay of the old “splitter’ and “lumper” dispute, where differences do or do not justify a species designation. I understand there is a similar dispute over the status of spotted v. barred owls, whether both are just a color pattern phase of a common species or not. Academic, but how can a species be endangered when it is not really a separate species?

    • Reply to Tom Halla ==> Quite right — that’s the question. Really, who cares?, whether they are a species or not — except when it comes to where the science/policy interface leads to laws, where the difference can ruin an entire industry or restrict normal human activity in an entire region.

  6. The fact that a population is a hybrid between two other species doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t a good species. There are plenty of examples of species that are actually stabilized hybrid populations, the Italian Sparrow, Common Cordgrass and the Pomarine Skua for example. Each such case has to be decided on its own merits.
    And canine systematics is indeed a murky area. Only quite recently did it become known through DNA analysis that what has been regarded as a subspecies of the Yellow Jackal in North Africa is actually a small subspecies of the Gray Wolf.

    • Most of the genome of so-called “red wolves” is coyote material. They are just a slightly larger variety of coyote.

    • Reply to tty ==> Yes, certainly — not necessarily because it is a hybrid — but it has to meet some definition of a species.
      There is no such thing as a “good ” species — though I suspect you meant something along the lines of a scientifically valid species.
      As far as I know, a “stabilized hybrid population” is not one of the currently accepted definitions for species if it is, then the “beefalo” (a cross between cattle and buffalo) could be so declared a species?

  7. The USFWS has been trying for decades to get “red wolves” recognized as a separate species. Whenever they release their NC-bred (from TX stock) “red wolves” into the wild, they mate with coyotes (since they are coyotes), so that NC ranchers have to deal with larger than average and more numerous coyotes.
    But the FWS is loathe to give up an expensive program. Sound familiar?

    • Gabro, we have a similar problem here in Australia where the tree huggers insist the Dingo [which is the Pariah Dog of Asia and can interbreed with any other dog and was brought here by Asian fishermen around 3,000 years ago] is a “naturalised” native of this country. They have installed it and allowed it to proliferate in National Parks where it is wiping out defenceless natives [which have never learnt to co-exist with dogs of any type] awa causing havoc with domestic livestock.
      These tree huggers have not only signed the death knell of domestics [which doesn’t bother them] but also the animals they wish to preserve.

      • In the US we have a similar problem with “mustang” horses.
        The depths of bureaucratic ignorance and civilian emotionalism cannot be plumbed.

      • to be fair, the dingo is more native than are the descendants of anglos brought to your fair country as prisoners less than two hundred years ago….

  8. The so called “environmentalists” (tree huggers) as opposed to
    conservationists (hunters and fishermen) use these loopholes
    to lock up large tracts of land. Several years ago one of these
    pseudo-scientists took an endangered weasel hair sample
    from a museum and “seeded” it in traps to falsely claim that
    the weasels territory covered a large area to limit use and development.
    Luckily, he was caught and punished.

    • They did the same thing with Lynx scat in the northern mountain states. It’s not about the animals. It’s about controlling the land and water using illegal and unconstitutional EPA administrative law (rules, regulations that carry with them exorbitant fines and imprisonment) to take control of private property. Any good Bolshevik will tell you that’s one of the first things that has to go for their good central system to work.

      • It is a stated goal of the UN Agenda 21 program to do just that take over of the land. This is not an accidental process, but a deliberate effort. The same folks are pushing the Global Warming baloney for the same purpose.

  9. Interesting – I saw a show on PBS ‘Nature’ recently that talked about a ‘CoyWolf’, that lives in the NE U.S. and Southern Canada. Is this another ‘variant’ of breeding between wolves and coyotes? OR maybe nearly the same as the N.C. Red Wolf – perhaps just a different geographic location ?
    Interesting what nature can do, ( . . then again, maybe it shouldn’t be – so many ‘amazing’ things happen in nature, it shouldn’t surprise us much anymore . . 🙂 ).

    • Dogs, as (probably self-) domesticated wolves, also breed successfully with coyotes. In fact, the coyote might well be the ancestor of the grey wolf, a social and larger adaptation to the frigid Pleistocene world from a largely solitary, smaller Pliocene form.

    • Reply to Martin C ==> “Coywolf (sometimes called woyote) is an informal term for a canid hybrid descended from coyotes and one of three other North American Canis species, the gray, eastern and red wolf.”
      Wolves and coyotes have been breeding with one anther probably for as long as their ranges have overlapped — and for the same reason that the domestic dog, left unsupervised, produces mutts.
      The vonHoldt study shows that the Eastern Wolf and the Red Wolf are just localized Gray Wolf/Coyote crosses.

  10. I grow daylilies, including both hybrids (my own and those of many hybridizers from the 1890s on) and the species (thought originally to be about 24, though a few additional ones have since been named). There are some definite and distinct species, such as Hemerocallis citrina, the lemon lily, tall, nocturnal, and fragrant; there are others, such as the H. fulva family, with boundaries and attributes so vague that it is hard to tell which is which. Most daylily species are diploid (22 pairs of chromosomes), but some of the H. fulva clones are triploid (33 pairs) and thus difficult or impossible to cross with diploids. The general definition of species includes breeding true from crosses with itself, among other attributes (my knowledge is incomplete and vague); but I have known for many years now that the term “species” is a bit elastic and chimerical (there is even a type of daylily plant called a chimera). DNA testing has been done on daylilies recently, in a limited way and to a small population, but I do not know what progress has occurred in defining species for the genus.
    I can only imagine the multiplicity of problems that can arise with trying to define species in terms of a widespread animal like a dog or cat.

      • Actually, I now grow over 20 recognized species myself, and I lack a few. Some were discovered in China and Korea fairly recently. As for the cultivars, there are now over 80,000, about 30 of which are my own.

      • You may be more up to date than I.
        The last article I read on daylilies was from 2014, which IIRC, named 19 species.
        As you may know, they now have their own family, having been separated from lilies per se.

    • Reply to John M. Ware ==> vanHoldt is part of a larger group of biologists attempting to sort out the genomes of the entire dog (Canid) family. It is complicated.

  11. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they applied “Endangered Species” type stuff to people?
    Forbid interracial marriage?
    Are there fewer redheads in, say, North Dakota than there were 20 years ago? Close the border to blonds and brunettes? Give redheads priority in Emergency Rooms? (Call it “Affirmative Medical Action”.)

  12. “I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they applied “Endangered Species” type stuff to people?”
    Well if you use the Biological Species Concept, no problem, all humans can interbreed freely and have fertile offsprig, i. e. one species.
    On the othe other hand if you use the now fashionable Phylogenetic Species Concept, where each group whose members are descended from a common ancestor and who all possess a combination of certain defining, or derived, traits is counted as a species, then there will be trouble as there is then at least five human species of which one (the Khoisan) is definitely endangered.

  13. My NW experience is with the cute and cuddly little Spotted Owl. Around 50,000 well paying blue-collar jobs were sacrificed so that little old women of both sexes who live in cosmopolitan condos can write huge checks to green shills who promised to preserve the Spotted Owl as kinda the long range pets of the sentimental and scientifically under-informed wealthy donors.
    Alas, the precious Spotted Owl seems to still be going extinct. I don’t know how its cousin, the Mexican Spotted Owl is doing. Perhaps neither version of the Common Spotted Owl was more than a phantom invented by people with a lot of college loans who needed a cushy government job for life in the worst way.
    Human pygmies are becoming “extinct” as well. Had they not clearly been humans, we can say with absolute certitude that “reputable scientists” in the pay of powerful international bureaucracies would have found a way to decree that pygmies were a species.
    In the real world human pygmies are disappearing mainly because pygmy women tend to pick up education faster than rural men, move to the cities, and marry taller men.

  14. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

  15. I seem to remember a Nat Geo special about the ‘new’ coy-wolves, a cross between coyote and wolf that were suddenly appearing in the Northeast. Hmmmm, I’d love it if a pack of them suddenly appeared in New York’s Central Park. That way all the urban animal lovers could revel in the restoration of an endangered species in their midst for a change. Gee, they could have their very own red wolves to play with and would no longer have to envy rural farmers their close association with noble wild predators. Just this week some geniuses used a computer model to determine that re-establishing a population of 10,000 cougars in the Eastern US would cut automobile/deer accidents effectively in half.

    • I suppose it could be argued that the total human death rate may go down given that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause about 200 fatalities annually.
      But there is still something said for the manner of the deaths, predation seems like a horrible way to go.

      • Alligators and grizzlies would seem to be a lot more dangerous. In Sweden it is now 207 years since somebody was last killed by a wolf outside a zoo.
        There is only two species that I am afraid of, the ones that account for something like 90% of all humans killed by an animal, i. e. Homo sapiens and Plasmodium falciparum.

      • I was speaking of increased human deaths due to the introduction of cougars vs. the decrease due to vehicle collision. It’s hard to imagine 10,000 cougars eating 200 humans, but I really didn’t want that picture in my head.
        Looks like bear attack deaths average 1 or 2 a year. Alligator attacks seem like less than 1 a year. But there has been a very recent uptick perhaps due to lack of animal control due to political pressure.

    • Reply to JustAnOldGuy ==> I lived way Upstate NY in the 1980s — “coydogs” were used as a boogieman to scare children into staying near their homes after dark — “wander too far and the coydogs’ll getcha!”

    • California banned the killing of cougars. Years passed… the population grew and expanded.
      Eventually, one took up residence near a popular jogging trail behind Stanford. This was discovered when it killed and munched on a lady jogger… Another down near L.A. was found eyeing a bike path.
      Now there are suburban neighborhoods with large “missing pet” problems… and a few close calls on small children in their own yards.
      You don’t need any introduction… just wait, they will eventually move in on their own…

    • About the “coywolf”,there was an article in Field& Stream magazine a couple years back-maybe even 3-4? Can’t recall,anyhow,the theory-backed by genetic studies- done by a guy at Ohio State-is that as western coyotes moved east,they interbred with wolves along the way.
      Western coyotes are generally loners,they hunt by themselves,occasionally in pairs,while the eastern coyotes often hunt in small packs.
      One study from U. Georgia found that coyotes had a 90% predation rate on whitetailed deer fawns in areas with high coyote populations.
      I’ve witnessed similar fawn predation rates in the CVNP in NE Ohio-very few deer around now,compared to ten years ago.
      I’ve also witnessed wolves decimate elk herds in Montana,where family had property until a few years ago.
      I’ve also seen wolf kills where they never ate any part of the elk or deer-and I watched the kills for the duration of elk hunting seasons,as I worked for an outfitter at the time.
      There doesn’t appear to be any difference in gray wolves,whether in Minnesota,Michigan,or Montana,yet the ESA abuse to promote an agenda continues.
      It’s not just wolves,although the nonsense about “Mexican gray wolves” and Great lakes Gray wolves being different species from the gray wolves in the Northern Rockies continues.
      Check out the number of lawsuits filed by The Center for Biological Diversity pertaining to separate species of gray wolves and the ESA.
      They’re one of the tip abusers of ESA lawsuits.

  16. The old definition that distinguished two closely related species as species is that they could not hybridize and produce fertile offspring. Thus although horses and burros could hybridize the resulting infertile “mules” argued that horses and burros were separate species.
    We would expect that evolutionary species would evolve diverging characteristics and the ability to hybridize would vary. Plants created a speciation conundrum that eliminated any reliable definition of a species. In the Sierra Nevada oak species commonly hybridize, and the resulting offspring, are the product of seeds with fertility that varies from 2% to 90%. That raises the question of just how fertile does the next generation need to be to qualify the parents as a species or not. Beech trees in South America separated from their sibling species now found in Australia about 65 million years ago. Although each regional Beech evolved unique characteristics, when brought into a greenhouse these beech species can still hybridize.
    Sometimes people try to force their definition of a species on nature. Species were often separated into 2 populations by Ice Age Glaciers and then were labeled a species. The Spotted Owl and Barred Owl were designated as 2 species but they can still hybridize wherever their ranges overlap, suggesting they are one species. USFWS is now killing Barred Owls to prevent them from hybridizig with the Spotted. But t is politics forcing a natural behavior on nature.

    • It is not too unusual for species that are not normally in contact to start hybridizing when humans affect their natural habitat, or move them so they come into contact.

