What is a species? What is a breed?

I’m human. I can breed with other humans and have kids. It doesn’t matter whether the other person is from Africa, China, Europe or England – ad infinitum.

I’ve been saying this because I am from Earth. I’m an “Earthling.” We are the same species, no matter the color or place of birth.

Or are we?

Let’s look at a dog and a wolf.dogvswolf-risktaking1

Dogs are divided into breeds and half-breeds and mutts. A dog is much different from a wolf. Originally, it is thought, some wolves hung near humans when they had campfires to cook their meat. Some of the young wolves became friendly and were raised as pets. This went on for thousands of years and the result were dogs.

Dogs are domesticated. Domestication is a gene that wild animals don’t have.

But dogs can still breed with wolves. In fact, dogs can breed with coyotes. So are dogs, wolves and coyotes all the same species, just different breeds?

Cats can breed with wild cats, too.

Cows can breed with Bison, too.

So where do you draw the “species line”?

We say that dogs and wolves are different species, but a Golden Retriever and a Chihuahua are the same species just a different “breed.” We say that cats are house cats, but we know house cats descend from wild cats.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine cats descend from Felis Sylvestris. Wikipedia says that cats are Felids, which include lions, tigers, cougars.

The common ancestor is thought to be the African wildcat Felis silvestris lybrica. Note that the Felis silvestris lybrica, like the wolves, still exist and can still breed with your house cat!

So where do we draw the line?

Look at the critter called the American Bison, or more commonly American Buffalo. They can breed with cows. Did you know that? The result are called Beefalo.

Can we breed animals to the point that they can’t breed with their ancestors?

Are cats and tigers, dogs and coyotes, cows and buffalo, Caucasian and Asian people – all the same species or not? More to come as we explore this interesting topic!

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