Dumbing Down Extinction

Guest ridicule by David Middleton

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science of America (AAASA)…


The world’s largest amphibian is being bred to extinction

The world’s largest amphibian—the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus, pictured)—should be split into at least five species, all of which are critically endangered in the wild, according to a new study. What’s more, say the authors, current conservation practices could be causing these genetically distinct species to crossbreed with one another, effectively fusing them into a single species.

The salamanders, which can grow up to 2 meters in length, were once common in rivers across southeastern China. But today, most are found in commercial farms, which breed the giant amphibians to satisfy growing demand from the luxury food market. In an effort to augment wild populations, the Chinese government encourages the release of farm-raised individuals. But it’s not clear whether those individuals are genetically equivalent to wild salamanders.



This is like saying that if all 202 AKC recognized dog breeds were interbred to create one single breed, that 202 species would have become extinct… And since most dogs don’t live in the wild (although way too many are homeless),  Canis lupus familiaris would be critically endangered in the wild.

Ian Luis: Canis lupus familiaris consolatione.

280 thoughts on “Dumbing Down Extinction

    • That dog doesn’t have an owner. Ian Luis owns people… And he doesn’t think he’s a dog.

      • Looks to me like he is thinking, “Touch those shoes and I’ll bite your fingernails off one by one”
        Homey don’t ware no shoes

    • velcro, rather than laces on the shoes would make his life easier … seeing that he doesn’t have any thumbs.

    • People who dress up their dogs in human clothing are telling us plainly that they want to have children, but having a doggie dollie is much easier. Those are people living in pure denial.

      I have NEVER done anything like that to a dog. Try it on a German Shepherd and see just how long it lasts. Never to a cat, either. They turn and fight.

      I am DAMNED tired of homeless 4-leggers. Take some responsibillty or leave them alone!

      • I stand by what I said. :P You just don’t want to change diapers and get up for midnight feedings, David Middleton.

        I have had up to six cats at one time of various sizes and types, and if i had dressed them up like that, they’d have climbed to the top of the oak cabinets and pounced on me as I went by.

      • The boys wear diapers in the house (tinkle belts). Ian Luis gets us up at midnight, 2 AM and 4 AM… Usually he just goes outside to look at the pool.

      • My daughters when they were in the ages of 4 to about 10 would dress the dogs up for Halloween and Christmas (along with themselves). The dogs loved it. One dog named Pepper thought going proudly around the house flamboyantly dressed up like a wild west floozy was the height of her existence.

      • The first time we dressed Ian Luis up as a pirate, he had a blast. He even got to “captain” his own pirate ship. Henry and Elliott, on the other hand, looked seasick…

      • Hey Sara, my sisters white German Shepherd Penny has a pink dog sweater she wears when it’s really cold out. It has velcro down the belly so it’s easier to put on and take off.

        She doesn’t seem to mind it a bit, though that may be because she only wears it when it’s below zero out. Makes those ‘just before bed’ trips outside to do her business a lot more comfortable.


      • Breeding traits into and out of dogs seems to be fairly easy. Jack Russell terriers are reportedly much less aggressive now than they were ~70 years ago. Mind you, that is easy to believe, given the following story:

        I had a Jack Russell Terrier when I was a kid. I got the dog when she was about one year old – she was French, her name was Finette, and she was absolutely un-trainable – a truly incorrigible, self-centered bitch.

        No delivery man, cat or passing car was safe from her rampant aggression. She bit every delivery man who ever came into our yard, chased every cat up a tree and barked all night, and had collisions with five different cars (that I know of, maybe more) before dying of old age at about 18.

        When I say collision, sometimes Finette was sideswiped by a car she was chasing, but at least once she T-boned the car, running into it at 90 degrees at full speed and knocking herself unconscious. I was present for that episode and all four others, and this time you could hear the “bonk” from several blocks away as she hammered the car with her head. Old cars had thick sheet metal – a modern car with a body made of thin sheet metal would have suffered a large dog-head-shaped dent in the door.

        But she was loyal and true – when I was about five, a gang of older mean French kids pushed me down and started to kick me. Finette rocketed over me, bit the first cowardly miscreant on the leg, and then put the run to the lot of them. I got up and walked out to Rue Champlain – and she had them all lined up and on the run, about ten of them in a row across the road, and chased them several miles down the dusty road, nipping the hindmost. At the end, all I could see was their line of dust a mile or so away – still on the run.

        Finette never learned a damned thing from any of her violent exploits. She died of old age, worn out from long years of mortal combat, after I had left home for university. She went out into a storm and lay down – my dad went out into the storm, found her, wrapped her in a blanket and brought her in to the warmth, and there she passed away. I never owned a better bad dog.

      • Schitzree: I had a German Shepherd, long ago, when things made sense. She had a thick coat and loved pouncing around in snow banks. The only time the cold ever got to her was when the temperature was -30F and the wind chill -85F and I put one of my jackets on her front half. I wish I had taken pictures of that when I took her out to do her business.

        But I NEVER dressed her up as a pirate or a cowgirl – NEVER! Not even for dog school! She was, however, an actress. If I pointed a finger at her and said “Bang! Play dead!” she would collapse on one side, assume a position of some kind, and then look at me with one eye to ask “How’m I doing? Is this my good side?” I miss her a lot.

      • Sara wrote “But I NEVER dressed her up as a pirate or a cowgirl – NEVER!”

        Why not?

        The number of things I have NEVER done is probably infinite. Whether a dog enjoys it seems to depend on whether the result endears the dog to the family or makes the dog the target of ridicule. They seem perfectly capable of knowing when they are the object of ridicule or shaming. If the family members are dressing in costumes the dog will naturally also want to be dressed in costume.

        Pomeranians in particular do not seem to see themselves as dogs.

      • I have dressed up as a pirate, King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Jake Blues, Fidel Castro, Duncan Idaho, James Bond, Spock, Dr. Alan Grant, Dick Cheney and a pimp… but never as a cowgirl. Halloween is a holiday for children who never grow up.

      • We used to dress up Alvin, our old Burmese cat. He tolerated it with patience and good humour.

      • The French penchant for the legs of frogs (very tasty ) does not seem to have caused the extinction of the Common Frog , so perhaps there is hope, not despair in the salamander farms . I wonder what salamander tastes like? Perhaps “Crispin in Waterloo , but frequently in Beijing” could enlighten us .

    • You could actually run a funny argument that we are creating reverse evolution, merging 5 species back to one. A dog breeder on the other hand would just say we are breeding mongrels or a BITSA.

    • I enjoy some of the headlines on science magazine sites. Example: “Something killed a lot of sperm whales in the past—and it wasn’t whalers”

      Into my mind pops the answer: Old age!

      Also pops into my mind a wish to change “lot of” to “many”!

      • Or a specific number. My marine science professor would mark an answer wrong on a test if the word “amount” was used instead of a number.

  1. So domestication and captive breeding will be equivalent to extinction? Shades of PETA! Having lots and lots of domesticated salamanders that drift away from their wild ancestors would only seem to impact those who object to domestic animals on principle.

  2. I have read that all dogs go back, originally, to grey wolves. Don’t know about giant salamanders but have seen salamanders and don’t think I’d put them on my menue. What would be the purpose of defining multiple types, species or whatever of them other than to possibly have less in each group in order to raise red flags about them going extinct in each group? These snowflakes are crazy. Biologists cannot even agree on speciation.

    • Only about 40,000 years of breeding separates Ian Luis from the Big Bad Wolf… ;-)

      • “HotScot May 22, 2018 at 9:25 am
        David Middleton

        Runt of the litter.

        Did I spell that right?”

        You spelled “that” correctly.

        Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      • It wouldn’t take nearly that long to breed canis lupus familiaris (domestic dogs) from canis lupus (big bad wolves). The Russians did more or less the same thing in foxes in just a few decades.

        Basically, all you need to do is select for the persistence of “puppy traits” in older animals. Animals which are are born in litters must be highly social at the beginning of their lives. In the Russian fox experiment, the breeders selected animals that stayed that way.

        They actually selected for only one trait: tameability. But when they did so they got the whole basket of cute, puppy-like traits in the adult foxes.

      • I was specifically referring to Ian Luis… His specialties are being cute and lounging around. Those sorts of traits take thousand of years… ;-)

      • David Middleton wrote, “Ian Luis… His specialties are being cute and lounging around. Those sorts of traits take thousand of years… ;-)”

        He’s certainly good at it.

        But wolf pups start out cute, too. The “big, bad” part comes later:

        In the Russian fox breeding experiment it only took a few decades before the foxes were becoming noticeably more cute — i.e., more puppy-like in appearance:


        Eliza Doolittle Burton does it best, though (and I’m not at all prejudiced):

    • JimG1, back when I had to “play” around with taxonomy there was a continuing debate between splitters and lumpers. Splitters used any minor variation to declare a new sub-species or species. The lumpers would argue the opposite. Then someone figured out how to map DNA, but they usually only do mitochondrial DNA, and then it all got very strange.

      • Edwin,
        Lumpers and splitters.
        Neither is always right.
        But, goodness, the fun you can have splitting sparrows or dogs or giraffes.
        Possibly correctly.

        Other creatures are available

        I do note that splitters seems to demand more grant – and action – money, to preserve the light-brown-collared-spring-radiation Lesser Twite [compared with the mid-light-brown-collared- spring radiation ditto.

        Follow the money.

        Auto – probably, emotionally, a bit of a lumper [and a bit of a lump!].

    • “What would be the purpose of defining multiple types, species or whatever…”

      Naming rights. Somebody has to name each of these different species and that carries a lot of prestige; Fake species or not. And then somebody gets grant money to study each of these fake species individually. Five times the money.

    • These people are obviously “Splitters.” A “Lumper” would put all those salamanders in the same species because they can obviously cross-breed and produce fertile offspring. A famous Splitter botanist was honored at a dinner and presented with a bowl of his favorite berries, blackberries. By the time he had finished eating them he had “discovered” a dozen new species! This is not the way to classify creatures or plants, but it does make for a much larger number when discussing
      CAGW-caused extinctions.

      • It’s also a whole lot easier to whine and cry about extinction of a species when the species is so small that it consists of only a few individuals.

