It is not surprising for people to assume that Siberian Huskies are related to wolves because they have remarkably similar physical characteristics as well as certain behavioral characteristics such as howling, but is this true?
Siberian Huskies are not wolves, nor are they directly descended from wolves. However, wolves and Huskies are considered to be members of the same species since they have some genetic similarities can breed with each other, and have fertile pups. Even though they seem to be related, there are many differences between them.
To truly understand the origins of Siberian Huskies and their relationship with wolves, one must go back in time and history. It can be quite complex to clearly understand whether Huskies are related to wolves or not because it is a heavily debated topic with numerous views and scientific studies available.
So read on as our veterinarian, Dr. Abdul Basit Javed (DVM, RVMP), will explain everything you need to know about whether Siberian Huskies (and modern dogs) are descended from wolves or not.
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Are Huskies descendants of wolves?
The short answer? We don’t know for sure.
Huskies, like all dogs, have thought to be a descendant of the Gray Wolf.
However, as more research is done, it’s not clear this is the case. Instead, Huskies could be descendants of an ancestor of the wolf. How high up this divergence in their family history happened isn’t clear.
Keep reading for a longer answer and different but interesting theories!
History of wolves
Wolves are powerful canines found throughout Eurasia and North America. There are roughly 30 subspecies of wolves. Wolves are commonly referred to as gray wolves or grey wolves. Many people have the misconception that modern dogs are a wolf subspecies, yet there is little evidence to support this claim. The current largest member of the Canidae family is the wolf. Compared to dogs, wolves generally have more pointy ears and muzzles.
Canis Etruscus and Canis Mosbachensis, two extinct ancient wolves, are thought to be the ancestors of present-day wolves. The earliest wolf fossils, estimated to be around a million years old, were discovered at Old Crow, Yukon, Canada, and at Cripple Creek Sump, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Wolves other than the Himalayan wolf and the Indian plains wolves appear to have originated in Beringia (a land and maritime area bounded on the west by the Lena River in Russia) in an expansion that was driven by the huge ecological changes during the close of the Late Pleistocene (geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago).
History of the Siberian Husky
The Chukchi Tribe in Russia is thought to have domesticated Siberian Huskies thousands of years ago. The Chukchi people lived in a freezing, desolate region where it was difficult to maintain horses or mules, so they needed an animal that could easily survive there, travel great distances, and pull heavy loads without tiring. Enter the Siberian Husky.
The Chukchi kept Siberian Huskies as working dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs, and family friends because of their devoted and gentle nature. Nobody outside of the Chukchi tribe were familiar with the Siberian Husky breed until 1925.
When a pack of Huskies traveled 658 miles across a frozen terrain in just 5 days to deliver a diphtheria antidote, they grabbed the attention of the entire world. The head of the pack was known by the name Togo, and ever since then, Huskies have gained enormous popularity all over the world, ranking as the 14th most popular dog breed in the USA according to American Kennel Club.
The history of the evolution of Siberian Huskies and their relation to wolves is a very controversial topic and there are a lot of theories related to this. Some of these theories are listed below since there is yet no single theory that the scientific world has agreed upon.
- Since 98.8% of the mitochondrial DNA in wolves and Huskies is identical, it is clear that the two species had interbred in the past. Many scientists and evolutionists disagree with this statement because there is little evidence to back it up.
- Given that both wolves and Siberian Huskies contain 78 chromosomes in each of their cells, it can be concluded that they are genetically related or at least have a genetic relationship. The extent to which they are genetically related is debatable.
However, this could indicate that Huskies and wolves both descended from a single ancestor or that Huskies might have evolved from wolves in the past.
- According to Current Biology, a biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal, the DNA sequencing of a 35,000-year-old wolf fossil from Siberia made clear that it might be the species that contributed its DNA to the high-latitude dog breeds, including Siberian Huskies, during inbreeding in ancient times.
