Can orbital angle morphology distinguish dogs from wolves?
Zoomorphology, December 2015
Luc Janssens, Inge Spanoghe, Rebecca Miller, Stefan Van Dongen
For more than a century, the orbital angle has been studied by many authors to distinguish dog skulls from their progenitor, the wolf. In early studies, the angle was reported to be different between dogs (49°-55°) and wolves (39°-46°). This clear difference was, however, questioned in a more recent Scandinavian study that shows some overlap. It is clear that in all studies several methodological issues were unexplored or unclear and that group sizes and the variety of breeds and wolf subspecies were small. Archaeological dog skulls had also not been studied. Our goal was to test larger and more varied groups and add archaeological samples as they are an evolutionary stage between wolves and modern dogs. We also tested the influence of measuring methods, intra- and inter-reliability, angle symmetry, the influence of variations in skull position and the possibility of measuring and comparing this angle on 3D CT scan images. Our results indicate that there is about 50 % overlap between the angle range in wolves and modern dogs. However, skulls with a very narrow orbital angle were only found in wolves and those with a very wide angle only in dogs. Archaeological dogs have a mean angle very close to the one of the wolves. Symmetry is highest in wolves and lowest in archaeological dogs. The measuring method is very reliable, for both inter- and intra-reliability (0.99-0.97), and most skull position changes have no statistical influence on the angle measured. Three-dimensional CT scan images can be used to measure OA, but the angles differ from direct measuring and cannot be used for comparison. Evolutionary changes in dog skulls responsible for the wider OA compared to wolf skulls are mainly the lateralisation of the zygomatic process of the frontal bone. Our conclusion is that the orbital angle can be used as an additional morphological measuring method to discern wolves from recent and archaeological dogs. Angles above 60° are certainly from recent dogs. Angles under 35° are certainly of wolves.
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