        BTW I’m definitely a “lumper” since fertile offspring reproduction is then only objective measure I am aware of. How much of the recent drastic increase in the number of species can be accounted for by “splitters”?

  3. “should be split into at least five species”….

    I have a great idea….let’s split this species up into 5 different species….then we can claim 5 species are going extinct…..think of the money!

    • Latitude

      Hang on mate, that’s discriminating against we Homo Sapiens, there’s only one species of us.

      In fact, come to think of it, it’s downright segregationist. How will the minority species Salamander feel when they realise they are in the minority?

      There’ll be Salamanders rioting in the streets, marches, with Salamander banners “We are not a minority, we are all Salamanders under the gene!”. Salamander segregation, Salamander Guantanamo Bay, Salamander terrorism!

      Do these fools realise what they’re doing, it’s worse than CAGW!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Precisely their point. I know it’s a little old-fashioned, but I was under the impression if you could get two critters to breed and produce viable offspring, they weren’t different species, just different varieties.

      • That definition is so last century. Arent there something north of 20 definitions of “specie” now?

      • You mean sub-species (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subspecies)

        The problem is many use Ernst Mayr’s definition that any groups that have reproductive isolation are considered different species. So if Salamander group A can’t mate becaue of geographic separation with Salamander group B then they are species under that definition.

        The argument is called the species problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem)

        Welcome to the softer sciences where nothing can be agreed on.

      • LdB –

        The “species problem” is NOT a function of “soft science.” It is a function of nature. Some organisms that are very different physically and are adapted to different habitats can still interbreed, even though they wouldn’t normally in the wild, or do so seldom. Many plant species can hybridize, for instance. Evolution doesn’t make nice, neat categories for us, and because the tools and knowledge of evolution are evolving, so are the definitions.

        “Organisms that can’t interbreed” is a nice, simple but not-really-true definition – sort of like, evolution is the survival of the fittest.

      • since before biology was an applied science, back when it was mostly taxonomy, the holy grail was to name a species.
        the quest for new species to name gave rise to the war of the splitters vs lumpers that continues to this day.
        a recent twist, to be expected in an activist economy, is to identify some cute or remarkable creature and become its ‘champion!’, wailing over its imminent extinction due to lack of funding.
        the quest for such gigs had a cohort of henchpeople vuturing in the wings for a graphically simple (like a panda or a snow seal) big eyed creature that can be used to tug the purse strings of the feeble minded wallowers.in.angst
        ignore them and they will go away.
        pay them and they will multiply.
        the market is dealing with adjusting the supply to the demand this very minute…lol

      • Kristi: then by your definition, a group that, on average, was taller, faster, had different hair quality, different facial features, thrived in warmer climates, and had different skin color than another group, should be considered a different species even though they could interbreed. Very different physically, and are adapted to different habitats.
        Very interesting, Kristi. Many (not I) would consider you a racist. Be careful with your definitions.

      • Kristi, using your definition, prior to modern transportation, there were at least several hundred species of homo sapiens sapiens.

      • D. J.:
        Not true.
        What do you get when you crossbreed an elephant with a rhinoceros? Elephino!
        What do you get when you crossbreed a cow with a duck? Milk and quackers!

      • When considering just what is a different “species”, Mendel’s Law is what has gone extinct.

      • @Kristi Silber
        Sorry it is a function of “soft science”, it’s a definition nothing more exactly as you described.
        If somewhere else you need a slightly different definition the MAKE A NEW ONE.

        Soft sciences seem reluctant to make and use standard definitions which is what is making then soft. In the hard sciences each term has a definition and we end up with slightly different terms based on slightly different qualities of that term.

        We are in a CAGW forum so lets use an example the term radiance
        Walk to the table at the bottom there is what 20 different standard names for the same thing depending on what qualities you are talking about.

        If you had 20 different names for definitions of species we wouldn’t be having issues would we. You use the correct definition there would be no confusion.

        What is causing people humor is the fact the species is going extinct but the species still exist, that comedy roles on the fact the use of the word species has two definitions used in the same sentence.

      • So you are saying Tigers and Lions are the same species?

        What exactly is ridiculous about this article? Are you saying I couldn’t capture a bunch of Tigers and Lions breed them and then release them back into the wild and if I did it enough and all the large cats in Africa had stripes I wouldn’t have killed off the lion by breeding? I would say that I had.
        But, hey if we can twist something to make scientists look stupid we should right? Is this what this science blog has become? I don’t like idiocy any better then the next guy, but perhaps you should think a little bit more before you post articles like this.

      • Horses & donkeys generally can’t reproduce genetically viable offspring. Mules are generally incapable of reproduction.

    • The biggest confusion is what constitutes a “differentiated species” from a sub-species or “breed”. I haven’t heard one I could accept without reservation.
      As far as humans go we are only one species, but many breeds.
      @ Kristi – Evolution is not survival of the fittest. It is survival of the “fit enough”. There isn’t only one survivor, but a whole group of survivors who were suited enough to pass through whatever selective wicket was required. Furthermore the wicket may not even be related to physical abilities, but merely an immunity to whatever epidemic is killing off the others.

      • That is all correct Rocket but the thing is you don’t have to agree with the definition just use different names, it could be species1, species2, species3 what does it matter so long as it’s clear what definition is being used. You might be using species1 as a definition and someone using species3 (and you don’t agree with species3 definition) but it doesn’t matter because there is no confusion. Hard sciences have that all over the place with multiple definitions over different aspects of a common term.

  4. I wonder if China destroying all its river ecology/habitat with ‘green’ hydro schemes has anything to do with the lack of wild survivors?

  5. If you have track closely the endangered species crowd you will have seen the propaganda tools, and the hypocrisy, we see in the CAWG world today. Example, the Dusky Seaside Sparrow went extinct. There was great gnashing of teeth, all sorts of evil people were blamed present and past, including climate change. Why did they go extinct? because US Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t follow their own very expensive land management plan or their mandating statutes. They did capture the last seven males from the wild which they were going to mate with Seaside Sparrows living adjacent to the Dusky. Breeding efforts were vetoed even though they would have ended up with careful captive breeding with a bird that was 99+% Dusky. “Joke” was if you haven’t figured it out by this point. Dusky Seaside Sparrows were a subspecies that had managed to get listed under ESA back in the day. Manatees status for years was based on winter aerial surveys. Problem was many of those doing the counting were amateurs with no training, little real instructions, many of whom had never been in a light or any aircraft much less looked down to precisely count things in the water. Yet those winter counts made headline news each winter during the height of tourist season, along with columns of hyperbole usually accompanied by an obligatory picture of a very live manatee with prop scars from a tug or freighter.

    • Edwin,

      The “endangered species crowd”? “…you will have seen the propaganda tools, and the hypocrisy, we see in the CAWG world today.”

      Since I have no idea where you got your story, I will speculate about what you say about the Dusky Seaside Sparrow strictly from the little you’ve provided. It sounds to me like the FWS were putting limited resources where they saw the biggest priorities, and the bird wasn’t one. This is likely due to the fact that it is only a subspecies, which are rated as lower priority by the ESA. Activists got upset. They often do. No big surprise there. But where is the hypocrisy?

      • Ah, Kristi, no I lived both, up close and personal one might say. I didn’t make up or retrieve the story from somewhere on the internet. The USFWS Refuge in question had the money (received additional manage money from NASA), had the personnel, but failed to follow their own expensively developed management plan. They failed to abide by statute and USFWS written policies. Though I know that is what happened because I knew staff, debated them and witnessed what happened, it was their Inspector General that came to those conclusions. Staff’s priority was water fowl, that doesn’t mean wading birds but just ducks and geese. Money was donated by a large corporation to conduct the captive breeding program but was stop by an environmental group taking the project to court. There in lies the hypocrisy. Get a subspecies listed under ESA, make a real big deal about it when it approaches extinction but refused to allow science to save the subspecies. About the same time in history the big deal, the issue du jour, was to save the gene. That is why some believed the captive breeding program might set some new standard be a new paradigm. As for manatees shortly after I left the game a new agency was created. The heads of that agency demanded a new stock assessment be done by outside experts. The conclusion was the population was not endangered and hadn’t been in decades, but would never be abundant and maintaining their listing as threaten should suffice.

      • Edwin,

        I don’t know, but just to play devil’s advocate (a terrible habit of mine!), introducing novel genes in either direction, as especially toward the subspecies, could effectively take away its quality of a subspecies. 6 individuals is a very small population, probably quite genetically depauperate, and you’d want some genetic diversity, which would mean quite a bit of interbreeding. To me it seems like a waste of money. I wonder if that surprises some people.

        But anyway, I see your point that USFWS dropped the ball to begin with.

        I love manatees. It’s crazy to go snorkeling and be surrounded by dozens of them. When I first dove with them you could still touch them, and they used to play with people.

    • “those doing the counting were amateurs “…..activists…..who were convinced manatees were endangered, so they got the results they wanted….shut down every waterway in Florida
      The real survey was conducted by F&W and the Parks…with spotters to be sure they didn’t fudge it

      • Back in the ’80s when I was in grad school in Florida I counted manatees and released newly hatched green sea turtles. I counted the manatees from a boat, much easier that way. The manatee is only endangered in Florida and can only survive the winter there because of the power plant cooling canals. They rightly belong in South America and thrive there year round. One of my better stunts as a student was trying to raise money to trap and ship all the Florida manatees back to where they belong, around the equator. For some reason that idea never quite took off as I had hoped…even with the help of Jimmy Buffett, maybe if he had agreed to the concert that would have raised most of the money it would have worked…Send a Manatee to Winter Camp!

      • Latitude,

        You don’t have to be an activist to be interested in wildlife and volunteering.


        Pretty cool you got to do that! Interesting experience. Aren’t manatees awesome?

        ” The manatee is only endangered in Florida and can only survive the winter there because of the power plant cooling canals.”

        No, they also come to the springs along the gulf coast, which are a constant 80 F (or something like that) year round. All-natural, they hang out there in the winter and in the Gulf and Caribbean in the summer, and presumably have been doing it for thousands of year. They have a very low metabolism and can’t keep warm on their own in the winter seas. The Amazon manatee is a different species.

        Edwin pointed out they’re threatened, not endangered.

    • I think I have seen some of those in the “king’s throne” in the small palace with the little sink!