- According to a very famous theory, wolves, Huskies, and other dog breeds are all descended from a single common ancestor that is now extinct. Although a Siberian Husky is as closely connected to wolves as any other breed of dog, such as a dachshund.
There is no conclusive evidence that Siberian Huskies in particular are more closely related to wolves than other dog breeds or that Siberian Huskies are directly descended from wolves.
- The extinct Siberian wolf is the ancestor of Siberian Huskies according to one study. This wolf had existed during the last ice age.
- According to the aforementioned study by Current Biology, the extinct Late Pleistocene wolf might have been the ancestor of modern Huskies and some other dog breeds. This wolf, which is extinct, was related to gray wolves of the present era but had some anatomical distinctions from them.
More research is being carried out globally now to pinpoint the exact genetic connection between modern wolves and Siberian Huskies. Recent developments in science and genetic study methods have given hope to scientists and evolutionists.
Why do Huskies look like wolves?
Many people believe that Siberian Huskies are descended from wolves or have some relation to modern wolves because of their appearance. People and scientists alike are perplexed about the lineage and origins of Huskies and wolves due to their similarities.
If all dogs have a genetic link with wolves, why do Siberian Huskies have the closest resemblance to them? This is another commonly asked question. There are two possible answers to this query, which are described below:
1. Geographical aspect
One of the reasons that Siberian Huskies and wolves look so similar is that they share similar ecosystems and climates. Because wolves and Siberian Huskies must cope with the coldest temperatures, they both have developed bulky bodies and thick coats to conserve heat and keep them warm in the bitter cold.
The eyes of Siberian Huskies and wolves both have unique secretions that protect against freezing temperatures and becoming snow blind. Although there may be some similarities, the color patterns of wolves and Huskies are very different. This is to ensure that wolves can blend in with their surroundings while hunting prey.
2. Ancestral aspect
The fact that Huskies share genetics with wolves and that many scientists assume they also have a connection to extinct Siberian wolves may be another factor contributing to their resemblance to wolves. Many of the similarities are retained as genes are passed down from one generation to the next.
However, in my opinion, if you closely compare a Siberian Husky and a wolf, you will see more differences than similarities since they have quite distinct backgrounds, origins, diets, and ways of existence.
How much wolf is in a Husky?
Siberian Huskies are without a doubt the breed of dog that most closely resembles wolves, and there is a good reason for it since they have a lot in common. In order to determine how much wolf is in a Husky, we must look at the following similarities.
- Both Huskies and wolves have thick layered coats that are made up of an exterior layer that shields the body from the elements and protects the skin, as well as an interior layer that insulates the body and sheds during the warmer months. Although Huskies and wolves have distinct coat colors and patterns.
- Both Huskies and wolves have pointed straight ears that allow them to pick up even the slightest sounds in the snow.
- Both Huskies and wolves have guard hairs on the inner side of their ears, which keep them warm and prevent frostbite.
- The eyes of both Huskies and wolves secrete a unique fluid that protects their eyes from frigid temperatures.
- Both wolves and Huskies have hair-covered feet to protect them from frostbite and to improve their grip when sprinting on the snow though the size of the wolf paw is much larger than the size of a husky paw.
- Huskies and wolves both have pointed muzzles, though anatomy and size differ.
- Huskies and Wolves both have the same number of teeth, but because there is less space in a Husky’s mouth, its teeth are smaller than a wolf’s and occasionally get twisted.
- A fascinating similarity between Siberian Huskies and wolves is their love of howling, which is one of the characteristics that give Huskies their near resemblance to wolves over other dog breeds, which rarely howl. Since Siberian Huskies typically live in packs in their natural habitats, they howl to communicate and find one another.
- Huskies also form packs, just like wolves, which is another habit that makes them comparable to wolves. Huskies can create big packs, which typically have an alpha male or female in charge and a hierarchy throughout the entire pack.
The similarities between Huskies and wolves end here. Read on for the differences between Huskies and wolves.