      • Reply to Jim Steele and tty ==> If two ‘species’ can viably hybridize when their ranges overlap, then, by many definitions, they were not really separate species at all, just localized variants.

      • Defining a species is now decided by how much genetic divergence, and not driven strictly by the ability to hybridize. To a large degree this is a good definition of a “species”. Species of beech that have diverged greatly over 65 million year, yet still can hybridize, have distinct genomes and physiological characteristics. In contrast there are species of plants that no longer hybridize due to a chromosmal inversion yet their genomes are relatively identical.
        The point Kip is trying to highlight is that the definition of a species is also swayed by politics driven by attempts to use the ESA to enact some sort of controls. Although the concept of a species is necessarily nebulous due to how species evolve, that nebulousness can be hijacked for political reasons. I agree this can be very problematic as exemplified by the red wolf that is a hybrid maintained mostly by human efforts.
        The decision to “save” te red wolf is political and subjective.
        There is a similar issue regards “invasive species.” Species have evolved mobility so that they can deal with an earth that is perpetually undergoing climate change. From a biological or evolutionary perspective there is no static species composition that demands we protect or eradicate one species more than another. Such efforts are always political, driven by our preferences.

      • Jim,
        In most cases, traditional species emerge from such genetic data. In other cases, there is ambiguity.

    • “Researchers confirm that as yet unnamed whale sighted by Japanese fishermen was previously unknown to science”
      Beaked whale are very difficult to observe, very difficult to determine to species when you do see them, and strandings are uncommon. They may not actually be as rare as is often thought. I once was lucky enough to travel from Chatham Islands to New Zealand in a absolutely flat calm (very unusual) and saw a quite amazing number of beaked whales of four different species, more than in the whole rest of my life, as a matter of fact.

      • ‘Whale species previously unknown to science’ – but well-known to Japanese restaurants and gourmets…

  17. Species isn’t the issue.
    Government power is. The Endangered Species Act is a violation of the Takings Clause.

  18. Y’all may be behind the times. A “SPECIES” will have “cleared the neighborhood” of its own zone, meaning it has become environmentally dominant, and there is no other unrelated genus of comparable population size other than its satellites or those otherwise under its gravitational influence …”
    Wait, was Pluto a wolf, a dog, or what? Something goofy about scientific definitions…

    • I’ve seen wolves and coyotes and the wolf pictured here definitely has some coyote genes. Pluto was a dog, Goofy was a democrat turned Republican but we hope he can beat Kain and Unable.

  19. another example is Varanus exanthematicus.
    they inhabit 5 million square miles of savannah with a population density summing to billions over the area.
    they lay annual clutch of eggs from 24 to 40 with @ 100% hatch rate – this means that @98% of hatchlings must die to keep the population down to where it is.
    they are common as sparrows but they are in the same genus as the celebrity lizard from Komodo.
    Therefore, speciousness can prevail – they are listed as Cites III – import and export permits required.
    it’s just about the money and the power and the glory that makes authority.

  20. In a car, on an unpopulated wilderness area highway, I got to see a real-life timber wolf up close. Standing in the middle of the highway.
    Stopped the car of course and he was not concerned about our car at all and just stayed there. Glanced over at us every now and again but he was mainly paying attention to what was coming up the highway behind the rise we had just crested.
    10 feet away; for several minutes but it eventually moved off into the forest, It stood higher than our subcompact car. The timber wolf is certainly a sub-species of the gray wolf, but they are much bigger, stronger, have a much thicker coat and are just cooler.
    Why was he so unconcerned about the car and more concerned about what was coming down the highway, just behind the ridge. Well, we just had started to get up to speed at the ridge after spending 15 minutes on the highway at idle speed …
    … Behind a herd of buffalo which was being herded down the highway by a guy jogging on foot, no joke (found out later there was a buffalo ranch there and they all seemed to know where they were going because they just turned off a side-road into the forest just before the ridge). The wolf pack was stalking the herd (but we only saw the one wolf).
    A crazy 20 minutes that’s for sure. But seeing a real timber wolf up-close (while being safe inside a car) was the most amazing thing I don’t think a person would stand a chance against them.
    [The mods ask if you warned the guy jogging along behind the buffalo, who evidently remained outside the car. 8<) .mod]

    • A human family without firearms is indeed vulnerable to a wolf pack. And they were bigger during the Pleistocene.
      IMO one of the functions of dogs was to warn their human partners about wolves and nocturnal predators.

    • [The mods ask if you warned the guy jogging along behind the buffalo, who evidently remained outside the car. 8<) .mod]
      We did not. In hindsight, of course, that is what we should have done, but I guess we were not thinking too straight at the time.

  21. Since learning about the biological concept of a cline, I have always considered this to be a more appropriate way of considering what a species actually is. For example the way that the two ends of circumpolar ring species can overlap, giving the appearance of two distinct species in one place, that are in fact opposite ends of a latitudinally constrained breeding chain of genetically related populations.

  22. “The old definition that distinguished two closely related species as species is that they could not hybridize and produce fertile offspring.” Remember Primula kewensis. Hybrid of two Primulas, one from Himalaya and one from Arabia was sterile and was grown more then 10 yers in Kew Botanical Garden. Than one shoot brought seeds. It had twice as many chromosomes as its parent species and progeny was fertile. Old definition holds well only for mammals.

    • Even some jenny mules are very rarely capable of producing viable offspring.
      Such rare exceptions don’t invalidate the concept of species.

    • So the progeny became a spontaneous tetraploid! (I am assuming the parent was diploid, as so many plants seem to be.)

      • Jim,
        Some 30 to 80 per cent of plant species resulted from polypolidy. That means they arose in a single generation.
        Thus, the uninformed who assert baselessly that evolution hasn’t been observed are delusional ignoramuses.

      • Gabro:
        Interesting. Did the fertile jenny mule mate with a jackass or with a stallion and was the offspring a fertile ass or a horse (depending on the sire)?
        Makes for wondering if it is possible to create a new fertile species, a super mule, by carefully creating tetraploid male and female mules.

