Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Speculative - Komodo Dragons in Australia?

When people think about giant carnivorous reptiles, most people think of dinosaurs (often incorrectly as some paleontologists would tell you).  But if you asked them about modern carnivorous reptiles that prey on man, the average person would say crocodiles, giant snakes, or the infamous Komodo Dragons
The Komodo Dragon, the largest living lizard in the world, would grow to a length of between 7-8 feet (largest ones were measured over 10 feet) and weigh in up to 150-200 lbs (largest ones being over 300 lbs).  As the name would suggests, they are strict carnivores, consuming anything from insects to 1,000 lb water buffaloes (fossil records showed that they even consumed pygmy elephants, perhaps a source for elephants and dragons being enemies in Hindu mythology?).  Also in the name, they are found on the island of Komodo and it's surrounding islands.

While they are currently found only on that small pocket of islands, they weren't alway restricted to just there.  It was once believed that the Komodo dragon developed on those islands as a case of island gigantism (a biological phenomenon in which animals that would smaller on the mainland become giants on offshore islands).  But it is now realized that the dragons are in fact relict population of giant carnivorous reptiles that lived not in the island of Komodo, but the continent of Australia.

While the Land Down Under is known for it marsupials and red sandy deserts, is also  know for having a great number of reptiles.  Amongst these reptiles are the varanitids, a group of mostly carnivorous reptiles that the komodo dragon and it's relatives (such as the Perentie, Australia's largest living lizard).  Fossil records have shown that in Australia during the Ice Age, the komodo dragon actually roamed the Australian outback, along with the Perentie and the now-extinct Megalania (a giant relative, believed to be up to 20-30 feet in length).

If the Komodo Dragon roamed the Australian Outback back in the Ice Age, then it leads to this question:

How did it get to Komodo and it's surrounding islands?

Would you believe that the dragons got there via boats?

Despite how it sounds, that is precisely how scientists believe how the ancestors of the dragons got to the islands, by rafts of vegetation or even logs.  Since sea levels were lower back in the Ice Age and reptiles wouldn't need food or water for an extended periods of times, it would be easy for the dragons (especially if they were young) to simply rode rafts and get to the islands of komodo within weeks to months.

But, this then leads to another question:

Why did the dragons survived on the Komodo islands, but died out in Australia?

Megalania hunting (reptilis.net)

That is a question that has been asked for not just the Komodo dragons of Australia, but the other megafauna of the Ice Age (Megalania, the Diprotodonts or rhino-sized wombats, Procoptodon or short-faced kangaroo, Thylacoleo or marsupial lion, etc.).  Many scientists would agree that habitat change caused by climate change that happened at the end of the Ice Age, along with human activities (e.g. Fire Farming), was the main cause of the extinction of the herbivorous megafauna.  And with the death of the prey, the predators that specialized in hunting other megafauna died out in toe, this would include the Australian Komodo dragons.

With the Komodo dragons of Australia gone extinct and with out scenario, it begs the question:

How could the Komodo dragon be back on Australia?

Well, with the lack of the large prey animals in Australia, it would be safe to say that the Australian dragons would not survive.  But, the dragons did survive on the islands of Komodo and could it be possible for the dragons be able to drift back to Australia?

Well, it could be possible, but there is a couple catches:

The ocean currents within the Wallace Line.

The Wallace Line, named after the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, is a faunal boundary line drawn by the said naturalist.  An oceanic barrier that prevents the Asian and Australian fauna from intermixing, with the slight exception of the Wallacea region (islands where Asian and Australian flora and fauna do mix).  And looking at the maps of the ocean currents, it would be extremely slim for the Komodo dragons to be able to drift back to Australia.

So, while it is extremely slim, it could be possible for the Komodo dragons to drift back to Australia (especially as infants since infant komodo dragons are arboreal) on rafts of vegetation.  And with them being reptiles, not needing to eat or drink for extended periods of time, it could work.

And even if you get just females or just one female, it could still work since komodo dragons can do a process called parthenogenesis.  This is basically being able to reproduce without the assistance of a male.  However, due to the komodo dragon's chromosomes, they can only produce male offspring during this.  If you have a group of females and just one of them does this, then it could be possible to start a breeding population from there.

But if you get just one female and she does this?  Well, inbreeding would unfortunately happen and the issues of inbreeding (e.g., inbreeding depression) could happen.  But, there is the possibility of a phenomenon occurring that is called "purging selection".  This is an extremely rare phenomenon in when the reduction of the frequency of a deleterious allele (traits that come about during inbreeding), caused by an increased efficiency of natural selection prompted by inbreeding.  like mentioned before, it is a rare occurrence, but it's believed to have happened with invasive species (e.g., ladybird beetles).

So, if such a occurrence happens with the colonizing dragons, then it could work.  If they did, it could be more likely at the northwestern or, more likely, western coast (a map shows a possible current route) and could spread out from there by following the coastline northeastward.

But even if they do get back to Australia and do this, there's another issue facing the colonizing dragons that wiped out their ancestors and larger cousins on this land in the first place:

Lack of large prey animals!

While the young can be able to survive on small animals, the adults might have a hard time feasting since that the large megafauna (rhino-sized wombats and such) that their ancestors feasted on are gone.  So, game over?

Well, maybe not.

There a possibility of why the ancestral dragons went extinct is not just the loss of the large megafauna due to climate change, but the macropods (kangaroos and kin) and emus were still at relatively small population at the time.  And after their extinction, the macropod and emu populations exploded (also thanks to humans since their fire farming practices help create the habitats that these species thrive in).  With this, it could be possible that the large dragons could feast upon the macropods and emus, along with other possible sources of food.

So, with how they could come back and how they could sustain themselves explained, now we can get into on what the effects the Komodo (or maybe more properly called 'Australian') dragons would have on the Land Down Under.

Australian Dragon Ecology

Just like on the islands of Komodo, the dragons' diet would be widespread, feasting upon any kind of vertebrate that they can overpower.  When they are infants, they are arboreal and would feast upon birds, small lizards, invertebrates, and small tree-dwelling mammals (sugar gliders, small possums, etc.).  But this would make compete with the tree-dwelling monitor lizards, such as the lace monitor (which is more closely related to the dragon than the other monitor lizards).

