29 Nov 2011

Ten Random (But Fascinating) Facts I Learned While Researching A Magazine Article

By L E Carmichael

1. Dogs were the first domestic animal species.  Unambiguous archaeological evidence for dogs is about 12,000 years old, but domestication may have started 20,000 years or more before that.

2. Ancient Egyptians had at least three dog breeds: a greyhound type, a mastiff type, and a small Spitz type.

Shetland sheepdogs - note the floppy ears!
3. The modern concept of breeds, and of deliberately breeding animals for specific traits, developed in Victorian England.  Which means that most of the 400-ish dog breeds recognized today are less than 200 years old.

4. Scientists aren't entirely sure whether house cats are actually domesticated.  It's possible they're nothing but "delightful profiteers," to borrow a phrase from Stephen O'Brien, well-known expert on the evolution of the cat family.

5. Dingos are a breed of domestic dog.  People took dingos with them to Australia several thousand years ago.

6. Floppy ears are found in almost every domestic species.  The only wild species with floppy ears is the elephant.

7. Chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives.  Dogs are better at interpreting human gestures, such as pointing.

8. Crop species are considered domesticates of wild plants.

9. Domestication is a type of evolution.  Natural, artificial, unconscious, and conscious forms of selection are all involved.

10. A group of Russian scientists once attempted to domesticate otters.  It did not go well.  Neither did attempts to domesticate zebras, despite their close relationship to horses.

And this is how one article pitch becomes two, and two become a book proposal...

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