Further reading: Male vs Female Husky
Husky vs Wolf: What are the differences?
Wolves and Siberian Huskies, as well as dogs in general, differ greatly from one another. Although wolves and Huskies share several genes, there are still many differences between them and some of these are given below:
- Compared to wolves, Siberian Huskies have a highly docile temperament. Siberian Huskies are loving, affectionate, and playful, and are always seeking hugs and cuddles from their owners, but wolves are usually only concerned with survival, which is why they are capable of killing a human being.
Because wolves live in the wild and survive by hunting down other animals, they have the same aggressive instinct for humans and will either avoid humans or, if given the chance, will attack them.
- From a distance, the head and muzzle of a Husky and a wolf may appear similar, but when examined closely, you can detect striking differences between both as the size of a wolf’s head is considerably larger so it can occupy more brain tissue, which is why wolves are also considered very clever and intelligent animals that form complex relationships among their packs.
A wolf’s muzzle is much longer than a Husky’s because, in contrast to a Siberian Husky, wolves must sprint great distances to catch their prey. As a result, wolves require larger muzzles and nostrils for better respiration and an improved sense of smell.
- Compared to Huskies, wolves have stronger, longer teeth because they need to take down large animals like bison, elk, moose, etc. They also use these teeth to defend their territory from other wolves. The force of a wolf’s bite is also significantly greater than that of a Siberian Husky, which makes it capable of breaking bones.
- Even though Siberian Huskies are among the large breeds of dogs, wolves seem to dwarf them in size. Adult Siberian Huskies are between 21 and 24 inches tall, while wolves range in height from 26 to 32 inches.
- Huskies weigh a lot less than fully-grown wolves. Adult Huskies weigh 45-60 pounds, while adult wolves weigh 50-175 pounds. Wolves have evolved to hunt animals that are much larger than them, thus they need to be powerful and heavy to take down such animals, which explains the difference in size and weight.
- Huskies are active and agile animals, which is why they are utilized as working dogs and sled dogs, although their agility cannot compete with that of a wolf. In comparison to Huskies, wolves have much more stamina and can easily outpace them. A wolf’s top running speed is between 50 and 60 mph, compared to a Husky’s top running speed of around 30 mph.
- Compared to Siberian Huskies, wolves have longer legs, which allows them to hunt in deep snow with ease. When they are hunting, their long legs also enable them to take longer strides, which allows them to conserve energy and cover more ground.
- One of the most noticeable differences between Huskies and wolves is their eye color. Huskies typically have blue eyes, whereas wolves usually have brown, amber, or yellow eyes. Additionally, Huskies have particolored eyes, which are absent in wolves, with a brown speck in the blue color of the eye or the opposite. A husky can also have heterochromia, a disorder where its eyes are of different colors. While it doesn’t happen in wolves, it is common in Huskies.
- Despite having a double-layered coat, wolves and Huskies have quite different color patterns. While wolves have more blended coats that can be white, brown, gray, black or a combination of these colors, it makes sense because it helps them blend in with their surroundings in the woods. Huskies, on the other hand, have sharp boundaries between different colors on their coat, especially on their face.
- Wolves have straight tails whereas Siberian Huskies have curled tails.
- While Huskies have evolved to eat foods other than meat, such as vegetables, foods with starch, fruits, and other dog diets, wolves are solely carnivores. Compared to Huskies, wolves have more acute senses overall, such as the sense of smell, vision, and so on.
- Huskies can be protective, but not as much as wolves! You don’t want to mess with a wolf, their territory or their food! 😬
Can dogs breed with wolves?
Interestingly, because dogs and wolves are members of the same species and share the same chromosome number, they can breed with each other, including Siberian Huskies. This explains why they share some genetic characteristics and look somewhat the same. However, this does not demonstrate that dogs are descendants of wolves.
According to the definition of a species, it refers to a group of living organisms that may interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Wolves and dogs can interbreed and produce fertile offspring that are capable of further reproduction.