    • Another good example from botany is the salt marsh cordgrass Spartina anglica. This fertile allotetraploid species arose spontaneously from the infertile hybrid Spartina × townsendii, which itself arose when the European native cordgrass Spartina maritima (Small Cordgrass) hybridised with the introduced American Spartina alterniflora (Smooth Cordgrass) in the tidal estuary marshes of Southampton Water.
      The cause of the infertility in the original hybrid Spartina × townsendii may simply be due to the fact that it is impossible to divide an odd natural number by 2 to produce a natural number quotient with no remainder. The odd numbered chromosome set of the original infertile hybrid means that this plant is effectively a monoploid formed of haploid cells that cannot undergo Meiosis.
      Fertility has been restored by the process of forming a polyploid, the simple doubling of the number of chromosomes in the infertile sex cell of Spartina × townsendii to produce a new sex cell that can undergo meiosis by even number division, thereby creating the new separate vigorous fertile species Spartina anglica.

  23. Disclosure: I once owned a German Shepard/Wolf cross who was a sweet thing but had the unfortunate habit of playing too rough with my four small children – she would race alongside of them, leap up, take them in her teeth by the backs of their necks, and throw them to the ground, place her fore-paws on their chests and woof: “I win!”. I placed her with an ex-soldier who worked with dogs.

    Yep. We had one as a “rescue” puppy (also a Shepard/Wolf cross), but she was fiercely protective with our infant grandchildren. Great guard dog.

    • Tucci78 my first thought was that must have had an impact on disciplinary strategies for the kids, then I realized they were infant grandchildren – you don’t have to discipline them you just hand ’em back, “Here. Do something about this child.” And of course when they did discipline the child without prompting you’d say, “But you did the very same thing when you were little.”

  24. If the definition of species is still open then one can make a very strong case that titles such as the ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT are without meaning. from now on we should all treat it that way.
    Personally I’ll stick with the old definition that only living organisms of the same species can produce offspring who/which are themselves fertile. In other words, can continue to procreate the ‘species’.

    • Take a look at the Triangle Of Wu
      and you will find a rather striking contrary example. Three different species crossed in pairs giving a set of three new polyploid species groups in the cabbages, kales, mustards, turnips, etc etc brassica bunch.
      Corn (maize) has been shown to be a cross of teocinte and a grass, both different species. Doing the cross has shown the thesis works.
      The “species barrier” is really a species strong suggestion… and for many plants, only a modest suggestion…

  25. Isn’t the sausage dog a descendant of a wolf as are all dog breeds except for maybe the thylacine? In Australia we have the dingo of which very few original dogs remain , the rest have bred with domestic dogs and as such are determined to be wild dogs and an undesirable species with a bounty on their scalp .

    • The thylacine wasn’t a dog. It wasn’t even a placental mammal. It was a marsupial with convergent evolution toward a dog-like state.
      Dachshunds are, like all dogs, domesticated wolves, bred by artificial selection in some cases to vary from their ancestors dramatically.

    • Reply to Robert from oz ==> The dachshund is a ‘breed’ of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) whose ancestry is still subject to some uncertainty. The latest guess is “extensive genetic studies undertaken during the 2010s indicate that dogs diverged from an extinct wolf-like canid in Eurasia 40,000 years ago.” vanHoldt, author of the study that prompted this essay, is part of a larger group of biologists trying to sort out the genome of the Canids.

  26. Reply to NW sage ==> You can stick to it all you want — that’s the definition that the majority of lay persons think is actually being used. Unfortunately, it is not.
    The USFWS thinks the wolf/coyote cross commonly called the Red Wolf — created through selective breeding by the USFWS — which will and does happily breed and produce viable offspring with any other canid it runs across — be it wolf, coyote or dog — is a valid species that must be protected under the ESA — even though it would not exist if the USFWS didn’t keep breeding it and releasing it into the wild.
    That pragmatic fact rather dispels the species concept you prefer.

  27. Well, I am not a lawyer, though my family is infested with them. From the informal education I have gotten from them, the term ‘species’ must be defined in the original Endangered Species Act, and all agencies acting under that Act must use that definition. It is possible, though, for the Act to give those agencies the power to define the word, themselves. However, that must be explicitly stated.
    Absent any definition or legal treatment of the word in the Act, the entire Act is subject to being ruled unconstitutionally vague.

  28. Wrote about this extensively in essay No Bodies in ebook Blowing Smoke. There is also a similar issue concerning polar bears.
    The old simple species distinctions of failed interbreeding do not work. Coyotes clearly are a different species from wolves. They are smaller by half, hunt individually, feed on small prey (field mice being a favorite on my farm). Wolves are larger by half, hunt in packs, and prey on large game like deer and moose.
    But there are coywolf hybrids like the ‘eastern wolf’ (50-50) and the ‘red wolf’ (25-75). Former can take deer, latter can take rabbits and turkeys.
    We had most likely a coywolf breeding pair denning on my SW Wisconsin farm two years ago amongst the spring harvest alfalfa bales (plastic wrapped, left out on the field edges per modern practices). Likely an ‘eastern wolf’ type male hybrid, stood twice as tall as our coyotes. Howled like a wolf, not yapping like a coyote, at night that fall’s November deer hunt. Once you have heard the difference, there is no mistaking it. All of us (9 including brothers, sons, and daughter in laws).
    That family coywolf pack was taking whitetail deer, no doubt. We saw several kill remains. Not a big deal, as we still took 9 whitetails in 3 days hunting on the farm. Pack did not attack the ~350 dairy cows. We did move all the summer calves to penned shelters near the three joint barns that summer and fall. But decided to let nature take its beautiful course. The coywolf pack left for parts unknown that winter. Big snows, so perhaps they went further south into deer infested northern Illinois. Nature is grand.

    • ristvan ==> Thanks for sharing your personal story with wolves and their hybrids. My maternal grandparents dairy farmed in SW Wisconsin in the 1940s-50s.

    • Some coywolves actually have domestic dog (German Shepherd, Doberman, etc.) genes mixed in. They are highly intelligent and adaptable – which is perhaps just as well. Without doubt, their purebred cousin, the Grey Wolf, has been ruthlessly persecuted in the American wild, and still is, under the guise of ‘wildlife management’. Good to hear of a farming family willing to tolerate the presence of large predators without wanting to drive them out/shoot them.

