With its thick and heavy fur, a thousand-yard stare, alert posture, and pointed ears, the Siberian Husky certainly looks like a Wolf disguised as a dog. This has led many people (especially those who aren’t familiar with dogs) to assume that Huskies are domesticated wolves, descendants of wolves, or wolf-dog hybrids, and it’s easy to see why.
Huskies are related to wolves. If you trace their ancestry and compare their DNA, we can see that both animal species evolved from a common ancestor thousands of years ago and have some genetic similarities.
In the rest of this article, we’ll review available scientific evidence to determine how huskies are related to wolves and whether a wolf-husky hybrid is possible. Read on for details on this and much more.
The History of Huskies
Huskies have an interesting history. The breed is native to Siberia, where it was reared as a sled dog in the North-Eastern Asian Chukchi tribe. In addition to hauling loads over snow for long distances in unforgiving cold, huskies provided solid companionship to hunters. They helped with the actual hunting and kept the hunters safe from other carnivores as they scoured the vast Siberian Arctic for game.
In exchange for such companionship, they got a little food.
But while they were great companions, Huskies didn’t become popular in the US until 1909; when they debuted in the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race. Over the next ten years or so, teams of these wolf-resembling runners won most of the race titles in Alaska.
Later on, in January 1925, they went from popular to heroic when they helped save over 14,000 people in Nome, Alaska, from Diphtheria (a severe infection of the nose and throat). A breakout had struck the area in the dead of winter, and the closest they could get to anti-diphtheria medicine was Fairbanks, 650 miles away.
The problem was, the only way to access the 300,000 units of serum was through a dog-hauled sled. And even with the sled, a one-way trip normally took a month; time that the people of Nome didn’t have.
With time being critical and lives hanging on it, dog teams were dispatched to race around the clock along the Iditarod trail in an attempt to retrieve the medicine in time. Quite incredibly, Balto (a husky) led the first team into Nome less than six days later and delivered the serum that helped bring the epidemic under control.
The world has never forgotten Balto's heroic act and “ the hero dogs of Alaska,” and there’s a statue in honor of Balto in Central Park, New York, you should visit next time you’re around.
Huskies and Wolves: Are They Related?
Besides looking much more like a wolf than most other dog breeds, is the Husky much closer to the wolf than say, a sausage dog?
Let’s see what science has to say.
Through genome sequencing, scientists have found enough evidence to support the hypothesis that there’s an overlap between the ancestry of dogs and wolves. More specific to our discussion, a recent DNA study discovered that the ancient Taimyr wolf lineage contributed to about 1.4% to 27.3% the ancestry of high-latitude dog breeds, including the husky.
Does this mean that huskies may have up to 27.3% more wolf in them than other breeds? Well, kind of.
Through the DNA study mentioned earlier, Pontus Skoglund discovered that the Siberian Taimyr wolf species split from the rest of the canid ancestry closely before the last ice age, about the same time the grey wolf species also split from domestic dogs (By “split,” we’re referring to divergence with regards to evolution). In short, the three species diverged at about the same time.
Geneticist also found out that the grey wolf shares genetic similarities with domestic dog breeds worldwide, but high-arctic dogs have more of the Taimyr Wolf DNA than their dog breeds in other parts of the globe.
So yes, a husky is somewhat related to a wolf if you trace down their ancestries: they both evolved from a common ancestor. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Husky in your home may be more than 20% wolf because the genetic composition of the dog breed has changed a lot over the years through interbreeding and natural evolution. Plus, a husky and a wolf are two different animal species!
Huskies vs. Wolves: Comparison
So far, we’ve established that the Siberian Husky shares distant ancestry with wolves. But do the two have enough in common to suggest a closer relationship than just sharing an ancestor that existed thousands of years ago?
To help you figure out, let’s compare the two animal species based on the following:
By now, you're thinking — if they're not the same species, why are huskies looking like wolves then? They're very similar in terms of appearance, and there’s no denying that.
Both Huskies and wolves have double thick coats of fur to help them survive in cold climates. Their face shapes and patterns are also identical, and this is one of the key reasons why many people find the difference between the two hard to spot.
But there are some notable differences:
- Coat: Huskies may have a white, black, or brown coat while wolves usually have white fur or grey.
- Paws: Wolves also have different paws from those of a Husky because they've adapted to walk on different terrains over the years.
- Size: Although huskies are big dogs, the wolf is the largest animal in the canine family, meaning it’s larger than the Husky. Additionally, wolves have heads that look too big for their body size, something you won't see in a husky.
- Eyes: Wolves have yellow/amber/brown eyes, whereas the Husky’s eyes usually light blue . Also, Siberian Husky's heterochromia make their eyes one of the most visually striking element, which does not occur with wolves.
Behavior and Temperament
There are notable differences between a wolf 's behavior and that of a husky. The main distinction, however, is that huskies are domestic animals, and are thus much more friendly to humans than wolves.
In fact, many people have attempted to tame wolves unsuccessfully. They’ve always found that when a wolf reaches maturity, it doesn’t take orders, and its behavior is hard to predict, making it very hard to control. On the contrary, a Husky is easy to control through proper training.
Perhaps the most striking behavioral similarity is that both wolves and Huskies have a pack mentality. However, Huskies are loyal to the “pack” of the human family (especially if they have a keen alpha owner), while wolves are only loyal to their packs.
Is the Siberian Husky a Wolf Descendant?
The short answer would be no. While wolves and Huskies have similar mitochondrial D.N.A., they still are two distinct animal breeds. The only thing they share is a common distant ancestor, and none is a descendant of the other.
Is a Wolf-Husky Hybrid Possible?
When a domesticated dog interbreeds with a wild wolf, dog/wolf hybrids do result. So yes, Huskies and wolves can interbreed, although this is unlikely to occur in the wild.
But we humans love to interfere with nature and test things out, and there are husky wolf crosses out there. The problem with these animals, however, is their unpredictability. Their diverse genetic composition causes a range of inconsistent physical appearances and behavior patterns, making them very hard to predict and control.
Also, sexual maturity in a wolf causes a shift in hormone balance and quantity, often with sudden behavioral changes. For instance, at this stage, a wolf is likely to “test out” the perceived “pack leader” in a bid to gain a higher ranking in the pack. Often with a hybrid, this hostility is directed to the owner or any other perceived authority figure, resulting in the animal becoming too bold, stubborn, or even aggressive.
So while a wolf-Husky hybrid is possible, it might not be the best idea to own one.
In case it’s still unclear we landed with regards to the relationship between a husky and a wolf, here are the key takeaways:
- Besides a striking physical resemblance, Huskies and wolves only share a distant ancestor, and that’s all.
- Contrary to common belief, the dog breed isn’t a descendant of wolves. Rather, both evolved from the same animal species before the ice age.
- Lastly, it’s possible to create a wolf-husky hybrid, even though it might not be the best idea to own one.
Want to learn more about huskies? Check out husky information tab.