      • If you’ve got 2 foot salamanders in your commode then you need someone with more training then your average plumber to have a look.


    • eyesonu,
      As a kid growing up on a farm in Green Lake County, WI, we would occasionally catch ‘mud puppies’
      (Necturus maculosus) when winter fishing through the ice for lake trout in Big Green Lake. These native salamanders are harmless and interesting amphibians, with prominent ‘feathery’ gills, and measuring 12 inches or a bit more in length. We put the few we caught back down the ice hole and would watch as they disappeared into the depths, headed for their bottom home at ~ 70 to 100 feet depth. They are ubiquitous in the rivers and lakes of Wisconsin.

      Click to access SALAMANDERS,%20MUDPUPPY,%20AND%20NEWT%20OF%20WISCONSIN.pdf

      • J Mac–I read your comment with a smile on my face. Growing up in Waukesha County WI, we encountered mud puppies (and other salamanders) with great regularity. Those external gills grossed more than a few kids out! Sadly, most of the mud puppies we found dead and had washed ashore–some of them quite large.

      • Lake trout – very yummy!
        As for the ‘giant’ salamander, an article I read a couple of days ago quoted a chinese buyer saying “They taste like chicken…” If I was really hungry, I would give them a try…..

  6. “The biomass of amphibians, which are experiencing a dramatic population decline (42), remains poorly characterized” From—The biomass distribution on Earth


    From the abstract–
    “Our analysis reveals that the global marine biomass pyramid contains more consumers than producers, thus increasing the scope of previous observations on inverse food pyramids.”

    Deep with in the paper—
    “ In these cases, we use intrastudy, interstudy, or intermethod variation associated with each parameter that is used to derive the final estimate and propagate these uncertainties to the final estimate of biomass.” Doubt if they checked salamanders very closely.

    • Amphibians, are not easy creatures to survey; population counts or otherwise.
      Unless one happens on amphibian mating movements, they can be darn hard to find.

      Salamanders, are especially remarkable for the places they do hide.

      While the giant salamanders may be in some danger ecologically, because the local populations consider them to be very tasty; and worse, high prices for giant salamanders at upscale urban markets drive market overharvesting of giant salamanders.

      Except, I have to wonder; market sized giant salamanders are the adults.
      What does hurt wild populations for a period of time is the harvesting of breeding adults, lessening propagation.

      Giant Salamanders lay eggs, that hatch into small salamanders. Unless these small salamanders are also harvested, wild giant salamanders are not in danger.
      e.g. High on oriental culinary desires are glass eels; which are young elvers reaching shorelines in their travel from spawning sites to freshwater. Large harvests of elvers seriously impact future eel populations.

    • HDHoese,

      That’s an interesting paper. Even though they must be broad estimates, and some figures would have much uncertainty, it still gives some perspective to the relative biomass components. I had no idea that humans and livestock made up such a large proportion of mammal biomass, but it makes sense.

      I found this intriguing:
      “A worldwide census of the total number of trees (32), as well as a comparison of actual and potential plant biomass (17), has suggested that the total plant biomass (and, by proxy, the total biomass on Earth) has declined approximately twofold relative to its value before the start of human civilization. The total biomass of crops cultivated by humans is estimated at ≈10 Gt C, which accounts for only ≈2% of the extant total plant biomass ”

      Plant biomass would influence C cycling. Perhaps change in land use has altered the way the biosphere acts as a check to keep climate in equilibrium. If plant biomass were higher there would be more to respond to CO2 increase. Another anthropogenic source of climate change: cutting down the forests, burning them, and replacing much of the biomass with C4 plants like corn, sugar cane, sorghum and tropical pasture grasses that don’t respond much to increased CO2.

      • “Yet another example of the egocentric selfishness of scientists”

        Like shooting fish in a barrel.

        “Science would be perfect if scientists weren’t so eager to produce fake information.”

        Science is always perfect due to its existence as a definition, an abstraction.

        Naming a species (or even deciding on the meaning of “species”) is science. If it were, then everyone would arrive at the same name for a species, and it would be the name the species gave itself, because it would be a repeatable observation.

      • That is okay there are more humans and as many cultures either burn or bury our dead we influence C cycling even when we die. I read a very funny article that wasn’t supposed to be funny about eco-dying a year or so back. There is even a mob who do a biodegradable burial pod that turns your body into a tree.

        The green groups are a comedy routine that keeps on giving.

      • Michael 2,
        “Naming a species (or even deciding on the meaning of “species”) is science. If it were, then everyone would arrive at the same name for a species, and it would be the name the species gave itself, because it would be a repeatable observation.”

        Often they do arrive at the same name, but of the genus. Part of naming is putting it in evolutionary context – it has to have a genus, family, etc. And you also have to try to make sure it’s not already been recorded by someone else, which means being able to key out its anatomical features. Someone else should be able to do the same thing with the same specimen, and come up with the same answer. See ? Repeatable. Describing it as a species is the science part. The specific name is just a label, and there’s no reason everyone should arrive at the same one. Often they are named based on features of the organism, not the person who discovered it.

        Nothing gives itself a name besides humans.

        Agreeing on the meaning of “species” is not easy because there is no natural delineation. People use it differently in different contexts. But all the various reasons to define “species” a certain way are based on nature through the eyes of science.

      • Kristi Silber wrote “Someone else should be able to do the same thing with the same specimen, and come up with the same answer.”

        Indeed, that would be scientific and also astonishing. Names of things are not properties of things, but instead are properties of Persons who chooses to label Things with Names.

        Let us try an experiment. 20 children invited to name a bird they have never seen. What will you get? Very likely you will get 20 different names if the children are not permitted to discuss it among themselves.

        Ah, there’s the secret: Scientists do not keep secrets among themselves, and this scientist or that will dominate the others and eventually it will become official; at least for a while.

        Consider “Anthropocene”. Is there such a thing naturally? Of course not. It is a human invention; for some it exists, for others it does not. How is that possible in “science”? It is not possible; only in the realm of human invention is this possible.

        Consider North America. Does it exist? The land seems to exist, but the NAME of it is rather arbitrary: [https]://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amerigo_Vespucci

        So how is it that an Italian’s given name became “the” name for North America? Was it scientific? No. Would someone else choose the same name? Probably not. Ancient Scandinavians apparently called it “Vinland”. Its name is not a property of the thing, and science deals with things and their properties. Science itself is just a container, names are labels you stick on containers.

        Properties of things can be observed by any suitably observant person, and will necessarily always be observed the same way — but the labels could differ substantially since labeling is a human invention.

        Is there a scientific reason to use Latin, or Latin-looking names that everyone on Earth is supposed to use? No. Political reasons maybe. Certainly reasons of convenience and preservation of knowledge.

        Hence, the study of properties is science; labeling is clerical and political.

        “Nothing gives itself a name besides humans.”

        While it is likely the case, how can you know this?

        “Agreeing on the meaning of “species” is not easy because there is no natural delineation.”

        Precisely so, and without that natural delineation the word becomes an abstraction rather than something that can be measured with an instrument.

        “But all the various reasons to define ‘species’ a certain way are based on nature through the eyes of science.”

        Science does not care to name things. *People* like to name things, and organize things. It is inherently political rather than scientific. Why do you care what anyone else calls a thing? One reason might be so that you can communicate, particularly international across language barriers, that you are talking about a species that in English is named one thing, Golden Plover, but in Icelandic is Heath Loa (Heithloa). Why is that important? It isn’t, except to people for whom it seems important, and for their convenience and as agreed among themselves they choose a name.

        To be sure, there is a well ordered system for naming species, but it is neither more nor less scientific than the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries and for a similar purpose. A Peterson’s Field Guide is in taxonomical order so when I see a soaring bird with rounded wingtips, I know it is a buteo hawk and all such hawks are together in the book, in the chapter on raptors (birds of prey). Pointy wingtips? Its either an accipter (woodlands hawk) or falcon.

        So while taxonomy is scientific (based on observations and anyone can observe the same features), the resulting names are a human invention and could be anything without making impact on the thing observed.

      • Michael 2

        This is quite a philosophical conversation. I agree that labels and names are a human construct. But someone can’t just find an organism he’s never seen before and give it a name, and forever after it will be fixed in the Linnean system. There is a process. Taxonomy is informed by evolutionary relationships, and the placement of a new species in its correct taxonomic (and phylogenetic) category is a science.

        “Properties of things can be observed by any suitably observant person, and will necessarily always be observed the same way”
        What does “suitably observant” mean? I’d argue that people need training to observe some things, and to categorize them according to a standard system. An extremely observant person, given time, could probably find all the differences between dog and wolf skulls, but that doesn’t mean he could put each in their proper place in the wolf/dog family tree. People spend careers reconstructing the phylogenetics of groups of species based on morphological and/or genetic traits of living and extinct species, and that depends on knowing whether traits are ancestral or derived (“new”). Since these traits have names that are already agreed on by the scientific community. one must know their names for proper categorization. Sometimes (as in the case of modern wolves and dogs) taxa evolved from a common ancestor of which there is as yet no physical evidence; its traits are theorized based on the common and unique traits of known taxa and estimated time of divergence. The science of cladistics is a common way of creating phylogenetic trees…
        “Every cladogram is based on a particular dataset analyzed with a particular method. Datasets are tables consisting of molecular, morphological, ethological[17] and/or other characters and a list of operational taxonomic units (OTUs), which may be genes, individuals, populations, species, or larger taxa that are presumed to be monophyletic and therefore to form, all together, one large clade; phylogenetic analysis infers the branching pattern within that clade. Different datasets and different methods, not to mention violations of the mentioned assumptions, often result in different cladograms. Only scientific investigation can show which is more likely to be correct.” (Wikipedia)

        I’m sure there is naming of species that doesn’t apply rigorous phylogenetic analysis beforehand, and simply puts a species in a genus that seems logical. And I know there is much duplication, with some species archived having multiple names; there are also plenty of taxa whose evolutionary relationships are not agreed upon — but that doesn’t mean the basis of the process is not scientific. Science is full of alternative and “working” hypotheses that over time are either confirmed or discarded.

        “‘Someone else should be able to do the same thing with the same specimen, and come up with the same answer.’

        “Indeed, that would be scientific and also astonishing. Names of things are not properties of things, but instead are properties of Persons who chooses to label Things with Names.”