But when the infant dragons get to a certain size, they would abandon the trees and become completely terrestrial and mostly live in forests, savannas, in-between, rain forests, and swamps.  At this time, their diet would include other monitor lizards, skinks, snakes, cockatoos, brush turkeys, lyrebirds, waterfowl, wombats (if they are within their range), kangaroo (grey, red, and antilopine), wallabies, wallaroos, emus, cassowaries, young crocodilians, bilbies, possums, bandicoots, quokkas, koalas, pademelons, flying foxes (if fallen to the ground), frogs, turtles, marine deposits, echidna, platypus, quolls, dingoes, young crocodiles, eggs of any species, rats, and even each other.

(Ecological Society of Australia)
On the islands of Komodo, the dragons would usually consume one ungulate or so a month.  In Australia, the dragons would probably eat a couple kangaroos/emus a month, while eat mostly smaller animals.  Density of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and emu could probably determine large dragon populations inland.  It would also be possible for the dragons to take the way of the California condor and scavenge off mostly from marine deposits on the coastlines.  Within the range of the cassowary, the dragons and cassowaries are adversaries as the birds are of great size to feed the dragons, but the cassowaries are fierce at defending themselves.  But, with their venomous bites, they could be able to evidently win in any hunt for large prey animal (macropods, emus, dingos, and cassowaries) if they could get a good bite on the legs.  After that, they would just wait for the animal to bleed out or get the venom working and die. (even thought this hunting style is rare).

As with any creature of the Outback, the dragons would be affected by the constant wildfires.  When these fires appear, they would either escape the fires, perish in the flames, or (if the fires were slow enough) hunt for any animal that tries to escape the fire.  And after the fire has passed, the dragons would feast upon the charred bodies of any creature unfortunate enough to be caught by the fire (their own barbecue, if you will).

What would the dragons' relationship with the predators that now roam the continent (crocodiles, perenties, and, fellow recent arrivals, dingos)?  I would say that they would be competitors, prey, and predators of the dragons.  Competitors, because they would be competing for the same prey items  Prey, because the dragons are not picky about what animal they eat and would gladly hunt and feast on them if they could overpower them.  Predators, because on given circumstances, these animals could hunt and consume the dragons (crocodiles when they reach a certain size, dingos when in packs, and perenties when the dragons are infants).  Other predators, when the dragon are infants, would be pythons, other monitor lizards, and birds of prey.

An interesting note would be that while thylacoleo and megalania are extinct, the tasmanian devils and tigers did roam Australia for a while after the ice age.  With the thylacines and devils, they would definitely be the competitors, prey, and predators of the dragons.  The devils would consume young dragons, compete with the dragons with carcasses, and would be eaten by full-grown dragons.  The tasmanian tigers (or thylacines) would probably be less involved with the dragons.  They would be hunted by the dragons (both young and old), hunting their young would be a minimum, and thylacines would wolf down their meals before the dragons came in to steal their kills.

Another competitor, prey, and predator that the dragons would deal with are humans.

Past and Modern Cultural effects of the Dragons

The first human culture to be in contact with the Australian Dragons would be the Australian Aborigines, who scientists believe arrived on the island continent about 65,000 years ago.  As hunters and gatherers, the aborigines would be competing with, hunted by, and hunting the Australian dragons.  They would be competing with the dragons because they would hunt for the same prey animals, they would be hunted by dragons by a certain size, and they would hunt dragons of any size (since they hunt and consume their younger relatives as well), though it would be difficult because the dragons have bone underneath their skin which act like chain mail.
Aboriginal rendering of Dirawong
(Cryptid Wiki)

In their culture, just like their smaller cousins, the dragons would have a prominent figure in the aborigine's culture and mythologies.  Artwork of them would be shown as both a food source and a spiritual motif, especially as a spiritual motif due to their large size and could be able to both provide them food and to make them into food as well.  With many tribes throughout the whole continent, from the Ayabakan to the Wadajarri, would definitely have their own word for these dragons.  One such name that is possible is the Dirawong, which is a name for a spiritual being that takes the form of a goanna and is one of the Creator beings of the Bundjalung.  And it would also be seen as of creature of the Dreamtime, which is a time when the Ancestral Spirits ruled the land and created all creatures and important geographic areas.

But, by 17th century, things are gonna change as European explorers have 'discovered' Australia.  Whether they would see the dragons during these first visits would be unknown since that just any large predator, their populations are smaller than that of their prey.  But they might be larger than that of the mammals since they don't need to eat as often as mammalian predators need to.  But even so, it would be possible that they might see dragons more often than dingos.

Undoubtedly, when Europeans first see these reptiles, would be utterly terrified of these reptiles and see them as monsters or dragons of mythology (so it would be fair to think that they would call them 'dragons' as we don in the real world).  Interestingly, in this scenario, the dragons would be known for far longer and more so than they would be in our reality.  This is because in our reality, the Komodo dragon would not be known to the western world until 1910, centuries after Australia was discovered!

As Europeans move into Australia, the dragons would definitely be in the back of their minds.  During the penal colonial days, the presence of the dragons, they would be considered as a deterrent for escaping.  Much like the dingos, crocodiles, and tasmanian tigers throughout European conquered Australia, the dragons would be hunted for protection of human life and livestock or even out of fear. Also, the hunting of their prey and destruction of their habitats would definitely endanger the dragons.

But, while the Europeans would definitely mean trouble for the dragons, what they would bring might be a blessing for them as well.  And what I mean by that is the species that they bring to Australia with them.  Some of them would be blessings, others would be mixed, and some would be all bad for them.  Below will be a list of the introduced species that would have an affect on the dragons:

Brumbies (feral horses) and Donkeys
Pros:  Provide the dragons a large amount of meat.
Cons:  Their erosion causing hooves can be destructive to their habitat

Dromedary Camels
Pros:  Provide the dragons a large amount of meat.
Cons:  Constantly moving and probably live in areas where dragons couldn't live in.

