the happy fox wags a tail: from Siberia to Utah

By 1964 the fourth generation [of foxes] was already beginning to live up to the researchers’ hopes. Trut can still remember the moment when she first saw a fox wag its tail at her approach. Before long, the most tame among them were so doglike that they would leap into researchers’ arms and lick their faces. At times the extent of the animals’ tameness surprised even the researchers. Once, in the 1970s, a worker took one of the foxes home temporarily as a pet. When Trut visited him, she found the owner taking his fox for walks, unleashed, “just like a dog. I said ‘Don’t do that, we’ll lose it, and it belongs to the institute!'” she recalls. “He said ‘just wait,’ then he whistled and said, ‘Coca!’ It came right back.”

Simultaneously, more of the foxes began to show signs of the domestication phenotype: floppy ears retained longer in development and characteristic white spots on their coats. “At the beginning of the 1980s, we observed a kind of explosion-like change of the external appearance,” says Trut.

This is a fascinating story that spans 50 years, from the banning of genetics in the Soviet Union to American-Russian cooperation in studying the domestication of foxes and what it teaches about the evolution of domestic animals generally. Click on the link above for the full story.

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