        You took my quote out of context. I was talking about putting a species in its evolutionary context, where two or more qualified individuals could put a new species in its place on the evolutionary tree, in which case most of its names would already be known (apart from the species name).

        “Is there a scientific reason to use Latin, or Latin-looking names that everyone on Earth is supposed to use? No. Political reasons maybe. Certainly reasons of convenience and preservation of knowledge.”

        Why political??? The Latin nomenclature is traditional. That’s all, AFAIK.

        “‘Agreeing on the meaning of “species” is not easy because there is no natural delineation.’

        “Precisely so, and without that natural delineation the word becomes an abstraction rather than something that can be measured with an instrument.”

        This is why when researchers define what they mean by “species” when it is necessary to communicate their research properly – then the term is no longer “abstract,” if it ever was. Take the word “fruit.” It could refer to something like an apple or orange, or it could refer to the product of one’s labors.
        when speaking to someone who doesn’t know English well, using “fruit” in the latter context could be confusing. Likewise, a scientist speaking to another in the same field of research might be able to say “species” without any risk of being misunderstood, while it remained confusing when speaking to scientists in another field. “Species” can be defined physically, using measurements; the fact that the word doesn’t have a set, universal definition doesn’t mean the word (or more precisely, its referent) is an abstraction. “Cat” could mean a housecat, or that plus lions, tigers, leopards and so on – does that make cats abstractions?

        ““But all the various reasons to define ‘species’ a certain way are based on nature through the eyes of science.”

        Science does not care to name things.”

        I was talking about defining “species” here, not naming one. (“eyes of science” is a figure of speech, of course)

        “To be sure, there is a well ordered system for naming species, but it is neither more nor less scientific than the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries and for a similar purpose. ”

        Maybe that’s why they call it “library science”? At any rate, it’s different. Once a book is assigned a place in the Dewey Decimal system, there it will stay. Its position is not dependent on the literary influences of the books, and a DD classification doesn’t assume a common ancestral book from which others in the group are derived. Phenetic taxonomy, which just looks at amount of similarity, may be like the DD system, but that has largely been replaced by cladistics, and there is nothing in the DD system comparable to it.

        Sure, names are made up by humans. But that doesn’t mean that bestowing a name on something is not subject to scientific processes and standards. All species are recognized by both their species and genus name, and that necessitates finding out what its genus name is (or ascertaining that it doesn’t exists already), which is determined by scientific inquiry, before one can attach its specific name.

  7. Ian Luis seems a fine candidate for membership in the Union of Concerned Scientists. He can join Kenji, member in fine standing and reputed to be among the most competent scientist in that crowd.

    • That’s a fine idea, Pat! Ian Luis can join the ranks of dogmatic Concerned Scientists.
      (I personally think Kenji has been laying down on the job…)

  8. If the salamanders can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, they are not separate species, but possibly different varieties of the same species.

    • The same could be said for Neanderthals and homo sapiens, the latter carries a lot of genes specific to Neanderthal.

      It seems, species do not go extinct, they just get an upgrade once every Wednesday.

    • There are 20 plus definition of species and the field refuses to simply make 20 plus different definitions so we know what they are talking about … so the confusion reigns.

  9. Animal cruelty—dressing a poor defenseless creature up like a person. Could cause PTSD in the poor critter.

      • And Ian Luis looks at you, David Middleton, and the first thing he thinks is “Sucker!!!”

      • My sympathies to Ian. Honestly, I have to skip reading this blog until the picture of that poor creature cycles out. Once every 5 years or so, I’d put an outfit on my pommie for 5 minutes or so for a Christmas card picture. Never did I dress the dog up and she only wore boots when it was -10F to avoid frostbite feet. I am just horrified by people treating animals like this. (In case you’re wondering, I’m also opposed to “Furries”, people dressed as animals for fun and games.)

      • Ian even picked out the hat at PetsMart… and I see that picture whenever I turn on my phone…

      • Sheri writes “In case you’re wondering, I’m also opposed to ‘Furries’, people dressed as animals”

        So long as your opposition consists solely of you not doing things you don’t like, no worries. As to dressing up animals, perhaps that should be left to the animal to decide. Catzendogs are capable of expressing their own desires. People dressing as animals, or even obtaining surgery to resemble one, is odd but not my problem so long as I don’t have to pay for it.

    • I have a friend with a cat who likes to dress up. Actually brings clothes to her and then waits to be dressed.

      • I love the ambiguities of the English language!

        “I have a friend with a cat who likes to dress up.”

        It is unclear whether it is the friend or the cat that likes to dress up: I have a friend, with a cat, who likes to dress up OR I have a friend, with a cat who likes to dress up.

  10. “should be split into at least five species” … Split a house sparrow into at least two million species, and all of them suddenly become critically endangered.

    I just love a beancounter approach to science. There is no better science degree than a MBA.

    • Which species winds up headless?? Split a Salamander 5 ways and the unit becomes unviable

  11. I heard someone from PETA say that having a pet animal is tantamount to slavery.

    My cat finally crashed out around 10 this morning after a hard night’s toil. She’ll probably get up around 9ish tonight have a bite to eat and then do her thing.

    If that’s slavery I could do with some

    • “My cat” is incorrect. You are not the owner of the cat, you are simply a member of it’s staff.

    • fretslider: Yes, especially if you have six of them, all colors and all coat types. You are indeed a slave to them. They demand specific food groups, catnip, and constant attention to the catboxes, and this is in addition cleaning up hair by the bagful, trimming their nails, finding toys under the stove, and leaving the windows open in the winter at just enough of a small crack that they can sniff the cold air coming in from outside. Then there are the demands that you not occupy the space on YOUR bed that they have decided THEY want, because it’s obviously the most comfortable spot anywhere.

      It’s even worse when they escape into the wilds before you get them spayed and come home looking suspiciously pleased with themselves and eight weeks later, present you with five mewling and puking furballs.

      Having a pet animal is, indeed, a form of slavery. And YOU the human slave to their demands, never ever get a day off.

  12. I read a book a while back, about travels through China. The western was fairly shocked to see in the market places every sort of animal, being prepared to be eaten. His guide said: “If it has 4 feet we eat it, if it has 2 feet and is not human we eat eat, if it has any other number of feet, we eat it.”

      • Curious, in China, and elsewhere in Asia it is not so much about hunger but their historical cuisine. Japanese eat anything that swims, crawls or otherwise in the oceans. Go visit Tsukiji market in Tokyo sometime. Scientists actually find new species there each year.

      • “You don’t really know what hunger is.”

        You don’t really know what I don’t know. But then, how would I know that? ;-)

    • I heard a similar story from a North Chinese (from Beijing) about the Cantonese. His version was:

      “They eat everything with legs except each other and the table, and if it is a bad year only the table is safe”

  13. “In comparison, farm-raised salamanders exhibited extensive genetic mixing, the team reports today in Current Biology. That means that any release of farm-raised salamanders risks muddying the genetic waters, potentially causing a distinct, local salamander species to become extinct through crossbreeding with salamanders carrying the genetics of other species.”

    Loss of genetic diversity and small population size are both key determinants of pending extinction within recognized species. However here we have 5 “genetically distinct” salamander local populations that can apparently easily interbreed in captivity. This fact seriously questions the assertion these are distinct species.
    More likely the term, “Distinct, local salamander species,” is incorrect. There is just one species, 5 separate sub-species or types. The Chinese government is encouraging release of captive bred hybrids to strengthen the populations. So the bridge has already been crossed as to introduction of genetic diversity into the populations.

    The fact that interbreeding is increasing genetic diversity can only bode well for strengthening the species from adverse selections (diseases) and bottleneck events (destruction of habitat/hunting) that limit ecosystem availability.

    This is just another case of misplaced alarmism. And more likely someone(s) just wants a bigger study grant.

    • You realize what that means, though. GMO salamanders! It’s more Oh, NO! than we thought! :-)

    • What evidence do you have that mixing subspecies “can only bode well”? So, I mixed some blind newts from the caves of the karsk region of Slovenia with some river newts, it would “only bode well” for the offspring when released into the river? More likely you don’t want to actually read about it and think about it you’d rather practice misplaced alarmism about studies. But hey why think when you can attack instead.

      • They are giant salamanders from various rivers of China. They are not even different subspecies, but simply different breeds. If you cannot tell that they are distinct by looking at them, then they are arguably just different family lines.

        Either you did not read it or you are purposely trolling.

      • Ben,

        The third paragraph of the PR is the one David left out.
        “To figure that out, scientists analyzed DNA from 70 wild-caught salamanders and 1034 farm-raised individuals. The team found that wild individuals could be separated into five highly distinct genetic groups, which split off from one another 5 million to 10 million years ago. “

    • The local populations surely interbreed in the wild. Their separate river valleys aren’t impassable barriers even to short-legged salamanders. Some of their home rivers in the basins of the Yangtze, Yellow and Pearl eventually run together. A few populations however are isolated.


      In general appearance, it’s little changed since the Jurassic (Swiss fossil), so is considered a “living fossil). Same goes for the Japanese (smaller but still “giant”) and American (much smaller, in a separate genus) members of its family.

      • Felix,

        This is how they once remained isolated:

        “The habitat consists of rocky mountain streams and lakes with clear, running water, at moderate altitudes (below 1500 m, especially between 300 and 800 m), where the animals occupy hollows and cavities under water. The salamanders spend their whole lives in water.”
        (From your link – thanks, it’s a good one! I’ll have to explore it more)

        I don’t reckon they’d get far on those legs. And the ranges from the sounds of it are quite disjunct.

        Aren’t they cute little buggers, though?

    • JoelOBryan,
      “More likely the term, “Distinct, local salamander species,” is incorrect. ” Huh. You’ve got some nerve.

      Many species can interbreed. Not being able to is not a good definition, it’s the old, simplistic definition we learned in high school, maybe even in dictionaries, I don’t know, but for scientific purposes it’s wrong.

      There are different levels of diversity. A species with lots of diversity may not be able to survive what another species with little diversity can – it’s a matter of having the right genes – and five species may have a greater range of diversity among themselves than they do when they are combined (especially if the farming environment has been stable).

      In other words, they are making the species more like each other, distributing their genes. This could be maladaptive if the species are evolved for distinct habitats.

