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Response to FarrenH (Reply #19)

Fri Aug 14, 2015, 09:48 AM

34. And why Wolves became the most important carnivore...


Dogs are omnivores, they can survive eating vegetable matter. Cats MUST have meat, cats can NOT digest vegetable matter. Except for the American Gray Fox and the Black Bear (Which includes its Asiatic Cousin as while as the American Black Bear), the Canines have a limited ability to climb trees. Thus until the emergence of grasses, Cats had a distinct advantage over Canines.

Grasslands consist of about 20% of the World Surface. Grasses first appear about 55 to 60- million years ago in South America and Africa (The two continent separated slowly, so that 40 million years ago the New World Monkeys migrated from Africa to South America by raft).


More on New World Monkeys:


While Grasses developed 55 -60 million years ago, the grasses were more like Bamboo and other "wet grasses". What we would call grass, something that could tolerate dry periods, did not evolve till about 12 million years ago and did not became dominate till about 5 to 6 million year ago.

Grass and its evolution is important to understand the history of Canines and Cats. Cats are ambush hunters, Even the Cheetah, which is the fastest carnivore, relies on ambush till it does its spurt of speed. The Black Bear is clearly a Forest Bear, the Grizzly and its close ancestor the Asiatic Brown Bear is clearly a ground bear (The Grizzly is believed to have been Eurasia Brown Bears which migrated to North America about 50,000 years ago). The brown bears, Grizzly bears, along with the Polar Bears are all poor tree climbers.


I bring up the Brown Bear, which only appears about 500,000 years ago, as an example of an canine that evolve around grasslands. Yes, it is seen in forests, but even before White Man settled in North America, the Grizzly had retreated from Eastern US, as the Grasslands retreated and were replaced by Forests, starting about 4000 to 8000 years ago (2000 BC to 6000 years BC).

A Prairie is land that is 90% Grass. The Great Plains of North America, the Pampas of Argentina and the Steppes of Russia are "Prairie". African, south of the Sahara, is mostly Savanna, which is 10-50% Forest, but also at least 50% Grasslands. Savanna is evidence of greater rainfall. Mixed Forest is any area with more then 50% Trees, and true Forests are 90% and higher trees (The largest single temperate Forest was the North American Forest just before the white man settled North America). This has not always the case, the American Tall Grass Prairie expanded eastward till it almost reached the Ohio-Pennsylvania line around 4000 to 8000 years ago, then retreated to Illinois and further west.


I bring up the Prairie for it is an area where cats are few. Unlike Savanna, the places for an ambush is reduced. Thus a carnivore to survive has to evolve a method of attack that does not count on ambush. Cats, being individualists, could not do this. Canines, once they developed the pack, could hunt on the prairies.

Side note: African Lions do hunt as a "Pride" but that is an exception to the general rule of cats hunting as individuals. Even then the lionesses, who do most of the hunting for the pride, do NOT attack as a team but as individuals attacking at the same time. Once one of the lionesses get hold of an animal, the other lionesses will join in but that is the limit of their cooperation. Wolves are know to attack as a team. One video show two wolves chasing a head of Caribou for a couple of miles, then being relived by two other wolves that had been laying in wait, this drive last a few more miles, then a fifth wolf charges from another position, grabs one of the Caribou, which is tired from all of the running. That last wolf holds onto the caribou till the other four wolves catches up and help the last wold take down the caribou. That is team work, something you do NOT see in cats.

It is believed that the modern Wolf evolved in either the Prairie or the Tundra (cold grasslands, no trees). The further north any of the big cats go is Siberia, with the Siberian Tiger (and wolfs area goes further north) and Cougars, which also do not go into the Tundra.

A good look at this is the Coyote and the old Prairie Wolf. The larger Prairie wolf would follow the prairie bison herds and dominate the area around that head. The smaller Coyotes would avoid the herds (and the wolves that accommodated them) but was the dominate predator of the local smaller animals (the Prairie Dog for example). To be successful in both, one had to be a member of a group, which is characteristic of the Canine (excluding the bears and Foxes).

Thus the raise of the Wolf is related to the evolution of grasses. Grasses lead to Tundra and Prairies, areas with limited options of ambush. With Ambush eliminated, cats lost they long term advantages over canines and thus it is only for the last Five to ten million years or so, that Canines have been the dominate carnivore on this planet (and then NOT in deep forests, or Savannas). Wolves can compete in Savannas but only move into deep forest where no large cats exists (Thus Wolves dominated Eastern US, when the White Man Settled for the largest Cat was the Puma, which the wolves could not drive out, but also not large enough to drive out the Wolf). Wolves tend NOT to go further south then Northern Mexico, for they have to compete with Jaguar, a cat to large for a Wolf to handle.




Range of the Jaguar:

Range of the Wolf: Note the Wolf's historical range barely overlap the range of the Jaguar (Northern Mexico is more Savanna then Prairie):

The Lion and the Wolf had a greater overlap, but Europe was always mix woods, an area where ambush can occur but where the team work of the wolf can also be successful. This appears to be true of North Africa, Arabia and the Mid East. Both species survived in the area till taken out by man.


Just a comment, that the cats dominate areas where forests are the rule. Wolves dominate areas where grasses are dominate. In areas with mix types of vegetation (Savanna and Mixed Forests), both survive.

Side comment: The American Gray Fox, the Raccoon dog of Asia and the Black Bears are unlike any other Canine, it that all three are actually BETTER tree climbers then Cats. They are thus the exceptions to the rule that Cats do better then Canines in forests. The Gray Fox and Raccoon Dog are considered very early canines in evolutionary terms, canines that evolved before canines adopted to living in the grasses.


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