In the high grasslands of Earth’s tallest mountains lives a group of wolves known for their long snouts, pale woolly pelts, and low-pitched calls. Now, their genes are also setting them apart. A new study suggests these wolves—which range across northern India, China, and Nepal—are genetically distinct from the gray wolves that live nearby, thanks to genes that help them cope with the thin air above 4000 meters.
“This is a very exciting study,” says Ben Sacks, a canine evolutionary ecologist at the University of California, Davis. It “provides the first compelling evidence for the distinctiveness of [the Himalayan] wolf.” The finding supports previous calls for it to be recognized as a separate species, and it also suggests the wolf’s range is twice as large as was thought.
Himalayan wolves live at higher altitudes than grays, which range across eastern China, Mongolia, and Kyrgyzstan, and their habits are different, too. Whereas gray wolves primarily eat rodents, Himalayan wolves add the occasional Tibetan gazelle to the mix. And Himalayans howl their own tune, with cries of a shorter duration and lower frequency than those of grays.