  14. ”causing these genetically distinct species to crossbreed with one another”

    Hohum, still more people who don’t understand the difference between “genetically distinct” and “species”. This is a common failure among lab-oriented geneticists with no real understanding of evolution. That two populations are “genetically distinct” shows that they have been isolated, but not that they are different species or even different. Nearly all genetic changes (mutations) have no somatic effects at all, but they accumulate over time and tells you how long it was since the two populations last interbred.

    New species occur when different important mutations accumulate in the two populations. If such a mutation affects e. g. breeding behavior one single mutation can be enough to turn two populations into reproductively isolated species. However this is rare, and if the isolated populations live in similar habitats and under similar selective regimes, then millions of years can go by and lots of (unimportant, “neutral”) mutations accumulate, and then if the populstions come into contact they will interbreed “effectively fusing them into a single species”, which they, of course, were all the time.

    • Usually lab-oriented geneticists have a better grasp of genetic variability. The problem comes from field biologists that upon seeing animals whose range doesn’t overlap and show any character that distinguish them they want to quickly name them before other field biologist comes around. The race to name a new species to leave a mark has produced many fake species. If the progeny is fully fertile traditional biology is that they are the same species. Problem with biology is that there are always exceptions. Canids interbreed without problem even when they are clearly different species, like coyotes, wolfs, and dogs. And canids have a really messed up genetics. Nature is always playing tricks on scientists.

      • Javier: “The problem comes from field biologists that upon seeing animals whose range doesn’t overlap and show any character that distinguish them they want to quickly name them before other field biologist comes around. The race to name a new species to leave a mark has produced many fake species. ”

        Yet another example of the egocentric selfishness of scientists, huh? Simple mistakes in archiving are never the problem. Science would be perfect if scientists weren’t so eager to produce fake information.

        Do you have any information at all to back up your disparaging comment, Javier? Or is this just a gut feeling you have about field scientists?

      • Well, considering that I am a biologist, and a scientist, I think I know better than you do what I am talking about.

      • Javier,

        “Well, considering that I am a biologist, and a scientist, I think I know better than you do what I am talking about.”

        That’s not answering the question.

        I didn’t know you were a biologist. What’s your field?

        I betcha there are those in genetics who’ve named a few themselves.

      • My specialty is biochemistry and molecular genetics. I am one of those lab-types. I’ve spent most of my adult life among scientists (including a handful of Nobel Price recipients). It is just a profession really. Not better nor worse than any other. People are people regardless of what they do for a living.

      • I just don’t see the issue with this study, the scientists clearly state they are genetically distinct and not necessarily different species, and that the interbreeding is destroying that distinction, assuming that using them as food source doesn’t do it by itself.
        PS after all the appeals to authority arguments from the CAGW crowd doing the same is not really impressive

      • First sentence from the Science article:

        The world’s largest amphibian—the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus, pictured)—b>should be split into at least five species, all of which are critically endangered in the wild, according to a new study…


        Species, real or fake, are extinct or extant. “Critically endangered” or extinct “in the wild” is a meaningless phrase. Cattle (Aurochs) are extinct in the wild. Cattle are extant; they aren’t critically endangered or even threatened. Cattle are among the least threatened species on Earth. Every breed of domesticated cattle was bred from the supposedly extinct Aurochs and/or some other bovine relative.

      • Kristi: The history of systematics has been one of constant conflict between “lumpers” and “splitters” (and, yes, those are generally used terms in biology). At the moment the “splitters” are dominant, largely due to DNA studies that have revealed many cases of considerable genetical differences between externally indistinguishable populations.

        Also one must keep in mind that two species that can from a purely genetic point of view interbreed, in practice may never do so under natural conditions. This is the e. g. the case for the large falcons (subgenus Hierofalco) which never interbreed in the wild, but can be made to do it in captivity, and produce viable and fertile offspring.

      • Javier,

        Ah. I’m more a field type. Ecology and evolution, though mostly ecology. I haven’t practiced in a long time, though, because of health issues. I miss my profession terribly. For me it wasn’t just a job, it’s part of me.

        “People are people regardless of what they do for a living.”

        Yes, indeed. And people make mistakes, and not all people are totally ethical. That’s true in every field, but it seems to me misconduct is treated seriously in science – and that includes climate science. That is the only way to keep the public’s trust – or try to do so, anyway. Pretty tough these days.

      • it seems to me misconduct is treated seriously in science

        That is not my experience. It is treated very seriously only when there are accusations and evidence. Otherwise it is ignored. The number of cases of misconduct investigated is absurdly low for the number of scientists. In essence a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is in place. In my specialty we all know certain authors and groups whose results can’t be trusted, and whose experiments need to be replicated when there is a need to build on them. Nothing too obvious that cannot be attributed to sloppiness. But they publish a lot as they pursue fashionable science. Their old papers become irrelevant as their conclusions and hypotheses turn out to be invariably wrong a few years later, but their new papers always have some impact and have to be cited. Upon close examination their successful career is built on bad science, but misconduct would be very hard (or impossible) to demonstrate. And then there are the handful of cases that I know personally. None of them was denounced. A professor yelling to a student to get the damn result, and the result being produced. We all knew how the result was produced, and it was very well published indeed. We all kept silent because there was nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost otherwise. Science being so competitive and with careers and a lot of money in the line, I am sure that is happening all the time. It all ends into the irreproducible science, but the short term goal is achieved. As in any human activity there are some people cutting corners for a personal gain. In general I think they have it easier in science to get away with it as long as they don’t overdo it.

      • In the private sector misconduct and/or incompetence tends to show up in people’s track record.

      • That might not always be the case in science. Publications, journal impact factor, and number of citations usually constitute the track record, together with grant money. Whether old research is no longer relevant or cited is usually ignored by people outside the specific field. I am convinced (and know cases) a not too honest scientist can push up his career and as long as he is careful and avoids overexposure he’ll get away with it unnoticed. We have all seen Michael Mann get away with his hockey stick statistical tricks despite huge exposure. On a lower level quite a lot of that goes unnoticed and ends up in more unreliable, irreproducible science. When you have a extremely competitive environment and there is no good oversight and punishment mechanism in place it is inevitable. The good news is that this sort of behavior is the exception, as most scientists are vocationally driven to find the truth and produce results that can stand the test of time. The huge majority of scientists I have met were extremely honest and could have made more money outside of science. And science principles are so solid that the damage inflicted by those that are not honest is generally small. It amounts to noise, as science is self-correcting and advances by building over those results that are correct and reproducible.

      • tty,

        I knew all you said in your comment about lumpers and splitters (apart from the detail about large falcons).

        I don’t quite understand your position on species. It seems as though your comment about neanderthals and Homo sapiens contradicts the preceding paragraph. What am I missing?

        Regarding the falcon example, would you say that reproductive isolation can occur as a result of divergent habitat preferences, and would that at least partly be considered in whether to call organisms separate species?

      • Javier,

        “That is not my experience. It is treated very seriously only when there are accusations and evidence. Otherwise it is ignored. ”

        That’s a shame. I don’t know, maybe I’m too idealistic when it comes to science. I still believe that the vast majority of scientists have professional integrity. Despite those who don’t play by the rules, and despite the fact that mistakes are inevitably made, in the end science has always managed to advance, and it’s doing so amazingly quickly.

        I suspect experimental reproduction is different across fields. I can see where in the lab it would be a case of repeating experiments exactly, following the same methods – there is always the possibility of contamination of the evidence. In field biology, where some experiments take years or decades,it seems more common for experiments to be similar, but not exactly the same: new information can augment the old, adding another piece to a puzzle that when “finished” provides support for a general hypothesis. For example. one group might study impacts of CO2 “fertilization” on North American temperate forests, and another group might study the same impact on European temperature forest, another on Asian, etc. Ideally they would all follow the same basic procedures so that meta-analyses could easily compare results, but that doesn’t always happen. If one or two of a group of similar studies doesn’t agree with the rest, then that should be cause for greater focus to see what’s different, possibly followed by reproduction of the exact experiment.

        Does that seem about right to you?

        It also seems to me that the fields of medical and social research are particularly bad when it comes to experimental procedures and reproducibility. Social science has long been plagued by its “soft” techniques. My impression is that a fair bit of medical research is done by doctors who were never trained in scientific methodology and statistics. In ecology it’s a problem that null results are not often reported, but that is changing. Overall it seems that science is going through a phase of self-criticism and improvement that I think is good for the profession, but it gives some outsiders the idea that science is currently pretty rotten and not to be trusted. Skepticism is good, but general automatic distrust is not, and I will keep resisting it. Even in your field, it sounds like the bad players are identified, and their results don’t “make the cut” in the long run – pretty crazy that they are allowed to go on, though.

        Thank you for your explanation, Javier. Thought-provoking.

      • Whew! Javier, I didn’t see this before, and I’m so glad you made this clear! This is what I’ve long felt about scientists and science. I never believed they were perfect, but I’ve always felt that most scientists are drawn to science because they have the drive for discovery in them – but discovery falsified is no discovery at all, and that pretty much takes the interest out of it. Those people are driven by other motives.

        I’ll repeat it here – it’s well-said.

        “The good news is that this sort of behavior is the exception, as most scientists are vocationally driven to find the truth and produce results that can stand the test of time. The huge majority of scientists I have met were extremely honest and could have made more money outside of science. And science principles are so solid that the damage inflicted by those that are not honest is generally small. It amounts to noise, as science is self-correcting and advances by building over those results that are correct and reproducible.”

      • David,

        “Extinct in the wild” a meaningless phrase? I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but it has meaning to me. Do you see no difference between having a few individuals in zoos vs. natural breeding populations?

        Cattle were domesticated in the Middle East around 6000 BC. The last auroch went extinct in the 17th C, in Poland. It’s only in British domesticated breeds that distinctly auroch genotypes are found, indicating introgression.

        Some call domestic cattle a subspecies of aurochs, some a separate species. But there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that aurochs are well and truly extinct. Indicine cattle were domesticated from aurochs independently in India.

        Seems a short time to speciate, but humans can exert strong selection pressures. Their DNA is evidently quite different. Domestication is a pretty dramatic change, if you think about it.

        Thanks for spurring my interest in the subject of domestication, David.