  29. Male lions and female tigers can interbreed to produce “ligers” “Tigons” are the offspring of male tigers and female lions. Both sets of hybrids are fertile and interfertile.
    As for the first example in the article (grey wolves), let me be the first to say… 50 shades of grey wolf.

  30. Given the weird definition of “species”, and American legal shennanigans, here’s a “reductio ad absurdum” scenario that might be “interesting”…
    * EPA declares 2 genetically equivalant, but differently-coloured animal goups to be separate species
    * find an inter-racial couple with children, and charge them both with “bestiality”, based on the loose definition of “species”.
    * popcorn

  31. This is listed in the definition section of the Endangered Species Act.
    The term “species” includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”
    It seems to me that a hybrid of the species would qualify as a “subspecies.”
    But what do I know? I was a personal injury attorney for 35 years before I retired. I never handled environmental cases.
    But my gut tells me you probably would lose your argument in court if you think hybrids are not a protected species when endangered subspecies are protected as well.

    • You can’t extinct Camille tea with citrate by casting it out of the window – just fetch another one.
      Every time wolf meets coyotes the reproduction starts anew.

    • Reply to David Mills ==> vanHoldt and team argue in their paper (linked in the essay) for the protection of these hybrid entities — as her paper may result in the Red and Eastern Wolves being officially “undeclared” separate species.
      That the ESA includes a clause that allows for “subspecies” — it doesn’t solve the problem of Biology not having a firm and agreed upon definition for the larger grouping, a species.

  32. This following is from the definition section of the Endangered Species Act.
    “The term “species” includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”
    My guess is that if you were attempting to argue that hybrids were not a protected species under the Act, a judge would not find your argument convincing based on this statute.
    But what do I know? I was just a personal injury attorney for 35 years before I retired. I never handled an environmental case.

      • All the ESA/environmental turmoil is largely caused by all the lawsuits from the greens whose entire existence is dedicated to making sure the government does not do ANYTHING to Gaia without the express consent of the green lobby. Even if an agency/entity (USFW, Forest Service, etc.) wants to cut a program or manage an area/species differently, said agency/entity must first get past the bazillion lawsuits, impact studies, comment periods, lawsuits, new impact studies because the original ones are out of date (thanks to the dragged out lawsuits), more comment periods, lawsuits…
        Whatever the red wolf program costs, it may still be cheaper than trying to dismantle it.

    • Foxes are canids, ie members of the dog family, Canidae, which includes wolves (also dogs), foxes and jackals.

      • No,foxes are most certainly not canids-nor are they members of the dog family,no vulpes can interbreed with any canid- ~~~snip~~~ (WUWT policy violation — mod)

      • Reply to Gabro and gamegetterII ==> The taxonomical Family is Canidae, under which one finds the Genera : Canis, Cuon, Lycaon, Cerdocyon, Chrysocyon, Speothos, Vulpes, Nyctereutes, Otocyon and Urocyon . True foxes are in the genus Vulpes.
        The members of taxonomic Families do not interbreed — strictly, interbreeding can only happen inside of Species.

  33. We have the same sort of problem in Australia with the Dingo. It’s been around something like ?5000 years in Australia, but it is essentially just a wild dog, brought over by people from nearby Indonesia/PNG. It doesn’t bark, and uses deliberate deception when hunting, which is an interesting side-curiosity. It is known to attack people, especially children and infants, if given the chance.
    People often refer to it as a separate species, and it is listed as such within National Park proposals, conservation programs, and such. It breeds with domestic dogs as one would expect. It isn’t a separate species.

      • Yes, and there was something else about the whole Azaria episode which bears a mention.
        The film about Lindy concentrates on media (and police) distortion, which was certainly part of the injustice of her sentence, but scientific distortion, I’m sorry to say, also played a part.
        Some influential scientists were adamant and stated on record that Dingos would not attack children and infants. This was part of the reason that the media and police went after Lindy Chamberlain. It was, and still is, part of an ideological view often prevalent, that nature is generally good, and people are usually to blame. So Dingos attacking infants was supposed to part of our fear and misrepresentation of nature. It also conveniently puts conservation programs and agendas in a more rose-colored light, since often they can only receive widespread support if unpleasant or inconvenient truths are hidden or distorted, which is what the above article is also about.
        Years later, when dingo attacks on infants, children and even adults was documented, including some deaths, this view was seen for what it is, an ideologically-driven distortion.

  34. English is not precise, and science terms are matters of degree. A species is an ambiguous term like the term mineral is. Minerals are not fixed composition, so they are all really rocks, just less obviously so than others. I can see in the literature, as more precise analysis of minerals is available, our minerals are becoming rocks (mixed minerals). So in these environmental cases, the degree of the definition has to be specified. My understanding is that phenotypes (species subtypes) are a part of the Endangered Species Act. So the other two wolves are phenotypes.

    • Mineral is not an ambiguous term. They may have impurities, but mostly those impurities are replacing an atom with identical valence properties. Rose quartz and smokey quartz are the same mineral because the vast majority of their composition is SiO2 arranged in a tetrahedral crystal lattice, the impurities replacing a few atoms makes them different varieties just like there are varieties within a species.
      And it is well understood that each specimen is unique, just like each individual within a species is unique, there is no confusion like there with precisely what a species is.
      If something is more complex like you are alluding to, then calling it by a group name is generally good enough unless you are writing a geochemical paper. For instance, a sample of copiapite will never be pure copiapite, but instead a blend of copiapite group minerals and other minerals. No one would call a good specimen a rock even though it contains a multitude of minerals.
      It’s simply understood that nothing is 100% pure, and if there is enough of a secondary mineral to make it significant, it is generally said mineral X with Y or on Y. I.e. you would never call the following specimen a rock type or rock in general, but instead call it beryl with muscovite.

  35. Kip
    I enjoyed this article. You might enjoy Nancy McIntyre’s recent book, “Rush of River Over Rock” which is the story of her relationship with a wolf-dog in Virginia that showed up (young) at her cabin deep in the woods. It was well behaved until it started to ‘worry goats’, as they say. She moved.
    She is now 81 and living in western NC. Last summer she had a bear sleeping under her porch every night until hibernation started. It seems there is still plenty of ‘wild’ on the old Frontier.

  36. The only thing that matters is how each individual wolf identifies emotionally. Their species identity has nothing to do with biology but everything to do with their freedom to pursue their own purpose in nature. we need to launch new programs to study and protect these wonderful creatures so we can understand more.