Water Buffalo and Banteng
Pros:  Provide the dragons a large amount of meat.
Cons:  Cloven hooves and wallowing would destroy their habitats

Pros:  Provide food for the dragons.
Cons:  Uprooting and cloven hooves would destroy habitats and they would dig up and eat dragon eggs.
Like on Komodo, Australian Dragons would feast on feral goats
(image from Daily Express)

Pros:  Provide food for the dragons.
Cons:  Browsing and cloven hooves would disrupt their habitat.

Rabbits and Hares
Pros:  Provide dragons a source of meat.
Cons:  Intense grazing would cause immense soil erosion and disrupt the grasslands

Feral cats and Red Foxes
Pros:  Provide the dragons a source of food.
Cons:  Would compete with younger dragons with prey and would be hunted by them.

Deer (Red, Sambar, Rusa, Fallow, Chital, Hog)
Pros:  Provide the dragons a source of food.
Cons:  Cloven hooves and browsing would disrupt their habitat.

Cane Toads
Pros:  Lower the populations of competing monitor lizards.
Cons:  Consumption of these toads would kill the dragons.

The distribution of these introduced species can affect the future distribution of the dragons, some would be expanding them (e.g., the hoofed animals) or limiting them (e.g., Cane Toads).  And this would even make them valuable to rangers for managing invasive species.  But, while they could help, they would not be a good analog for mammalian predators since they do not eat as often as a mammal of the same weight would need.

In more recent times, the presence of the dragons would have affected the the course of scientific world and the outlook of Australia.  In the scientific world, the Australian dragons would be of great scientific interest, they would even be used as models for studying the predatory ecology of large prehistoric reptiles (from Dimetrodon to Dinosaurs, in a time when they were thought to be cold-blooded).  Scientifically, they would probably be called Varanus australis or Varanus major (for it's large size).  Commonly, they would be called the "Australian Dragon", "Outback Dragon" or, incorrectly, the "Last Dinosaur".  But, would also be known as the Bane of Cattle Rustlers and Sheep Herders.
Like in Komodo, Australian Dragons would be popular for tourists
(This photo of Top Komodo Tours is courtesy of Tripadvisor)
Along with the kangaroos and koalas, the dragons would obviously make Australia famous.  In the world's view of the island continent, it would be seen or known as the Land of Dragons because of these animals.  Attacks from the dragons would become front page news, much like dingo attacks.  the Australian dragons would be in great demand in zoos and menageries (especially in circuses in the 1800s and early 1900s).  During the colonial days, Australia would definitely boast about their large reptilian predators of the land (in our reality, they couldn't be able to boast about it like the european colonies in Africa and Asia could).

As one would expect, the dragons would be in endangered due to hunting, habitat destruction, and invasive species (mostly cane toads).  With large tracts of land being either cattle stations (large Australian ranches) or uninhabited, this would give the dragons a bit of hope.  And with population booms of some native prey animals and introduced species (due to dingo numbers dropping via hunting), these areas would be their havens.  And if the dragons' population needs a genetic boost?  Well, the islands of Komodo (still be discovered recently) could have a population of dragons that could provide more genetic diversity for the Australian dragons.


Clarkson, Chris; Jacobs, Zenobia; Marwick, Ben; et al. (2017). "Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago" (PDF). Nature. 547 (7663): 306–310.






Jessop, T. S., Ariefiandy, A., Forsyth, D. M., Purwandana, D., White, C. R., Benu, Y. J., ... & Letnic, M. (2020). Komodo dragons are not ecological analogs of apex mammalian predators. Ecology, e02970.

Purwandana, D., Ariefiandy, A., Imansyah, M. J., Seno, A., Ciofi, C., Letnic, M., & Jessop, T. S. (2016). Ecological allometries and niche use dynamics across Komodo dragon ontogeny. The Science of Nature, 103(3-4), 27.

THE BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY OF THE KOMODO MONITOR. Walter Auffenberg. University of Florida-University Presses of Florida, 1981.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Wolves of the Sea: Figuratively & Literally

When people think of the words "sea wolf", they might instantly think of musical band.  But when I hear those words, I would think two animals, one that are figuratively sea wolves and one that are literally sea wolves:

Sea Wolves of a Figurative Sense  

The film Free Willy and it's sequels have made this species of whale famous or well-recognized to the general public:

Human - Orca size (wikipedia)

The largest member of the dolphin family, these whales were also known as killer whales or the wolves of the sea.  This is because these whale are known to hunt in groups and have quite a large menu of prey to pursue.  This ranged to fish, sharks, rays, seals, sea lions, cephalopods (squids, octopus, and kin), seabirds, sea turtles, sea otters, and even large species of whales (when their groups are large).  It was even interesting that it was the only whale to somewhat benefited from industrial whaling activities, primarily because they were able to scavenge off of the leftovers of the whaling ships.  These whales have a wide range, from the arctic oceans to the antarctic oceans, even within tropical waters.  And the areas they are found in would determine their dietary requirements, such as tropical orcas would have a more generalized diet than those in cold waters.

Sea Wolves of a Literal Sense

Wolf fishing (CBC.ca)

As the title suggests, there are even wolves that have taken to sea as a provider of food and a hunting ground.  On Vancouver Island, there are a population of wolves (scientifically named Canis lupus crassodon) has a life the is surrounded by the sea, due to their environment.  Over 90% of the wolves' diet consists of marine food (mostly from combing the beach), with a quarter of it consisting of salmon (which they actually fish up themselves, especially during the salmon run).  These wolves would even swim from one island for miles to get to another island.  These wolves are so unique that they (along with the British Columbia wolf and Alexander Archipelago wolf) are genetically distinct from the other subspecies of wolves on the continent.


"Meet the Rare Swimming Wolves That Eat Seafood". National Geographic. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2019.

Estes, James (February 26, 2009). "Ecological effects of marine mammals". In Perrin, William F. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Wursig, Bernd & Thewissen, J. G.M. Academic Press. pp. 357–361.