      • “Extinct in the wild” is s totally meaningless phrase. Species, real or fake, are either extinct or extant.

        “Extinct in the wild,” thriving on grazing lands managed by people is extant. It is not extinct.

    • Genetically distinct is a pretty weak standard.
      With the exception of twins, every individual is genetically distinct from all other individuals.

    • tty,

      You aren’t suggesting that any populations that can interbreed can’t be species, are you? That would surprise me.

      (As you know, populations don’t just accumulate mutations; through genetic drift they lose genes (alleles), too, and others get fixed; populations could differentiate that way.)

      Over the course of millions of years there is likely to be some change in habitat (climate, for example). Even if the habitat of both populations changes in the same way, one wouldn’t necessarily expect them to evolve the same. One might expect some mutations to be more successful in the new habitat. If these genes accrue in one population but not the other, you could end up with groups that respond differently to the environment but are still capable of interbreeding. Of course, this does depend on selection, but it shows how organisms can (theoretically) diverge even if two populations have the same quality habitat. FWIW.

      To me this idea of responding differently to the environment could be a consideration in whether to call a group a separate species. If they perform different functions in the ecosystem, they are not interchangeable.

      Really, though, it depends on context. If it’s important to define how “species” is used in the research, presumably a researcher will do it.

      • But they don’t do they Kristi. Even in this article it’s obvious it needs a definition on the word species because it’s going to be as confusing as hell without it. For some reason those in this field seem reluctant to make a new definition, the question is why?

        My best guess is they haven’t been taught that in science if there is any chance of confusion you can make a definition, you aren’t restricted to using other peoples definitions.

      • Kristi,

        The standard definition is not just interbreeding, but producing offspring capable of reproducing. This leaves out horses and donkeys. Mules, except in rare instances, are infertile.

        Both Tty and Javier are correct. Now that we can look at genomes, “scientists” want to redefine species based upon trivial genetic differences. And, similarly, field biologists want to define new species which really aren’t, both to further their careers, as discoverers of a nondescript, and to aid in the lie of extinctions.

      • “You aren’t suggesting that any populations that can interbreed can’t be species, are you?”

        No, see my comment above. But I do suggest that populations that aren’t reproductively isolated, by genetics or behavior (which is of course also largely genetical), at least to such a degree that the offspring have significantly reduced viability, are NOT separate species.

        For example, and contrary to common belief, there is persuasive evidence that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis were separate species despite a limited amount of interbreeding.

      • LdB, I couldn’t access the full article, and didn’t know they don’t define “species.”

        “For some reason those in this field seem reluctant to make a new definition, the question is why?”

        Now sure what “this field” means. Fields view species in different ways. Molecular vs. morphological, ecology vs. cladistics, even plant vs. animal biologists might see “species” differently.

      • Felix,
        “And, similarly, field biologists want to define new species which really aren’t, both to further their careers, as discoverers of a nondescript, and to aid in the lie of extinctions.”

        To aid in the lie of extinctions, eh? Are you sure about that? It’s a pervasive phenomenon, is it, pretty general?

        I didn’t know one could further one’s career by naming a new species. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, since some biologists naturally come across species new to science in the course of their work. Papua New Guinea, for instance, must have loads of undiscovered plants and insects, as well as a few vertebrates. Same goes for the deep ocean.

  15. I’m noticing, just in the last couple days, that “biomass” has become the big new scare term. As for the salamanders, if they can interbreed, then they are not really separate species. Some intra-species diversity may be threatened, but I can see where they might decide that’s not scary enough.

      • Skunks bred as pets post the same as other photos. Our late Bailey Boo, a Chi-Pom looked like Pepe LePeau minus the white stripe down his back.

      • A URL that points to an image will automatically display the image when viewed on the page. This feature can be annoying at times when all you wanted to do was give someone a URL. It is important that it be the only text on the line. You can also break up the http part with brackets to ensure the URL shows.

        For instance: [http]://www.chicagocanine.com/halloween09/policesit.jpg

  16. Some years ago I remember reading about ‘punctuated equilibrium’ where a segment of a polulation suddenly becomes isolated (e. g. by a geological event). Then, over a period of time, the smaller population undergoes genetic drift and eventually becomes a separate species. How long this takes is, I am sure, highly variable.

    Genetic Drift – Gene variants can be lost in a small population over time (this is not natural selection).

    • Punctuated equilibrium is the idea that species go through periods of rapid change and diversification, and long periods of relative stasis. Small populations can go through more rapid genetic change due either to drift or selection, and therefore result in a rapid-change phase, so maybe that’s how you came to link the ideas.

    • where a segment of a population suddenly becomes isolated

      This is called allopatric speciation. But it is not the only biogeographical speciation mechanism. There is also parapatric speciation (contiguous territories), and sympatric speciation (the speciation takes place without separation).

      Often the reproductive isolation is behavioral instead of geographical. For example a bird might change its song and they will not interbreed between different singing birds even though they could still do it. Over time enough changes accumulate as to make inter-breeding impossible.

      • Javier,
        “Often the reproductive isolation is behavioral instead of geographical. For example a bird might change its song…”

        I would think that in that case there would have to be at least some geographic difference, It’s not enough for the male to sing differently, the females also have to prefer it. It’s far easier for me to imagine a sub-population getting isolated, the song gradually changing in either or both, and the two groups being united again having different songs.

      • Isolation is not necessary. This has been demonstrated for several cases.

        A subpopulation (including males and females) quickly diverges behaviorally creating a reproductive barrier that intensifies and becomes as effective as a geographical barrier.

      • Let’s not forget that hybridization itself can also be a species-forming mechanism. In plants this is very common and very well documented, but it does happen among animals too. For example there is strong evidence that the Pomarine Skua is a stabilized hybrid population of the Great Skua and the Long-tailed Skua.

      • Javier,
        Well, OK, total isolation may not be necessary, but a subpopulation with limited interbreeding would, I believe. As long as there is no inherent fitness (apart from sexual selection) associated with singing one song vs. another, divergence would depend on separation, or most of the females would keep picking the tried-and-true males with the old song. The rate of divergence would depend on the subpopulation size and level of isolation.

        Unless there is breeding between kin, it’s hard to imagine how a truly novel song could get established. It would more likely be a “better” version of the old, no? A female preference for the more extravagant, like that seen in so many male bird physical features and behaviors? Somehow it’s easier to imagine some females liking a guy’s tail feathers, and some liking a guy’s crest, leading to divergence, but maybe the same applies for song. Maybe it’s a female preference mutation acting on normal call variation? Still, she’d have to have more progeny than others. (I’m sorry, I’m spilling my train of thought on the keyboard, arguing with myself.)

        While there is certainly intraspecific geographic diversity in bird song, the fact that it is relatively stable across wide regions suggests that it’s not something that quickly and easily diverges. Something that affects fitness so directly would tend to resist change, I’d think. Mere speculation, but I imagine those species that do evolve differences are more often those that have an array of songs, and change in frequency or order of different calls is likely to differentiate populations, in addition to novelty. Just a gut feeling, not really thought through.

        Evolution fascinates me. It’s complex and quantitative – not just a matter of survival of the fittest. It’s nice hearing others’ ideas. Sorry my posts are so long.

      • Sorenson, M. D., Sefc, K. M., & Payne, R. B. (2003). Speciation by host switch in brood parasitic indigobirds. Nature, 424(6951), 928.


        Edwards, S. V., Kingan, S. B., Calkins, J. D., Balakrishnan, C. N., Jennings, W. B., Swanson, W. J., & Sorenson, M. D. (2005). Speciation in birds: genes, geography, and sexual selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(suppl 1), 6550-6557.


        Via, S. (2001). Sympatric speciation in animals: the ugly duckling grows up. Trends in ecology & evolution, 16(7), 381-390.

        Click to access Scienc13.pdf

        Mason, N. A., Burns, K. J., Tobias, J. A., Claramunt, S., Seddon, N., & Derryberry, E. P. (2017). Song evolution, speciation, and vocal learning in passerine birds. Evolution, 71(3), 786-796.

        Click to access Mason_et_al-2016-Evolution.pdf

      • The mechanism requires disruptive selection. The extremes are selected for, while the hybrid is selected against.

        When two populations are phenotypically different, and behaviorally different, and are effectively reproductively isolated, most biologists consider them separate species even if capable of producing fertile hybrids.

      • Javier,

        Thanks for the links! I should have done a search myself. The first one doesn’t seem to work for me.

        “Models of vocal evolution suggest that periods of allopatry promote drift in mating preferences and signal content (Lachlan and Servedio 2004), and evolutionary processes that reduce population sizes may further accelerate song divergence by increasing the effects of drift”
        …Lending support to my ideas.(http://www.evolution.powernet.ru/library/Scienc13.pdf)

        Generally applicable to the discussion:
        ” It has long been recognized that the biological species concept (BSC), with its emphasis on reproductive isolation, is inapplicable in many allopatric situations because there is no opportunity to test for reproductive isolation, rendering the concept arbitrary (30)….diagnosibility will become highly problematic as the resolving power of multilocus approaches increases; the specter of statistical significance without biological significance will be perennial. ” (http://www.pnas.org/content/102/suppl_1/6550)

        I haven’t yet read quite through all the articles, but it still seems to me that sympatric speciation via song preference would require some unusual conditions or coincidental gene linkages order to get the alleles well enough established in a population to lead to fixation (where the song is innate – I didn’t know that many passerine songs were learned! Interesting). Of course, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen – “unusual” in a sample of millions of years and thousands of species could mean it’s happened plenty of times. Hard to imagine disruptive selection for song, but that could just be my own bias and lack of background in bird evolution and behavior….not to mention that my knowledge of evolution in general is rusty and dated. Easier to understand how it might work in the case of brood parasites.

        Thanks again!

  17. I didn’t notice any place to make comments on the original article in Science magazine. Thankfully the Internet includes sites like this, which provide opportunities to expose inanities. The remaining problem is how to get people who read the original article to find and read critical evaluations of that content.

    Here’s a suggestion that could help: use the title of the original article as part of the title of the blog post. For example, make the title of this post something like “The world’s largest amphibian is being bred to extinction–NOT,” or “The world’s largest amphibian is being bred to extinction–REALLY?” That plus additional search engine optimization (SEO) tweaks could increase the probability that people with open minds might find critical commentary on the particular topic. It might also help introduce more people to the incisive commentary on other issues available here.