  37. Guest Essay by Kip Hansen
    Thank you for this excellent essay. The so-called Red Wolf program is just another scam but of lesser magnitude than Global Warming. I have written my congressman and once post a comment or two about it here on WUWT. I have contacted the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and discussed it with multiple wildlife biologists. This was over 20 tears ago. I also brought up the issue with the outdoor sports writers in the local newspaper.
    While doing research on so-called Red Wolf program I saved a trove of email links to support my claims that the explosion of so-called coyotes in Virginia may be related to the Red Wolf program. After bringing this to light with the various contacts as noted above there was a wholesale disappearance of valid links.
    The program should be shut down immediately, and not even phased out. An investigation should be done and those who knowingly promoting it should be criminally charged.
    This has been a multi million dollar scam against the taxpayers. Read up on it if you can find related links anymore. It will make you cringe. A federal court case in Tennessee (I believe) provided DNA evidence that the problem “wolves” were simply a hybrid coyote-grey wolf as released in the Cades Cove area of NW North Carolina.
    One good question needs to be asked: Of the approx. 450 captured “wolves” from the Texas/Louisiana coastal region of which the 12 original breeders were selected, What did they do with the rest of them? What about the offspring that did not meet the set criteria self chosen expert?
    There are a lot more questions that need to be asked and answered truthfully. I would like to advise any congressional panel on this. It stinks and the bad genie has been released. The government has released a plague into our countryside through this ill advised program.

  38. I first learned about the weaknesses of the biologic understanding of “species” while I was learning paleontology. Essentially, under the conventional and outdated biologic definition of species, evolution isn’t even possible. It’s a good example of how conventional wisdom in science hinders its progress and of how new direct observations and data can be completely ignored from the “consensus” or “establishment”.
    And of course this outdated understanding of what species is, is completely misused and abused by the Left (mostly through the endangered species act, ESA), and the Right seems too inept and discombobulated to bring the issue to light and fix it.
    I had to deal with the abuse recently, when environmental groups used sue and settle tactics to extort the FWS into listing the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. This extortion was passed directly onto local governments, utility companies, wind farm operators, but was mostly directed at the oil and gas industry.
    Soft science (which has sadly infected the science of biology) was used for the entire process of listing the “species” and hard science was ignored. Hard facts, like that this particular species can and does interbreed and produce fertile offspring with the greater prairie chicken and possibly other grouse species with overlapping ranges, that this bird’s population is highly dynamic from year to year and mostly decreased by spring-early summer drought, that breeding and raising of the chicks required diverse prairie plant species with intact sage or other native shrubs — which is often removed via herbicides by ranchers, leaving only certain preferred grasses or cropland.
    The fact that prairie grouse don’t adjust well to conversion from native prairie to cropland or pasture was ignored (not to mention they are now competing with the much more highly adaptable Asian pheasant) because it’s much harder to garner public support to decrease food supply, extort ranchers, or destroy the introduced pheasant population than it is to garner support to extort industry.
    Instead, soft science biological terms were relied upon, like “mean avoidance behaviors”, to target oil and gas drilling activity to create these highly imaginative 300 meter buffer zones around pump jacks that supposedly left those areas devoid of prairie grouse. The operator of wells in these areas were literally extorted for up to $108,000 per well (nothing was mandatory, but the threat of lawsuit under the ESA, which can be filed by anyone, for “take” of a chicken, which includes simply scaring them) to go to the range-wide plan to set aside land for conversation. And in classic nu-soft science fashion, they began population records the year before a major drought and subsequently used just the two data points to advocate the idea that the species was rapidly dying off.
    Luckily a federal judge in Texas as well as the appeals court has deemed that the FWS did not perform due diligence prior to listing the species.
    In my opinion, the prairie grouse species of North America are allopatric variants of the same species, considering their ability and choice to breed and produce fertile offspring in the wild. And if this is the case, their overall population is doing just fine.

    • Reply to Robert W Turner ==> Thank you for this practical example of the harms that can be done due to a simple lack of a definition of a very important word in Biology. I’m glad good sense prevailed.

    • The allegedly endangered Northern Spotted Owl, which was used to shut down logging in the Pacific NW, is at most a subspecies of the Southern Spotted Owl, which is not endangered.

  39. ..Wouldn’t a sub-species just be an animal adapting to a new environment by natural selection, ..kinda like the Grizzly to the Polar Bear ??…( “Grolar Bear”…)

    • Reply to marcus ==> What you describe, the polar and grizzly bear cross, is a “hybrid” between two members of same Genus (Ursus) but officially different species.
      That is not the same as a sub-species. The Grizzly is a sub-species of Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) — thus its official name: Ursus arctos horribilis, the third name being that of the sub-species.

  40. I have another related question, why does biology try so hard, or if you prefer-strongly trend towards, forming ‘species’/groups to begin with? Why doesn’t it just leave individuals and groups in cross-breeding/panmixing situations? There would be alot less ‘extinction’ going on.

    • Reply to thingodonta ==> You ask a philosophical question…why does biology (well, mankind really) try to put things into an understandable order?
      That is partly what Science is about, trying to figure out the order in the apparent chaos that is the natural world. So, all those “horse-looking critters” we will call an animal Family and name that family Equidae. It includes horses, donkeys, and zebras. It is obvious that the riding horse and the zebra a quite different…so one gets named Equus ferus caballus (the domesticated horse, all of them) and the other Equus zebra.
      Those types of choices are fairly easy – but trying to sort out the beetles……
      For taxonomic biologists, it is often a life-long goal to find and name a new species — if you want to know why, you’ll have to ask one.
      It would be better, of course, if biology had a set definition of species — but alas, it does not.

      • In reply to Kip-I think you have partly answered the question, but it wasn’t really about how humans classify or ‘order’, but more why biology itself seems to form groups and ‘order’. To be more specific, biology does tend towards creating reproducing populations, separated from other populations-we call this tendency ‘species’. I don’t fully know why it does this, but have a few ideas (e.g. forming groups of ‘like with like’, tends to protect such groups, same as birds flocking together).
        As someone also once said to me of Dawkins very good idea about selfish genes, yes genes replicate themselves and so create these huge bodies and organisms like us over millions of years simply to perpetuate themselves, but the question might be asked, why do genes need to replicate in the first place?. What for? ‘To survive’, doesn’t really answer the question; why survive and perpetuate in the first place?, nothing else in chemistry seems to do this. Chemical reactions don’t just ‘keep going just to keep going’, ‘gene replication’ seems to be rather unique in this respect. But that’s for another day.

