Research on Fossil Canids | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

A scene in North America during the Pliocene (Blancan). A solitary adult Borophagus diversidens tries to defend its prey from a pack of Canis lepophagus. Artist reconstruction by Mauricio Anton.

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The Origin and Evolution of the Dog Family

In collaboration with Dr. Richard Tedford, Curator Emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, and funded by the National Science Foundation, we are working on several projects focusing on extinct fossil dogs, the family Canidae — ancestral wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc. These projects are aimed at resolving the genealogical relationships among a diverse group of fossil canids in the middle through late Tertiary (approximately 34 to 2 million years ago) of North America. These fossil "dogs" play an important role as top predators of their time, and many had similar adaptations as living hyenas. The Frick Collections at the American Museum of Natural History has the best collection of fossil canids, and many of these were previously unknown to science. Using cladistics and with the help of sophisticated computer programs, we attempt to decipher the evolutionary relationships among the extinct dogs. Then we will place their geological and geographical occurrences under this new evolutionary framework and search for their paleoenvironmental implications.


Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History

A book on the biology, fossil history, and evolutionary relationship of Canidae with rich illustrations by Xiaoming Wang, Richard H. Tedford, and Mauricio Anton.

For the first time, the entire history of the dog family Canidae is treated in this book published in 2008 by Columbia University Press.

Related links:

  • Order information about Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History.
  • Listen to an interview with Xiaoming Wang and Natural History's editor Vittorio Maestro.
  • Read an interview at Columbia University Press.
  • Blog with the author about this book.
  • Read an article in the Natural History Museum's Naturalist magazine (June 2008) View PDF >

Genealogical Relationships of Canids

Here is an example of an evolutionary tree of all major groups of canids in North America. Numbers to the left are millions of years from the present time. This figure shows that there are three major radiations during the history of the canids and many more extinct canids than are present today.

Bone Crushing Dogs

An artist's reconstruction of an Epicyon is created by putting layers of muscles on top of the skeleton. This Epicyon lived about ten million years ago in much of the western North America and is the size of a large wolf. Reproduction with permission by Mauricion Anton.

Scholarly Monographs

A complete revision of the systematics and phylogeny of all three subfamilies, Hesperocyoninae, Borophaginae and Caninae, are published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History numbers 221, 243, and 325. These papers can be downloaded from the Library of the American Museum of Natural History.

Summary Paper on Canid Evolution

For a summary paper on the evolutionary history of canids, read Ancestry: Evolutionary history, molecular systematics, and evolutionary ecology of Canidae in Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids published by Oxford University Press.

Download this chapter from my Publications and PDFs page.

Financial Support

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (No. DEB-9707555 and DEB-9420004). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.