  18. David says,
    “This is like saying that if all 202 AKC recognized dog breeds were interbred to create one single breed, that 202 species would have become extinct”

    No, it’s not. It’s like saying domestic dogs were released and interbred with wolves, and wolves ended up looking like St. Bernards and golden retrievers, and were more likely to hang out around humans. Then they in turn started breeding with coyotes to make one great big population of animals with domestic dog, wolf and coyote genes. The latter two as separate taxa could become extinct, leaving nothing like what we think of when we think of wolf or coyote.

    • 1. Learn how to recognize sarcasm.
      2. Dogs and wolves are the same species… And coyotes should be.
      3. If dogs and wolves re-mixed to become the Wog or Dolf, no species would have gone extinct.

      • I have broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and collard greens all growing together in my garden. Is that bad?

      • Coyotes, wolves and dogs really are all the same species. They all freely interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Wolves are a larger, social subspecies of coyotes, and dogs are a domesticated subspecies of wolf.

      • Similarly, and oversimplifying feline evolution, the lion and tiger are biologically the same species. Their common ancestor was more like the tiger, ie a solitary forest hunter, but the spread of grasslands in the Pleistocene promoted evolution of the social, open terrain hunting subspecies lion.

      • But, since my career and ideology don’t rest on multiplying species, I’m a lumper rather than a splitter.

      • As an exploration geologist, I’m a lumper. However, as a reservoir geologist, I’m usually forced to be a splittter.

      • What the real issue is that laws like the US Endangered Species Act tend to be enforced by advocates who are splitters, so clear hybrids like the so-called Red Wolf can be called “endangered species”.

      • tty May 23, 2018 at 3:03 am

        Lions and tigers don’t usually interbreed in the wild because their ranges rarely overlap. In the past, however, they did come into contact more often, when the Asia lion’s range was greater, to include more of India, and before the Romans killed off all the Caspian tigers, which mixed with west Asian lions. In those days, ligers occurred with some frequency. Ligers are large and fertile. Dunno about the smaller tigons.

        The American lion also would have come in contact with the Amur tiger, at least when its ancestors were passing through Beringia. The American lion might have qualified as a different species, like the cave lion, if tigers and lions indeed be distinct species. It was not only big, but smarter, based upon its brain, than tigers and lions.

        IMO the “species” are best understood as solitary and woodland versus social and grassland subspecies. But it’s an academic distinction. Tigers and lions both have 38 chromosomes, as do their fellow members of genus Panthera, ie leopards, snow leopards, jaguars and cougars (pumas). Closest living relative of the Amur tiger is apparently the snow leopard (both endangered), not the Bengal tiger.

        (First link in case the paper itself doesn’t open.)


        Click to access 543ba0710cf2d6698be30c5e.pdf


        Clouded “leopards” are placed in a separate genus.

        The African elephant has recently been split into forest and savanna “species” or subspecies. The Asian elephant is a species distinct from the African, however, going far beyond just its forest specializations. Its steppe variant became the mammoth genus.

    • I have broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and collard greens all growing together in my garden. Is that bad?

      Well, yes, because you will breed any one cruciferous vegetable to extinction, and you will get this new all-in-one abomination that we would have to rename “cruciferstein”.

      Steamed cruciferstein or cruciferstein casserole, for example, would become new standards for the dinner table. Borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! … because you killed off all that diversity. (x_x)

      • if you planned to save seeds for next yr then its not the best idea
        brassicas can cross, silverbeet and beetroot will also do that
        im trying to grow mangold wurzels and i also like to plant turnips n swedes n parsnips
        would seem i am going to have to plant the mangolds well away from the main garden so i can get viable pure seed;-/

  19. This is an activist strategy – divide species to enable protection laws.
    And really, honestly, how much more ‘dumbed down’ could it get?

  20. Similar to the “worry” about the CA spotted owl, which is really just a subspecies of the ubiquitous barred owl.

      • Doesn’t matter really. Practically anything from the animal kingdom is edible. Though it might be more or less tasty. For example I’ve eaten armadillo and capybara down in the Amazon. Both were quite good, much better than e. g. mutton.

  21. This is exactly the logic that 250 years caused the “educated” of Europe to declare that both women and Africans were separate species,

  22. I don’t know what they are worried about. For any plant or animal, about the closest thing to genetic immortality is becoming useful to humans, particularly in a culinary sense.

      • It’s a lot easier to define species for sexually reproducing organisms than asexually.

        And I’m even OK with defining separate species when they can produce fertile offspring, but don’t mate in the wild, whether from occupying different spaces or because of behavioral barriers.

        But the slight genetic differences among populations of giant salamanders do not make them different species.

      • At least with sexually reproducing animals, that is a fairly workable definition. More importantly, it’s a rigorous definition.

      • Felix – what is a “slight genetic difference” to you?

        “To figure that out, scientists analyzed DNA from 70 wild-caught salamanders and 1034 farm-raised individuals. The team found that wild individuals could be separated into five highly distinct genetic groups, which split off from one another 5 million to 10 million years ago. ”

        What if human-caused (recent) change in habitat and environmental pressures brings different “species” into contact, and they start occasionally interbreeding as a result? Do they then stop becoming separate species?”

        What if parapatric or sympatric (sub)species sometimes interbreed, but they fill different ecological functions (as in wolf vs. coyote vs. domestic dog)? To me this seems like a good reason to split.

  23. Dumbing Down

    A number of teachers are using the icons and cartoon faces as learning aids, believing that they can help pupils connect with English literature and other subjects. Students at one college have been asked to summarise scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream using emojis, the Times Education Supplement (TES) reported.

    Dare I say it, it’s worse than we thought.

    • Let’s do encourage illiteracy. First, it’s ‘no more penmanship, because KEYBOARDS!!’ and now it’s ‘don’t bother to learn to read because EMOJIS!!!’
      What’s next? Never mind. I can try to guess. Don’t learn arithmetic. You have a calculator for that.
      Brains do shrink from lack of use, you know.

  24. Dogs and wolves are the same species

    I know I am quite heretical, but despite overwhelming consensus on the subject, I not only consider dogs and wolves different species, but I think dogs were not domesticated from wolves despite such close genetics. The reasons for that are several:

    1. Behavioral. Wolves are pack animals, leaded by an alpha couple, strongly hierarchical and with very restricted reproduction to other members, while they do not have hierarchical feeding restrictions. Dogs are clan animals, with very loose hierarchy, and unrestricted reproduction. Wolves are large prey hunters, while dogs are small-medium prey hunters.

    2. Genetical. When domesticated animals go feral they quickly shed the selected characters and revert to the wild phenotype. This is a strong principle. When dogs go feral they revert to the dingo-like phenotype, not to a wolf-like phenotype. This is likely to be their ancestral aspect. Also wolves cannot be domesticated. It has been tried over and over. They can be tamed which is a very different thing. Only a few animals can be domesticated, and those that can were repeatedly domesticated during the Holocene. The dog, being the first animal domesticated was probably easy to domesticate.

    3. Paleontological. Fossil dog remains associated to human sites look like dog remains, not like wolf remains.

    In my heretical opinion the wolf is a large prey specialization of the ancestral dog species during the late Pleistocene. During the last glacial period the ancestral dog became domesticated and quickly went extinct in the wild. It has happened several times that after domestication the wild variety goes extinct because of increased pressure. As canids can interbreed, extensive gene flow has taken place between the dog and the wolf since domestication, but their differences have persisted because that is what keeps them adapted to their way of life.

    Of course, you won’t read any of this in a biology article because it is so heretical that no self-respecting zoologist could express it against consensus.

    Anyway what it is important is to keep the mind open and admit that things can always be different from what is generally believed.

    • Another difference: Wolf pups raised with humans won’t maintain eye contact with humans. Dogs will. From what I recall, this is even true for wolf pups raised with litters of puppies.

      Always keep Chamberlin’s Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses handy.

      • David: 6 generations of controlled breeding will domesticate a fox – or create a savage

        it’s all about the neurochemistry.
        reduction of steroids also leads to floppy ears and retention of other juvenile characteristics.

    • Javier,
      Have seen dogs pack up, just like wolves and take down full grown deer, many times. Counter to your numbers 1 and 2. These are tame dogs, belonging to families and just out enjoying their wolf heritage. They will also do the same with livestock and vane be just as agressive as wolves if you try to stop them.

      • Yes, this is true and I have seen it first hand. Family pets that are allowed to run free in agricultural areas quickly get into trouble and then get shot. I’ve seen assorted-breed dog packs take down calves and we lost a few foals to a similar pack. Sheep are especially vulnerable because these dog packs kill for fun, not food, they seldom eat the kill, just move on to the next live animal. A flock can be decimated in a single afternoon.

      • yup I have 5 sight hound crossbreds presently, a combo of wolfhound/ dane /greyhound/ibizan hound/mastiff/ not all in the same dogs;-) but one IS 4 of them in one
        they have an alpha female leader near 13,male 5 @70+kg comes next and can still be pinned n told by my old alpha femme, as happened this evening
        then comes a 1 yrold F and 2 8mth old sisters.
        the difference in behavior and characteristics is massive from being one dog alone two dogs and their human and more than 2 changes the dynamics and degree you have to be the” above everyone Alpha ,yourself “massively.
        if your not on the ball and aware of this then dont ever keep more than 2 large dogs

      • Wolf packs are always small in number with familiar structure. Dog clans can be quite numerous with lots of members unrelated. It is not that dog clans are unable to hunt large prey, it is the general preference from real wild dogs (from Asia and Australia) is different from wolves that are very specialized in large prey. Obviously solitary wolves have different prey choice. Their nature is very different.

    • African hunting dogs are a wild species that operate as pack animals. They have strategic planning ahead of bailing out for the hunt. They are dogs, not wolves, but they are absolutely pack animals.

      Some time ago, a Russian scientist ran an experiment on foxes that were raised for fur in captivity to see what would happen if they became truly domesticated. Those that were the friendliest were kept and bred for offspring that were likewise selected for friendliness.

      Several things happened. The coat colors and patterns changed drastically. The temperaments changed drastically from aggressive to completely submissive. And their skeletal structure also changed. Since they were only bred for a specific characteristic, a friendly temperament, the other changes came as a surprise.