      • Genes don’t need to replicate. They just do.
        Might as well ask why the universe needs to expand, why crystals need to grow or why hydrogen needs to bond chemically with oxygen or under other circumstances fuse into helium.
        Species form because some organisms are more closely related to each other than to others. Populations of reproducing organisms become separated or new mutations arise and formerly more closely related living things become more distantly related.
        One popular definition of life is that it is “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. This lets (most) viruses out, since they’re (generally) not self-sustaining, although they do evolve.

  41. Just caught this story…it illustrates the value system of “experts” in this field making apparently unilateral decisions that can/do adversely impact other people without proper notification and input (and trying to hide the facts in the process). It appears that a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people” is a thing of the past, if indeed it ever existed.

  42. Conservationists and Environmentalists are also two very closely related groups – possibly the same species? They both seem to like to redefine their terms frequently for their own convenience – ‘species’ and ‘climate’.

  43. Modern biology doesn’t need a precise definition of species, since it recognizes that species are mutable, not immutable as usually believed before Darwin and Wallace. They shade into each other in many cases, ie ring species, rather than being separated by bright lines, although that’s common, too, as in the case of humans and our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos. For that matter, while common chimps and bonobos can mate and produce fertile offspring in captivity, they normally don’t and are largely geographically separate in the wild.
    Modern taxonomy, based upon phylogeny using cladistic, statistical methods, necessarily diverges from the old Linnaean system, although biologists still refer to species, genera, families, orders, classes and phyla, as well as to clades (natural groups) ending in “-iformes” or “-morpha”.
    Hence Sauropodomorpha is recognized as a suborder of the Order Saurischia, consisting of the plant-eating prosauropods and their sauropod relatives and descendants, which became the largest land animals of all time. The other saurischian suborder is Tetrapoda, the bipedal, mostly carnivorous dinosaurs.
    The other order in the Superorder Dinosauria is Ornithischia, which includes mainly herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs.

    • Reply to Gabro ==> Biology might not need a definition, but when such a vague biological concept is written into federal law with wide-reaching powers to take property, restrict use of lands, and protect private property (such as livestock) then it becomes VERY important that everyone knows what we mean when we say species or we’ll have the government protecting an accidental hybrid like the Eastern Wolf as an Endangered Species.
      How are we to deal with the constant demand that we “protect species” when one can’t determine what is and isn’t a species — except on the opinion of some federal regulator or activists biologist (such as the one involved in the Mexican Grey Wolf Recovery Program?

  44. ‘you can look at the entirely unauthoritative Species Problem wiki page, which states “there are at least 26 recognized species concepts.”’
    I’m afraid this tells us more about Wikis than about the meaning of species. I would say, “recognized by whom”?
    The word species is one that is commonly used by all English-speakers with at least the rudiments of a formal education. It is not one that biologist can redefine at their whim. The place to look for the definition, therefore, is in a dictionary of widely accepted stature, such as the Oxford, the Merriam-Webster, etc..
    I did a simple Google search, since this is all that should be required, and looked at the following definitions, including Google’s own offering and that of Sadly, the Oxford did not appear.
    However, that short search came up with unanimity. Species is defined by ability to successfully interbreed, ie. to produce fertile offspring (as opposed to healthy but infertile progeny, such as mules).
    a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.”
    “…are able to breed among themselves, but are not able to breed with members of another species. ”
    “biology : a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants”
    “biology a set of animals or plants, members of which have similar characteristics to each other and which can breed with each other”
    What surprised me about the original post is the news that wolves and coyotes can produce fertile hybrids. By the long recognized definition of species then, wolves and coyotes are a single species. It has recently been suggested that brown bears and polar bears are also just regional variants of a single species.
    An even more intriguing possibility is suggested by at least one Sasquatch/Bigfoot account of the 19th century of which I was reminded just a day or two ago by an account of a native man in a remote region of Northern Alberta. It was of a fleeting but close-up view of a “wild man”. The 19th century account was rather more detailed, and offered a tantalizing solution to the most telling criticism of Bigfoot accounts – “how could such an elusive species find enough mates to successfully maintain its population”. The answer is – by capturing and carrying them off. Assuming, of course, that Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti is, despite his hugely greater size and strength, a member of the species homo sapiens.
    Of course, it is in the interests of biologists to multiply the number of species to the max. A fascinating, if frustratingly preachy and illogical, book about disappearing languages called “Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages”, by Mark Abley, recounts the 1996 discovery by biologists in the period of only one month and the space of only one kilometer of forest (I’m reading a French translation, which says ” Dans une foret intacte couvrant un territoire d’un kilometre seulement”) in the Lakekamu basin of Papua New Guinea of:
    23 new species of insects
    11 new species of frogs
    7 new species of reptiles, and
    3 new species of fish
    In the same circumscribed area this team counted “more than two hundred species of ants”.
    This is certainly not rocket science, but is effectively impossible to dispute…

    • Reply to otropogo ==> You are making a beginner’s mistake. Just because a word is listed in the dictionaries of the world, and that most dictionaries agree, and even the definitions given for a particular field, in this case Biology, seem to agree, does NOT mean that the field of study holds to or uses that definition.
      There is a vast difference between “dictionary definition” and what a field of science actually uses when they are applying the concept to reality.
      That’s why I have pointed to the wiki page, where one can find references to all 26 different competing concepts of what constitutes a species in the real world of applied biology.
      Using the usual, casual definition (which you amply supply), there is only one species of wolf in the United States — the Gray Wolf, which is what the extensive DNA study by vanHoldt and others determined. In fact, it also means that coyotes and Gray Wolves, Red Wolves, Eastern Wolves, and most domesticated dogs are all one single species — as they all happily merrily interbreed with one another given the slightest chance, in fact, it is almost impossible to stop them from doing so.
      All this is known to the very biologists who have declared the Eastern Wolf, the Red Wolf, the Gray Wolf, the domestic dog and the coyote all separate species on the basis of size, life-style factors, coloration, etc.
      But that’s not according to the definition you found in the dictionaries, is it?
      With plants and other forms of life, reality is even further from taxonomy.