Although wolves typically attack dogs and may even kill them, this may not be achievable in the wild. Though this can occur in captivity in a controlled environment under human supervision.
What are wolf hybrids or wolf dogs?
The response to this query relates to the statement that dogs and wolves can breed and produce fertile offspring. Wolf hybrids or wolf dogs are the offspring that are created when a domestic dog and a wolf or vice versa mate.
In simple terms, they are a cross between a wolf and a domestic dog. The domestic dog can be of any breed, however, they are typically large breeds such as Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and others.
Now, a lot of people wonder if it’s safe to keep a wolf dog or a hybrid wolf and if they’ll attack or act more like wolves or like dogs. In general, wolf dogs, wolf hybrids, or hybrids are not thought to be very safe because they have the behavioral and physical traits of both wolves and dogs.
Because they retain their hunting instincts, their behavior is unpredictable, and you never know when they will attack you or any other vulnerable human, such as children. Many people who have owned hybrids claim that even if they don’t attack, raising and caring for these animals is incredibly challenging because they are not like dogs; they are difficult to train, have different nutritional needs, and have distinct behaviors, among several other things.
Additionally, hybrid wolves are extremely rare and even if you do manage to find one, you might require a special license in some states to keep one because they are regarded as exotic species since one of their parents was a wolf. Check your local pet ownership and animal laws before buying a hybrid because it may even be illegal to own wolf dogs or hybrid wolves in some places.
Are all dogs descendants of wolves?
Although dogs and wolves share some DNA characteristics, this does not necessarily imply that dogs are descended from wolves. There are numerous theories about the origins of dogs that are currently under debate, including the following:
- According to the aforementioned Current Biology paper, a genetic split between old-world and new-world wolves happened around 12,500 years ago, and the lineage that produced dogs from other old-world wolves did so between 11,100 and 12,300 years later, according to genomic studies conducted in 2016.
- There is a theory that dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are a subspecies of wolves (Canis lupus), but many scientists and evolutionists disagree since, despite genetic similarities, they also exhibit genetic distinctions. For example, a gene known as IGF1 that is associated with small-sized dogs is not present in wolves.
- According to one study, modern dogs descended from a single population of wolves, but this view is only partially supported by some ancient fossils.
- According to recent studies, sequencing the entire genomes of living dogs and wolves found that existing dogs are not the offspring of modern gray wolves. Rather, the dogs and wolves both are descendants of an unknown ancestor who is now extinct. The results of this study startled evolutionary geneticist Robert Wayne, who works at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Despite the possibility of a genetic connection between dogs and wolves, there is no conclusive proof that modern dogs are in fact wolves that were domesticated and then evolved into what we know as dogs as a result of decades of selective breeding.
Can wolves be domesticated like Siberian Huskies?
There have been numerous attempts to domesticate wolves, but the results have not been promising. Wolves are wild animals with innate instincts for survival and hunting. Wolves have attacked people on several occasions, sometimes even killing them.
The wolf of Gysinge, a man-eating wolf that killed 12 people in Sweden in the 1820s, is one such example.
According to recent studies, wolves can form a modest bond with their caregiver only if their caregiver nurtured them while they were young pups or were not mature. However, domesticating or taming a wolf once it has reached adulthood is extremely difficult, to say the least, and it is practically impossible in the wild.
Even if wolves have been domesticated in some way, you can never guarantee their instincts or behavior because wolves are wild animals and are prone to attacking humans anytime they feel like it. Therefore, the best advice is to avoid wolves and not assume that they are like your dog and won’t hurt you.
So, are Huskies wolves?
No, Huskies are not wolves, nor are they direct descendants of wolves.
At least that is what the current research is suggesting!
What are your thoughts about Huskies descending from wolves?
Are Huskies wolves or dogs?
Huskies are not wolves. The Siberian Husky is a breed of dog.
The latest research suggests that Huskies are not direct descendants of wolves. Instead, they seemingly descended from the ancestor of a wolf.