Forney, K.A.; Wade, P. (2007). "Worldwide distribution and abundance of killer whales" (PDF). In Estes, James A.; DeMaster, Douglas P.; Doak, Daniel F.; Williams, Terrie M.; Brownell, Robert L. Jr. (eds.). Whales, whaling and ocean ecosystems. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 145–162. ISBN 978-0-520-24884-7.



Weckworth, Byron V.; Dawson, Natalie G.; Talbot, Sandra L.; Flamme, Melanie J.; Cook, Joseph A. (2011). "Going Coastal: Shared Evolutionary History between Coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska Wolves (Canis lupus)". PLoS ONE. 6 (5): e19582. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019582. PMC 3087762. PMID 21573241.

Quolls - "Marsupial Cats"

When people hear the word marsupial (the group of mammals that rear their young in their pouches), they would instantly think of the koala, kangaroos, and opossums.  When they are asked about any marsupials that are carnivores, they would think of the Tasmanian devil (largest living carnivorous marsupial) or even the Tasmanian tiger (the largest carnivorous marsupial that lived in recent times).  But they would most likely not have ever heard of the second largest living carnivorous marsupial in the world, which are the quolls or the "marsupial cats".

Northern Quoll (Science News)
The quolls are part of the Dasyuridae family (which the Tasmanian devils and other living carnivorous marsupials belong in) and are part of the genus Dasyurus spp (which means "hairy tail", as opposed to an opossum's hairless tail). Their common name, the quolls, are said to come from the word for them from the Guugu Yimithirr people of far north Queensland, which is dhigul.  Along with that, they are also called "Spotted Martens", "Spotted Opossums", "Native Cats", "Tiger cats",  or even "Marsupial cats" (due to appearances, behaviors, and other characteristics).  They were first discovered by the western world when Captain James Cook collected some specimens during his arrival on the continent of Australia in 1770.

There are six species of quolls in the world and they are as follows:
  • Bronze quoll (D. spartacus), a seldom known species of quoll that is found in New Guinea and West Papua.
  • Western quoll or chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii), south-western corner of Western Australia, though used to be found over 70% of Australia.
  • New Guinean quoll (Dasyurus albopunctatus), native to the island of Papua New Guinea.
  • Eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), are now extinct on mainland Australia, now only found in Tasmania (or in fenced-in sanctuaries, where they were reintroduced).
  • Northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), the smallest of the quolls (350 to 1120 grams or 12.3 ounces to over 2 lbs) and are found in the northern parts of Australia.
  • Tiger quoll or spotted tail quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), the largest of the quolls (3.5 to 1.8 kilograms or 7.7 to 3.96 lbs) and are found in eastern Australia with high rainfalls.

6 Quoll species range (wikipedia)

The quolls are native to the forests (arid to tropical) of Australia, Tasmania, and Papua New Guinea.  While they can hunt in the trees, they are primarily ground dwellers and hunt their prey on the forest floor at night 9spending their days in their dens).  They live solitary lives, unless looking for a mate or has joeys (offspring).

(Smithsonian Magazine)
As their nickname ("Marsupial Cats") suggests, the quolls are hunter of animals smaller than themselves.  Their prey and diet consists of small mammals (from bandicoots to small rodents), birds, small reptiles, frogs, and insects.  They would even hunt animals of the same size (echidnas, rabbits, possums, etc.).  How often and which species would generally depend on availability (seasons and habitats).  They are even known to go after domestic poultry and their eggs.

As mentioned much earlier, the quolls are marsupials, as in they nurture their offspring within their pouch.  One of the interesting things about quoll reproduction is that the female's pouches are temporary, meaning that they appear only during breeding season.  Their breeding season occurs in winter (June to August, since it's in the southern hemisphere) and during then, the males will search for a female in heat by using their senses of smell to track them down.  After they breed, their gestational rate lasts for 21 days (as long as it takes for a chicken egg to hatch) and, while they can produce up to 18 joeys, only six will survive.  When they get to nine months of age, they will move out of the pouch and go to the mother's back, staying there for six weeks.  The six species of quolls have lifespans between 2 to 5 years.

Like a lot of small marsupials are in Australia, the quolls are in trouble from human-related activities.  They are classified from Near-Threatened to Endangered.  The threats to their survival are as follows:

  • Loss of habitat, due to urbanization, livestock grazing, deforestation, and mining.
  • Poisoned baits that were meant for invasive predators.
  • Competition and predation from feral and non-native predators (feral cats, foxes, and feral dogs).
  • The consumption of the poisonous cane toads, which happens due to frogs being a favorite prey item to quolls.

In response to the quolls' downfall, conservationists and other interested parties have made many measures to help these species to survive.  Such measures are as follows:
    Australian Geographic
  • Captive breeding programs are underway and have been very successful, one facility even had 15 litters born in 2008.
  • The hunting and control of introduced predators (feral cats and foxes) has showed positive effects on the quoll populations and other native species.
  • There have been talks about the possibility of introducing quolls into the pet trade as a way to aid in the quolls' conservation, but this is controversial and many experts are against it.
  • Quolls have been reintroduced in many areas where they used to roam at and are protected, also considered to be a part of Australia's rewilding projects.
  • Northern quolls are more successful in areas that are free of cane toads or that they could conditioned to avoid cane toads.
  • They've also been protected on national parks, the bronze quoll are protected in areas like the Wasur National Park and Tonda Wildlife Management Area in Papua New Guinea.
  • There is a population of quolls that have developed a gene that makes them avoid cane toads, now they are cross-breeding these quolls with other populations help them avoid the toads.


"Australian Threatened Species, Tiger Quoll, Spotted-tailed Quoll or Spot-tailed Quoll, Dasyurus maculatus" (PDF).

"Baby quolls born on Australian mainland for first time in 50 years". ABC News. 9 July 2018. Retrieved 10 July 2018.

"Dasyurus albopunctatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 20 October 2011.

"Dasyurus geoffroii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 November 2011.

"Dasyurus spartacus". IUCN. Retrieved 20 October 2011.

"Endangered Quolls breeding well in captivity in Darwin". Wildlife Extra. Retrieved 2 November 2011.

