Dog? Coyote? Wolf? Dire wolf? Or some combination hybrid thereof?
Turns out, the unusual looking creature shot and killed by a Montana rancher last month is just a gray wolf. One of more than 900 roaming the state.
That’s according to a detailed DNA analysis conducted by a government department determined to get to the bottom of the odd case.
“The conclusion was clear – this animal is a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains,” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced Monday.
But still, it looks weird.
The animal was shot on May 16 outside a ranch in Denton.
It came too close to comfort to livestock and was legally shot and reported to officials by the rancher. But it also ended up becoming a creature of fascination for the public and wildlife experts alike.
Even wolf specialists with state doubted it was a purebred wolf citing canine teeth that were too short, front paws that were too small and claws on the front paw that were too long. Its head was also rather large, as was its ears and snout. Its legs and body also seemed short — at least for a wolf.
In sum: It just didn’t seem right.
Imaginations ran wild.
“Social media was quick to pronounce the animal as everything from a wolf to a wolf hybrid to something mythical,” the department said at the time.
To solve the bizarre case, DNA was collected.
The samples were sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Ashland, Oregon to compared with thousands of other DNA samples from wolves, coyotes and dogs.
The report concludes:
“The individual represented by LAB-1, LAB-2 and LAB-3 was a female gray wolf from the Northern Rocky Mountains (Canis lupus). It is the opinion of the undersigned examiner that this individual was not of either a gray wolf x coyote, or gray wolf x domestic dog, origin.”
And, it turns out photos can be deceiving.
Scientists said when they got the body in the lab, it was a “a relatively normal looking, dark brown wolf.”
It was also female and around 2- to 3-years-old. There’s no indication she had a litter of pups, but her unique physical traits could be present in any sibling and parents, which may also pass along the oddities.
“Physical variations aren’t unusual for animals,” Mary Curtis, geneticist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. ““Within species there can be variability that’s not surprising at all.”
Photos Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks