Cryptozoology: A Case Study using Molecular Markers to Identify Cryptic Species

A rancher near Hebbronville, Texas, recently discovered that an unknown large animal had attempted to gain access to a metal outbuilding on the ranch. The metal was torn and completely bitten through in several places. Because of the strength required to inflict this damage, a large animal, such as a mountain lion (Puma concolor) or black bear (Ursus americanus), were suspects. However, insufficient evidence was available to conclusively identify the culprit. We extracted DNA from hairs found at the scene and amplified a portion of the mtDNA control region. The DNA fragment was a 100% match to sequences from domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Thus, the mystery animal was not a rare species such as a bear or an even more exotic animal such as the mythical chupacabra, but a stray dog. Our results demonstrate that molecular techniques can serve as a useful tool for answering difficult wildlife management questions.

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