"Parks and Wildlife Service-Spotted-tail Quoll". Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania. Retrieved 19 October 2011.

Cooney, R., Chapple, R., Doornbos, S., & Jackson, S. (2010). Australian Native Mammals as Pets: A Feasibility Study into Conservation, Welfare and Industry Aspects. Canberra, Australia: Australian Government - Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Hopwood, P. (2002). Native Australian Mammals As Pets: An Overview. In D. Lunney & C. R. Dickman (Eds.), A Zoological Revolution: Using Native Fauna To Assist In Its Own Survival (pp. 77-83). Sydney, Australia: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales and the Australian Museum.



Oakwood, M., & Hopwood, P. (1999). A Survey Of The Attributes And Requirements Of Quolls That May Affect Their Suitability As Household Pets. Australian Zoologist, 31, 365-375.

Viggers, K. L., & Lindenmayer, D. B. (2002). Problems With Keeping Native Australian Mammals As Companion Animals. In D. Lunney & C. R. Dickman (Eds.), A Zoological Revolution: Using Native Fauna To Assist In Its Own Survival (pp. 130-151). Sydney, Australia: Royal Zoological Society Of New South Wales And The Australian Museum.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Speculative - Siberian Tiger in North America?

 "Tyger, tyger, burning bright,  
in the forest of the night.
What immortal hand or eye 
dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

When we think of the word "tiger", we often think of exotic big cats that stalk the jungles and forests of India and Siberia, popular in Asian culture and artwork, and endangered by poachers and habitat destruction.  The tiger was even a symbol of power, shown as mascots for sport teams, and many political debates and controversies of people privately keeping tigers in their backyards have been had!

In the mentality of the Western world (specifically America), the tiger is an exotic animal from faraway lands.

But at one time, that might not have been the case.

In the Yukon of Alaska, fossils of Siberian tigers have been discovered that are dated to the Pleistocene era.  Though heavily debated (especially with whether those fossils were lion or jaguar rather than tiger), it showed that tigers may have been at the Bering Strait land bridge.

Alaskan Tiger 2008 (HodariNundu)
While the Bering Strait land bridge might've been mostly grasslands, there are possibilities of forests being present. Since other woodland animals, like moose, crossed the land bridge to migrate into North America, it is definitely possible for the tiger to move, as well.

While these tigers existed in prehistoric times, they were no bigger than modern day tigers (306 - 100 kilograms or 675-220 lbs), so their behavior, diet, habitat requirements, and other characteristics were no different than that of living tigers. With this in mind, some scientists do say that tigers would be able to survive in North America.

So if these tigers were no different than modern tigers and they were be able to survive America, one question remains:

Why did these North American tigers go extinct?

At first, one could argue that there was a lack of prey animals of the right size to support them, the same reason why the American lion or the saber-toothed cats went extinct.  However, I doubt that theory. Mind you, these tigers were not of super-sized proportions. They were regular sized tigers.  This means that their dietary requirements were not dissimilar to that of modern-day Amur/Siberian tigers (17.4 lbs. daily in summer & 23 lbs. in winter). Originally, I thought that the lack of the wild boar could be a possible indicator of the tigers' lack of distribution, but then I found this description of a study done with wild Amur tigers that went against this notion (paragraph from Wikipedia):

"Between January 1992 and November 1994, 11 tigers were captured, fitted with radio-collars and monitored for more than 15 months in the eastern slopes of the Sikhote-Alin mountain range. Results of this study indicate that their distribution is closely associated with distribution of wapiti/elk, while distribution of wild boar was not such a strong predictor for tiger distribution."

So, it is safe to say that wild boar was not an required for tiger distribution.  As the description pointed out, elk/wapiti was a good source of food for the tigers. The elk/wapiti were one of the species that survived the end of the Ice Age that were of adequate size to feed the tigers, along with woodland caribou, woodland bison, moose, multiple species of deer, mountain sheep, etc.
With these tigers being of regular size, and having a presence of adequate prey and preferred habitat, I would have to say the tiger had plenty of chances to establish themselves here after the Ice Age had ended.

But why hadn't they?

One possibility is that there were not enough tigers in the area. Without a high number of tigers, they were unable to establish a stable gene pool for themselves.  Considering that tigers are solitary predators and need a lot of space to sustain themselves, it would seem logical that they would be small in populations.  Then, when you also have competition with other predators (wolves, saber-toothed cats, american lions, etc.), it makes sense for the tigers' low population.

Then, this begs the question:

How can the tiger NOT be extinct?

It seems that the best way to have helped the tiger population sustain in North America would have been for more tigers to migrate and help the American tiger gene pool.  The best possible way for that to have happened is if there was an early, long-term flux in the populations of other predators that would have allowed more tigers to migrate.

Let’s say that there was a flux in the population of other large predators via disease. Let's say lions, saber-toothed cats, and wolves (since they are social animals and diseases tend to hit social animals harder than solitary ones) experience great numbers of losses during the period of tiger migration. This might have allowed the prey animals to proliferate and encouraged tigers to migrate.

When the Ice Age ends, some of the ice age prey animals (horses, sloths, mammoths, steppe bison, etc.) would die out due to climate and habitat change, and the animals that relied on them (lions, saber-toothed cats, and the short-faced bear) would also die out.  With those animals gone, and the environment changing, the surviving species (tigers amongst them in this scenario) would take advantage of this change and survive.

On a side note, it is quite possible that the tiger had a better chance than the American lion in surviving.  This is because that the tiger is solitary (lions live in prides), can do well on smaller prey (due to being 25% larger, American Lions need more prey items), and live in forested areas (lions preferred open plains).  American lions are much bigger, weighing in between 235 to 523 kilograms or 518 to 1,153 lbs., so they would need to eat more food than a tiger would need.  With lions being primarily grassland animals, there's not much for them to hunt, especially since bison and elk are migratory.

Once the climate warms up, glaciers melt, and the forests expand, the tigers and their prey would be able to spread out and establish themselves in this new land.....