      • I would suggest rather that you are making the classic “expert” mistake, of appropriating long-established words and using them to mean something quite different. Granted, the simple dictionary definition can’t possibly apply to all species of living things, since many do not reproduce sexually at all. However, in the everyday context of common mammals, and particularly when addressing the general public, the dictionary meaning must prevail, and it is the technical or “scientific” terminology which is obligated to flag/annotate its usage of the established word to avoid misunderstanding.
        Your response aptly demonstrates a fundamental problem with modern “science” – the inability of its practitioners and propagandists to communicate their concepts, even to highly intelligent and literate laymen, let alone the average person.
        This inability is routinely blamed on inadequate primary and secondary education in mathematics and the “hard” sciences, accompanied by much hand-wringing and shoulder shrugging. A song and dance routine that even the dimmer lights of society could be excused for dismissing as self-serving camouflage for “the emperor’s new clothes”.
        It’s inevitable that, as the rift between the language of “science” (or should I say, “crypto-science”?) and the educated public grows, so will the lack of confidence in the predictions, warnings, and suggestions of professional “scientists”.
        The particular issue of “species” is remarkable in that there really is no plausible explanation of the confusion from a communication point of view. As you yourself suggest, biologists have always been aware of the conflict and have simply, arrogantly, gone their own way, resolutely “preaching only to the choir”. I suggest that same element plays a significant role in far more obscure subjects, such as “string theory”.

      • Reply to otropogo ==> Sorry if you were offended…but reality always has the last word.
        As to physics, you may already be aware of this ‘movement’: Has Physics Gotten Something Really Important Really Wrong?.
        As for the Science Communication Problem, refer to Dan Kahan (with whom I do not entirely agree). Start here and follow on with this.
        Remember, I wrote this essay as a simple comment on the implications of science and science-based-policy that depend on vague definitions and the trouble it can cause.

  45. Back in the mid 1970’s I had a record album entitled “The Language And Music Of Wolves”. Side A is narrated by the actor Robert Redford, who describes wolf pack behavior and explains the various vocalizations of pups, young wolves, Alpha and Beta males and females and differnt sings of packs. Side B of the album was 22 or so minutes of these vocals and sings without narration or comment.
    As a college student living just of campus in a very small bungalow apartment surrounded by larger apartment buildings, I would, on some warm nights, open the windows and put the Side B on the stereo at a low volume. Cats left the entire city block; dogs in apartments tried to join the sings. I stopped doing this prank after hearing a neighboring dog owner beating his small dog for howling along with the pack late one night.
    The breeds of dogs responded to the sings of the specie of wolves. Canidae is as Canidae does.

  46. @Kip Hansen
    August 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm
    “Reply to otropogo ==> Sorry if you were offended…but reality always has the last word.”
    Ah, I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized your “beginner’s mistake” comment was meant to offend. But now that I think of it, I get it.
    “As to physics, you may already be aware of this ‘movement’: Has Physics Gotten Something Really Important Really Wrong?.”
    No, I wasn’t aware of it. But having read the linked page, I feel not a whit the wiser…
    “As for the Science Communication Problem, refer to Dan Kahan (with whom I do not entirely agree). Start here and follow on with this.”
    Now it’s time for me to call YOU a beginner in communication, as are the other writers you cite. What you fail to understand is:
    1. there is NO SCIENCE of COMMUNICATION,
    and that without such science, there can never be communication of science.
    2. the designation “science” and “scientist” is as lacking in objective criteria as the designation of sainthood by the Catholic Church.
    The two brief quotes below from your first link above (the second didn’t real add anything)
    “You’re much more likely to believe science when …science communicators (and, let’s face it, any scientist who wants to communicate effectively) need to treat their communications interventions scientifically….”
    Show just how oblivious “scientists” are to their intellectual isolation. What is not obvious from these two pages your recommend is the promiscuous collegiality of “scientists”, who blindly accept the “established” “science” of areas of inquiry that are beyond their expertise.
    And sadly, as suggested by the first of the two phrases above “You’re much more likely to believe science when…” (do GET that? “believe”, not “understand”, not “agree with”…), educated and influential laymen, extend the same collegiality to “scientists” just as indiscriminately. After all, they are part of the ruling elite of our society.
    Consider a small, but very compelling example of how easily this happens, and the very real damage it can do.
    In 1990, James Driskell was charged with murder in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The only physical evidence was three hairs found in his car. These hairs were identified as belonging to the murder victim by a method developed by a forensic “scientist” working in an RCMP lab, and widely adopted by police forces throughout North America and also in Europe. And the accused apparently sealed his own fate by insisting that the dead man had never been inside the vehicle.
    Neither the police, the prosecution, the judge, nor even the defense lawyer, questioned the validity of the test.
    James Driskell was convicted and spent 13 years in prison for a crime he hadn’t committed. He was only saved after 13 years because of a skeptical US lawyer who decided to look into the theoretical basis of the lab analysis, and found that there had never been any peer review nor any replication of the research that supposedly went into this widely accepted and used evidential tool.
    As a result of this work, the three hairs that had “proven” that Driskell was lying (and thus presumably guilty of murder) were re-tested using newer (and better scrutinized) techniques, and it was discovered that not only were NONE of the three hairs the murdered man’s, they were from three different individuals.
    As a result, hundreds of convictions in Canada and the US were reviewed, and many found to have been unjustified. Unfortunately, some of the convicted had already been executed. Evidently, it is not only Canadian forensic “experts”, police, lawyers, and judges who are unable to recognize junk “science” as such.
    James Driskell was awarded $4 million in reparation for his 13 years of prison, and the jailhouse snitch, Ray Zanidean , who testified that Driskell had confessed to the murder privately was “outed” as having been paid $50,000 by police and let off on a pending arson charge in return for his perjury.
    Ray Zanidean was due to testify at a follow-up inquiry, but died suddenly and unexpectedly before he could do so, although apparently hearty and healthy, and enjoying his newly purchased gas station franchise.

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