Animal Shot in Montana Turns Out to be Wolf According to DNA Test

The "wolf-like" animal shot near Denton, Montana.  (Image credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks)

The "wolf-like" animal shot near Denton, Montana. (Image credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks)

The mysterious wolf-like animal shot near Denton, Montana was confirmed to be a young Canis lupus, or gray wolf, today by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP).

The animal's DNA was tested at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, where it was compared to genetic markers from thousands of samples from wolves, coyotes, and dogs.  The test confirmed that it is a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains, Mary Curtis, a Fish and Wildlife Service geneticist at the Oregon lab., told the Great Falls Tribune.

"In this case there was very, very little, if any, support of the animal being a dog, coyote, or hybrid," Curtis said. "It was very strongly placed in the wolf category."

Although central Montana has no established wolf packs, young wolves sometimes set out to find their own territory and seek a mate. Wolves have been known to travel north out of Yellowstone National Park and into central Montana.

The animal's unusual appearance originally led to speculation of the discovery of a cryptid species, but an examination at the FWP wildlife health lab in Bozeman revealed a relatively normal looking, dark brown wolf, said the FWP.  

Ty Smucker, an FWP wolf management specialist, thinks that the animal's state as shown in the pictures contributed to the speculation.

"It had been shot, and it was in pretty rough shape," Smucker said. "So it was a little difficult to tell."

However, it's not unusual for there to be variation in appearance within a species, said Curtis.

“Within species there can be variability, that’s not surprising at all,” she said. "It doesn't surprise me you are going to run into some wolves on the smaller side."

Many members of the public believe that wolves are universally large, fearsome animals, but genetic variation and age mean that they can come in a range of sizes.

The wolf was a two to three year-old non-lactating female--meaning she had never given birth--and measured 45 inches from the tip of the nose to the rump, weighing in at 84.5 pounds.

The DNA was tested to confirm that it was not a wolf-dog or wolf-coyote hybrid.

"The individual represented by LAB-1, LAB-2 and LAB-3 was a female gray wolf from the Northern Rocky Mountains (Canis lupus)," Fish and Wildlife Service forensic scientist Dyan J. Straughan wrote in a genetics examination report on DNA taken from tissue samples. "It is the opinion of the undersigned examiner that this individual was not of either a gray wolf x coyote, or gray wolf x domestic dog, origin."

Tobias Wayland