American Tiger Ecological Effects

In the scenario of tigers surviving and establishing themselves in the North American continent after the Ice Age, I would imagine the tigers' range would include eastern Alaska, Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and all of Northern United States. The southern tip of this range could possibly be Northern Colorado, although one could argue the tiger was able to survive in more warmer regions.  A large range would also have made the evolution of multiple subspecies possible. 

The tiger's preferred habitat would have been forested areas (taiga, deciduous, & coniferous), but could have also been grasslands as long as cover was available (the now-extinct Caspian tigers is an example).  They could have also survived in nearby islands, such as Vancouver Island.  In these environments, the tiger would have been more common where wapiti/elk were commonplace, just like they are now in Siberia.  Woodland caribou and other species of deer would also be the major prey item, so tigers would have been more commonplace in forests where these animals resided.

I would predict that in the Northern Woodlands, out of reach of the elk's range, the woodland caribou would be the tiger's main prey item.

Along with elk/wapiti and relatives, tiger would have also hunted woodland/plains bison, raccoons, rabbits, hares, turkeys, heath hens, black bears, grizzly bear cubs, marmots, beaver, grouse, lynx, bobcats, bighorn sheep, dall's sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn (if they could caught them), musk ox, porcupine, trout, salmon, foxes, sea lions, seals, otters, badgers, mink, opossums, muskrats, and even tortoises/turtles (although not that often).

Basically anything that is in the tiger’s territory would be potential prey, as this description on Wikipedia states:

"Results of a three-year study on Siberian tigers indicate that the mean interval between their kills and estimated prey consumption varied across seasons: during 2009 to 2012, three adult tigers killed prey every 7.4 days in summer and consumed a daily average of 7.89 kg (17.4 lb); in winter they killed more large-bodied prey, made kills every 5.7 days and consumed a daily average of 10.3 kg (23 lb).  When all sizes of prey are abundant, Siberian tigers prefer to target smaller prey."

What this tells me is, in the warm months, tigers would mostly consume smaller prey (deer sized and down) once every week.  But in the winter, they would target larger game (moose, elk, bison) every 5 or 6 days. I assume this was mostly because that larger animals hold more meat and the thick snow would hinder their speed, making it easier to take them down (much like wolves in Wood Buffalo National Park).

As well as impacting prey animals, the presence of the tiger would have also affected predatory animals, as well.

Tigers would occasionally hunt the black bears in Asia, so it would not be no different in America.  The tigers’ predation on the black bear would affect the bears' behavior, perhaps making them spend more time in trees and even develop nest-building behavior (like the Asian black bears).  They might have also become more aggressive than they are in our current world (like the sloth bear of India).  Though rare, the tiger would might have been able to lure bears in via imitating their mating call.  So, wherever the tigers they would have been, the black bear population would have been in check.  With grizzly bears, the cubs would be at risk, and since grizzly bears are already known for their aggression, it could have been intensified with the presence of tigers.

I would expect the relationship between the tigers and cougars (or mountain lions) to be akin to that of that of the tigers and leopards in Asia.  By using the Asian leopard’s behavior as a model, it would seem that cougars would avoid tigers by hunting at different times of the day and hunting different prey.  In our world, while cougars would hunt anything, they prefer ungulates (even-toed hoofed animals, like deer).  In our American tiger scenario, hunting ungulates would have most definitely be kept to a minimum to avoid competition with tigers.  However, that could change if the type of prey is in great abundance (studies with cougars and jaguars co-exist shows this) or the lack of tigers.

Another North American predator that would be affected by the presence of tigers are the wolves.  Back in Asia, tigers compete heavily with wolves; they've even been known for depressing wolf populations and hunting them without consuming them.  In areas where tigers are commonplace, wolves are scarce on the ground.  If they are together, it's most likely they would be pushed to the fringes of the forest along with the cougars.

Much like their Asiatic counterparts, the coyotes, vultures, condors, crows, magpies, and ravens would scavenge off of the tigers’ kills and would even follow the cats to do so.  Vultures and condors would scavenge off of their kills during the spring and summer, whereas crows, ravens, and possibly magpies would scavenge off of their kills during the winter months.

On a curious note, the presence of the tiger might have had an effect on the California condor's habits.  While the condor would still depend on marine deposits, the presence of the tiger would have increased the condor's diet percentage on land-based carrion.  But, since tiger population concentration would still be light, it wouldn't be likely for condors to hunt further inland.

Depending on how widespread the tiger would become on the continent, it might be possible that the cats would have competed with the jaguar.  While that might have be the case, the jaguar has an edge over the tiger: the strongest jaws of any big cats that allows it to access sources of food that the tiger wouldn't usually go for (crocodilians and turtles).  Additionally, while there are deer, tapirs, and peccaries in Central America, there are insufficient amounts of large prey to sustain tigers and the jaguar that is already there.  So, with this in mind, it seems more likely that the tiger would not have migrated that far south.

Cultural Effects of the American Tiger

Along with effects to North American ecosystems, the tiger's presence on the continent would most have certainly affected the land's human culture.

It is pretty obvious that the first culture to have been affected by the American tiger would have been the Native American tribes, obviously moreso those within the range listed above. Such tribes would include the Lakota, Crow, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Shawnee, Cree, Blackfoot, Chinook, Cree, Ojibwa, and the Banook (just to name a very small number of them).

One possible name for the tiger given by these would be the "Michipinchiwa" which is Miami-Illinois for "Big Lynx" (which is the name of a mythical cat in our universe).  The tribes would even call it the "Water Panther", due to the water-loving nature of the tiger (in our world, however, it is because this mythical panther would drown it's victims).
Artist's impression of Native American Tiger image (myalltimelow098)

Much as they were seen in Asia, the tiger would be a symbol of power and perhaps either nobility or greed.  Unlike in Asia, while feared, the Native American tribes would give the tigers respect from a distance, bothering only if they needed to (hunting a man-eater or taking the pelt for a ceremony).