      The same thing happens to skunks which are bred for pets. They changed bone structure and coat colors and patterns.

      • Sara, genetically African hunting dogs are quite distant from wolves and dogs. They just show how other canines behave.

        I am quite aware of how artificial selection works and the results it produces. Actually Darwin dedicates a lot of pages in his “Origin of species…” book to the issue.

    • Javier,

      I must respectfully disagree strongly.

      I am familiar with dogs, coyotes and wolves. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind, based upon my experience, that dogs are wolves. They show traits in adulthood of adolescent wolves.

      Dogs are highly social. They treat humans as their pack leaders. When feral dogs meet, they pack up, and quickly establish hierarchy. Then they go our looking for big game to take down.

      Their genetics leave no doubt whatsoever that dogs are wolves.

      IMO what happened is that dogs largely domesticated themselves. Wolf packs drive out their weaker members. These outcasts hung around humans, eating our scraps and offal. Dogs still savor human excrement. Humans benefited from this symbiotic relationship, since dogs could warn our ancestors of leopard, hyenas and other threats in the night.

      Eventually people also got involved in the domestication process, selecting cubs or puppies most amenable to joining the human pack, with the least aggression against their “owners” and most against interlopers, whether human, feline or other potential predator.

      Experiments in domesticating foxes show that they too develop dog-like traits when selected for living with humans.

      • Out looking for big game. Most of the livestock killed by dogs die at the paws of packed up family pets whose owners simply can’t imagine Fluffy behaving so badly. Ditto deer, in whose carcasses they like to roll.

      • PS: I’m also familiar with dingoes. My Australian granddad shot them on sight on his Queensland cattle station. He was a very good shot, having earned a living as a teenager shooting kangaroos, then made even better money shooting Turks and Germans for His Majesty the King Emperor. My mom also was a good shot. But not as good as my dad, who made his living as a young man in the USMC shooting down Zekes, Kates, Vals and Bettys of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

      • I must respectfully disagree strongly.

        Nearly everybody does, so no problem.

        What you say is certainly possible, and it is what most experts believe.

        However what is known about dog genetics and history is compatible with both hypothesis. As Wikipedia says:

        “Over the past million years, numerous wolf-like forms existed but their turnover has been high, and modern wolves are not the lineal ancestors of dogs. Although research had suggested that dogs and wolves were genetically very close relatives, later phylogenetic analysis strongly supported the hypothesis that dogs and wolves are reciprocally monophylic taxa that form two sister clades. This suggests that none of the modern wolf populations are related to the wolves that were first domesticated and the wolf ancestor of dogs is therefore presumed extinct.

        The study indicated that there has been extensive genetic admixture between domestic dogs and wolves, with up to 25% of the genome of Old World wolves showing signs of dog ancestry, possibly as the result of gene flow from dogs into wolves that were ancestral to all modern wolves.”

        – Genetically dogs did not originate from the ancestors of modern wolves.
        – The ancestral species to dogs became extinct quite early.
        – Gene flow between dogs and wolves has made them a lot closer than they originally were.

        However, despite this gene flow, wolves remain very different in their behavior, social structure, and ecology, to wild reverted dogs, like dingos. This is because the genes that are responsible for those traits are responsible for their adaptation and can’t change.

        In the late Pleistocene the number of people was very low. The domestication of the dog took place very early and at different places (Eurasia and Asia). Wolves cannot be domesticated even if captured at a few days age. Dogs can be readily domesticated.

        The most likely explanation in my humble view is that dogs were domesticated from an ancestral wild dog that in ecology and behavior was very much like dingos, and the wild dog species went extinct. We know the modern wolf ancestor was not domesticated, and in my opinion it is very unlikely that the animal that was domesticated had a behavior, social structure, and ecology, like that of modern wolves.

      • Had the privilege of living with an Arctic wolf for over a dozen years. She was definitely a pack animal and the alpha leader of her pack consisting of my wife and I. It took two years of coaxing to have her approach me for the first time on her own. If you raised your voice, you lost her. But with a calm regular voice she learned to sit when walking on the road if a car approached, and stay until it passed. She would tend to obey, but on her own terms. She was absolutely devoted to my wife. Anyone who moved too quickly in my wife’s presence received a nip on the calf as a message to ‘cool it.’

      • Kristi, the second paragraph is also from Wikipedia. Run a google search with the text between quotation marks and it will come as the first hit.

    • “Wolves are pack animals”

      Apparently not the small-bodied North African lupaster subspecies

      • The Egyptian wolf, a subspecies of the African golden wolf, is even more distant than the coyote to the grey wolf.

    • Javier, I love your analysis. I have been around red wolves, wolves, and few coyotes and a whole lot of dogs in my life. I have read about everything I could find on canids. The Dingo example I believe says it all. What is not often discussed when discussing “dogs” are the wild dogs of Africa. I wonder how they tame or “domesticate.” Somewhere not long ago I saw a journal article that was suggesting based on evidence from sites in Eurasia that dogs may have been domesticated much earlier that 40,000 years ago.

  25. This is like saying that if all 202 AKC recognized dog breeds were interbred to create one single breed, that 202 species would have become extinct

    I do no agree, the distinct unique varieties of Salamander exist in the wild and are separated by distance.
    It is entirely possible that releasing a non local varieties could cause the loss of something really unique.

    • It happens. I have one in limbo, too.

      It means that the brain-dead akismet anti-spam filter was triggered by something in our emails, and tossed them in the “spam” bucket.

      Be patient. Anthony’s team of selfless volunteers will eventually find our lost comments, and resurrect them.

      It has happened to dozens of my comments, over the years, and all of them have eventually been resurrected — I think always within 24 hours or less.

      You’d think the akismet filter would eventually notice that a particular person’s comments always get approved, and stop flagging them. That would save the volunteers a lot of wasted time. But akismet is not that smart.

      • Correction: I wrote “emails” when I meant “comments.”

        BTW, when a comment goes to the spam bucket your browser address bar will still be updated to show the comment’s correct URL. That’s convenient, for a couple of reasons.

        1. I keep a log of the comments I post, and I keep the URLs with them. So I’m glad to have that URL, for my log.

        2. Until the comment is recovered from the spam bucket and appears on the blog, the URL for the comment won’t work. Clicking it (or pasting it into a browser) will take you to the article, not the comment, until the comment is resurrected. After the comment is resurected the URL will work properly. So that’s how you can tell the status of your “lost” comment: keep that URL, and try it occasionally.

        If more than 24 hours has elapsed, and your comment still hasn’t appeared, then something strange is going on, so you should probably try re-posting it, or email Anthony, or something. (That is, unless “your” comment really was spam, or was rude and obnoxious, in which case “you” should just go away [note that “you” and “your” in this context does not refer to YOU, ossqss, but to to generic visiting trolls who might stumble across this comment.])

      • That’s a truly wonderful fortune cookie, ossqss.

        It might have gotten flagged as spam because the only thing in your comment was a link to a picture, or perhaps akismet doesn’t like the jokideo[dot]com web site where the picture resides. (Just guessing.)

  26. I guess id David Middleton has 10 Poms it’s no worse than my having 6 cats all at once, or four horses, or a German Shepherd and a partridge in a pear tree.

    • 5 Pom’s, depending on how you count Schipperke and Aussie mixes, 1 Chihuahua, 1 Chi-Weenie, 1 Toy Fox Terrier, 1 Corgi and 1 Mythical Creature… All rescues except the Corgi; but we love her just as much as the rescues.

      Maggie, the Mythical Creature, plays tamborine in our canine Mariachi band…

      We have had as many as 12, not counting fosters… But they just don’t live long enough.

      Only time I ever agreed with a Democrat.

  27. What is wrong with chicken, pork and beef? Salamanders? Yuck. China has lots to learn.

    • So? Mudbugs or lobster or rabbit are all quite tasty, so farmed salamander might be another delicacy. Tilapia is more than a bit bland, but if it’s backside faces Heaven, I will consider it.

    • I’ve never eaten a salamander, so I’ve no opinion of them from a culinary point of view. However it has been noted that “tastes like chicken” seems to be a synapomorphy for subclass Eureptilia.

    • It is the sister taxon of the Chinese giant salamander and closely related to it, but considerably more distant genetically than any of the chinese subpopulation.

    • Same genus, different species. Japanese giant presumably can’t produce fertile offspring with even larger Chinese giant, but I don’t know that for a fact.

      Their little American cousin is in a different genus.

  28. Species is a vague term for biologists- there are as many definition as there are senior people in the field. This is just about the silliness of sub-species are really the one species if morphologically they are different.

  29. I enjoy the debate about whether biodiversity in itself is necessarily a good thing, whether a healthy ecosystem can be measured by counting species, and the increases or decreases in the number of “species,” etc. Some wild species are flourishing in urban settings, and becoming something “new.” https://lloydtown.blogspot.ca/2018/01/biodiversity.html

  30. Now that is a fine example of the idiocy — the utter waste of time — that Dr. Judith Curry uses as a the basis for her term “Climate science taxonomy” which she defines as “research that is neither useful nor contributes to fundamental understanding.”

    That biology is worrying that salamanders that happily interbreed are destroying species….silly — and the fault of Biology’s inability to have a definitive, agreed-upon, real-world applicable definition of “species”.

  31. Takeaway: 5 species are going extinct
    Hey who’s to argue it. One thing that’s not common for species that are going extinct is for them to be raised for a popular dish and to have surpluses released into the wilds.

    Since fake news is an epidemic especialy from enviro and the biological sciences, which were corrupted a few generations ago, it would be good to have a report 9n these things from the likes 9f Jim Steele or Susan Crockford, who know how to appraise this.

  32. Why do so many so called ‘scientists’, deliberately choose to ignore the simple truth that life and evolution has ensured that currently we have *the best* of the survivors living on the planet now.
    These animals, plants, microbes etc., have ancestry that have survived every outrageous fortune that the twists and turns of nature has thrown at them, do you really think that a rise of the order of parts per million of CO2 is beyond them?
    Also all we know today about the oceans indicates that all recent variations in pH, temperature, and salinity appear to be safely within natural limits. The hype about CO2 ability to ‘acidifying’ the oceans is beyond reason it is pure bunkum.

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