As observers of the natural world, the tribes would undoubtedly notice the lack of wolves in the areas where tigers are commonplace.  This could lead to the assumption or perspective that tigers and wolves are bitter rivals (much like the Chinese impression of the tiger and the dragon).  It is likely that tribes would have included tigers in their legends on how the animals had affected their history and practices.  With the tigers’ roars, it might be possible that (for the Souix and other tribes) they be classified as “roaring rivals” of the Thunderbirds (mythical eagles that cause lighting storms).

There's another theory about the relationship between Native Americans and tigers.  With the tiger being a man-eater, they could have easily affected the Native American communities.  In Asia, tigers have been known to directly attack people more than any other big cat. They are said to be one of the few predators that would seek out human prey.

Would this be the same in North America?

I would say both yes and no.

Yes, because tigers were problematic to rural communities in Asia due to the occasional lack of prey as a result of drought or over-hunting.  In Asia, such stresses would make the big cats go for easier sources of prey (predicatble prey with large numbers and low escape ratios). The same would be said for American tigers.

No, because while they do have some domesticated animals, the pre-contact tribes of North America did not have large animals that would be attractive to the tigers. The only domesticated animals the tribes had were turkeys and dogs; only the most desperate of tigers would go for those.

Yes, because when not farming, Native Americans would compete with tigers for the same prey.  When the tribes would run low on food tigers can't eat, they would hunt things that tigers would and if they needed to feed their families (bison, deer, moose, and elk).  With that, this would create pressure between the tribes and the tigers that would result in conflict. Tigers may even follow the hunters taking their kills back home.  For this reason, it is possible that the forested tribes would develop tiger-proof barriers around their huts to protect themselves (some tribes already did this to protect themselves from enemy tribes, but the presence of tigers might increase their need for it).

No, because research has shown that the native tribes were experts of managing their environment: hunting deer and wild turkeys during breeding season so that they wouldn't have population explosions and destroy their crops.  Undoubtedly, by doing this, they would have also managed tiger populations and prevent them from getting big in numbers and even making sure that they didn't cause their tribe any trouble (one would theorize that's what they did to wolves in the past).

So, in short, the tribes might have had some issues with the tigers, but not as terribly as people in Asia had it.  In summary, I assume the native tribes would have peacefully co-exist with the tigers

However, things would change drastically when Europeans arrive to North America.


When the pilgrims and other colonists arrived in the "New World" and saw the tiger, they would have quickly developed fear and hatred towards the animal.  So much so that, just like the wolf, the tiger would be persecuted and hunted (also to protect their livestock and to preserve their "Manifest Destiny" later on).  With the colonists not being knowledgeable about how to coexist with tigers and having larger livestock, the chances of tiger attacks would increase. Even cases of man-eating could have taken place.  Tiger attacks would have been so effective on the colonists' minds that stories would be made about the man-eating instances, maybe even extremely exaggerated (like, maybe, "The Tiger of Jamestown", "Man-Eater of Plymouth", etc.).  Man-eating tigers could even have been blamed for the disappearance of the colonists at Roanoke Island.
(Petit Journal, 1909)
As European colonies and European descendants moved further into the continent, tigers would have been hunted down.  The reasoning would be shear fear, protecting their livestock/community, or even their pelts.  There is even the possibility that some communities would capture the American tigers for early zoos and circuses. They may have even resorted to selling them to royals back in Europe for possibly lower rates than Asian tigers due to European arrogance thinking that the American tigers were "inferior" to Asian tigers.  There is also the possibility that, much like it was in Asia, nobles and royalties might come to North America to have tiger hunts for recreational hunting.

Europeans’ re-introduction of the horse would greatly have affected the humans’ relationship with the tiger and potentially expanded the tigers range.

Horses had been in North America when the tiger first arrived in Asia.  But, unlike the tiger in our scenario, horses became extinct on the continent until the Spanish brought the ancestors of the mustangs across the Atlantic in the 1500s.  As the horses escaped into the wild, survived, thrived, and spread out, the tigers would have hunted the mustangs and no doubt saw them as potential prey. The pursuit of mustangs would even lead them to habitats where they normally wouldn't be (such as the deserts of Nevada).  As tigers grew accustomed to preying on mustangs, the native tribes of the plains would have began taming and riding them.  To the Native Americans, horses were much more than modes of transportation. Horses were seen as symbols of wealth, revolutionizing the tribes almost overnight by allowing them to move to new locations better, to hunt the buffalo and other prey more efficiently, and so on.

With horses adding such value to the tribes, it would definitely seem to reason that that the tribes would see tigers as threats to their horses and would hunt more often just to protect their herds.  It is possible that, much like how the Fur Trade affected the native tribes' hunting of fur-bearing animals to get metal tools and jewelry, tiger pelts would have also been in the mix and would have definitely been of high value and a high price.  White fur trappers would do the same in hunting tigers for their pelts.

As pioneers travel westward, the tiger would become more pursued and their range decreased immensely.  With large numbers of elk killed off, and buffalo almost wiped out, along with their being hunted, and loss of habitat, the American Tiger would become regionally extinct in many areas until they were only found in the most remote areas (northern states, parts of Canada, and possibly Alaska).

-Modern culture

Scientifically speaking, one would imagine that the tiger would be called Panthera tigirus americus/atlantius/minor ("minor" due to possibly seeing American tigers as inferior)

Possible Hunting scene in scenario (nationalgeographic.com)
In history and the modern age, the tiger of North America would be called the "American Tiger", "Western Tiger", "Canadian Tiger", "Atlantic Tiger", "Snow Tiger", and several other names.  Along with the common names of the American tiger, there would be subspecies called by their locations, like as in the "Colorado Tiger", "Pacific Tiger", "Lake Tiger", "Canadian Tiger", "Mississippi Tiger", "Yellowstone Tiger", etc (Native American names of the tigers have been suggested earlier).
If the American Tiger survived to recent times in this scenario (which are pretty slim odds), there might be calls to protect them in the early to mid-1900s.  The American Tiger would be classified as endangered, due to habitat destruction and conflict with agriculture.  But there is also the possibility of the tigers being hunted by poachers for their hides, along with their teeth, bones, and internal organs for traditional Chinese medicine (much like the jaguars are in recent times).  There’s even a slight possibility of exotic pet trade, as well.
When the populations of elk, deer, and bison grow and prosper, it is likely that the population of the American tiger would grow, too.  And, just like with the wolves to Yellowstone, there might be areas where tigers might be reintroduced (most likely just wild tigers from other areas, not captivity-bred ones).  It could be possible that the tiger might become a popular animal to see in Yellowstone and they may have helped with a current problem: bison are overpopulated and try to move out of the park, but get culled for fear of brucellosis.  Tigers, along with cougars, might also have been seen as a solution for controlling the populations of mustangs in Nevada, feral pigs in Texas, and burros at the Grand Canyon.  Conservationists might try to have people to allow tigers to stay because they could help take care of wolf populations (and we know what hunters and agricultural communities think about the wolf). 
Joe Exotic would've gotten American Tigers (express.co.uk)
Along with wild populations, they would also be breeding the American Tiger in captivity.  It might be tricky, since it is possible that a great number of captive tigers might've interbred with Asian races (from Bengal to Amur tigers) and there would be great efforts to separate them so that their bloodlines be pure. It is possible that breeders would work to determine how much Asian blood could be allowed in the American bloodlines (even go as far as making studbooks for such breeding programs).

An interesting note on our scenario of the American Tiger is on how people would see them.  In our world, tigers are often associated as exotic animals from far away jungles in our world.  With tigers in North America, the general American perspective of tigers would likely be similar to that of bears and cougars in America: just another native animal.  You could even imagine the tiger represented on flags and logos of their states.

And this concludes the scenario of tigers establishing themselves in the North American continent.
Alaskan Tiger 2020 (HodariNundu)


Brown, Bear Behaviour and Activities

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Personal Proposed GMO Idea 1: Ivory-Horned Cattle

In the coming age of genetic modification, there are many possibilities and opportunities for this technology to help mix old problems and so forth.

One of the best known examples of genetic modification fixing problems was that in 1978, scientists genetically-modified a strain of E. coli bacteria to be able to produce insulin to be synthesized for usage on humans.

There are even tries for simple entertainment.  for example, Glofish (glow-in-the-dark fish), which were originally made as research or model organisms, are now in the market as pets.

With these and others on the way, I have a proposal here that could be helpful and useful.

So, here's the idea of mine:

=Ivory-Horned Cattle=

African Elephant (nrdc.org)
Anyone who has taken time to see what is causing elephants grieve around the world, they would know that one of the biggest issues facing the elephants are poachers hunting the for their ivory.  This poaching has been so rash on elephant populations that some populations were either completely wiped out or that they are now rendered genetically tusk-less.

Currently, the only legal ivory around are woolly mammoth ivory, ivory nut palms, and ivory from walrus that died prior to 1972.

Even after intense security in the national parks, protections, and illegalizing elephant ivory, poachers (usually impoverished people who are tempted by promise of big money from ivory) still keep going after the elephants.

With the demand of ivory still up there and doesn't exactly seem to be stopping anytime soon, I feel that a change is needed to be done.  I feel that we should make an alternate source of ivory that would both divert the sources of ivory from somewhere else and to make money from it (that would be another incentive to go for it).  And I believe that the best way to do that is to have a livestock animal provide that alternate source.

Since elephants do NOT breed fast enough to replenish their populations to provide that (since it is evident from them being wiped out at a fast rate), you would definitely need to have an animal that can and livestock can do that.  Now, the only livestock we have (that I can think of) that can produce ivory naturally are pigs, primarily the boars, with their tusks.  However, their tusks are not large enough to make a profit, so they are a no-go.

So, here is my proposal:

I propose that we have cattle and modify their genetic material to replace the keratin-making genes (keratin is the material that horns consists of) for their horns with genes that would have produce dentin (which is what ivory consists of) in their horns instead.  And by doing that, you could be able to have cattle that could produce ivory in their horns and they can be able to replenish their numbers fast enough to have more ivory on the way.

Now, I bet you are thinking this:
"This is crazy!  Even with genetic modification, you couldn't possibly get cattle to grow ivory in their horns!"

Well, that's an understandable thought, but here's something that actually happened and is an encouragement for this idea:

There was a study that showed rats that were developing dentin in their hair follicles.  I know, that sounds crazy, but it's real.  With this happening, it shows that it is possible to modify cattle to develop dentin in their horns, if we can understand it all properly.  We must look for the genes in cattle that are responsible for the keratin development in the horns and make sure that the ivory making genes show up there and only there (because keratin is also what their hooves and hair consists of).

After we figure out what genes we need to alter, we then need to choose which cattle we need to experiment on.

In the first experiments, I would recommend cattle that are modestly horned.  And after we are certain that the genetic modification is alright, we can then start using breeds of cattle that are known for having large horns to be able to make enough ivory.

The breeds of cattle that I think we could use for this would be Texas longhorns and Watusi cattle, large horns would make large amounts of ivory.  Or we could even use crosses of these two breeds, which make exceptionally large horns as well.

Watusi/Longhorn Crossbred Steer - Future Ivory-Horned Cattle?

If this could be done properly and it works, then we could have livestock that can supply the world with ivory in a faster rate than it could with elephants and the development of this breed could give people an alternative source of ivory that would discourage elephant poaching.

While this could be a good thing, it would not be without it's cons or catches:

As for the welfare of these cattle, I would have to points out that the calcium levels in their diets would be important so that they could both produce a large amount of ivory without the downsides of calcium-defiencies and while I am currently uncertain of how heavy dentin is compared to keratin, I would think that could be an issue and would need to be solved by either modifying the cattle to have stronger necks or process them when they go to a certain horn size.

Another idea would be that if these cattle were in Africa, it could give the locals an extra income, especially if it could help them in their impoverished state.  However, it could make the cattle the most valued and they would need to be heavily guarded from criminals.

Well, currently, this idea is only in my mind and on this article.  But if this idea could be done, I think it should be done for both the elephants and the people of Africa.


"First Successful Laboratory Production of Human Insulin Announced". News Release. Genentech. 1978-09-06. Retrieved 2016-09-26


"NUS - National University of Singapor". nus.edu.sg.