One of the most incredible things about being human is the not-human animals we have allowed to share our lives. Humans have had domesticated animals for thousands of years. They have been our food, our transport, our workforce, our hunters, our guardians, our pest control, and our companions. And we have made quite a few of them: dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, reindeer, guinea pigs, and many more (including this website's favorite, llamas!) Some domesticated species are new, but others are ancient and have had a huge influence on the cultures they appear in, with great histories, some fantastic, others tragic. And even with all the animals present in our lives, some of these great workers of history and world trade today are probably ones you've never even heard of or knew were domesticated! Here we're going to explore five of these magnificent animals that you might not have known about and their unique uses and histories!
Also, since this is an art website, I will be including artwork and photographs from DeviantArt of these creatures whenever possible. Be sure to click on the artwork and/or the artist's name to check out the artist!
1. House Cricket
Oh, yes, we humans have domesticated a cricket! The house cricket (Atecha domesticus) is thought to have come from Southwest Asia. Between 1950 and 2000, this species of cricket was bred to be a feeder cricket and was a common pet in China and Japan. Though once common in pet stores across the world, the cricket paralysis virus decimated the populations of Europe in 2002 and North America in 2010, and since then, it has largely been replaced by the Jamaican field cricket in those markets. But even so, there are still certain parts of the world where it's farmed not only as a pet and feeder for other pets but even for human consumption. (I've had some dry-roasted myself, and they're not bad.)
From Pinterest TEST FOR HEXENTESTPANTZ Photographed by ewm
Many know that we humans keep silkmoths so that that their larvae, silkworms, will make silk for us, but not many know that the silkmoths and silkworms we keep are their own domesticated species! The domestic silkmoth (Bombyx mori) is believed to have been domesticated in China over 5,000 years ago. The main difference between the domestic silkworms and their wild counterparts is that they are bigger, grow faster, tolerate human handling, and can live in crowded conditions, making them perfect natural mass-producers. And believe me, for thousands of years, silkworm breeders have taken their breeding very seriously. And it's no wonder; the domestic silkworm has been one of the greatest influences on Chinese history, being a great driver behind the Silk Road. While it may be an insect, this is actually one of history's most important domesticated animals!
Africa in Montana
Now from bugs to birds! Domesticated from the helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris), the domestic guineafowl is a poultry bird from Africa. And if you think this is just a poor attempt at mimicking chicken domestication, think again! The guineafowl is believed to have been domesticated around 2400 B.C.E. and has fed central and southern Africa for thousands of years. In fact, there is evidence that there were even guineafowl in Greece in the 5th century B.C.E., showing these birds were widely traded even in ancient times. They are great egg producers, and they're actually effective bug control, too. And if you're looking for some meat to eat, guineafowl is actually considered more flavorful than chicken, though for this reason it is often more expensive, too.
4. Domestic Fox
If I smilez, you gimmie treat?
An even younger variety of domestic animal than the house cricket, the domestic fox is an invention of science! This animal was bred from the wild red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as part of a domestication experiment. Zoologist Dmitry Belyayev of the Soviet Union began an experiment in 1959 where he took a bunch of red foxes from the fur industry and attempted to aggressively breed them for gentle individuals. The idea was to do an experiment to see how long it would take to domesticate an animal with the goal of breeding a tame fur fox for farming. And so far, the experiment has shown some success, now sporting a tame population with a temperament and behavior distinct from the wild type, sometimes accompanied by changes in coat color as well. Along with the classic red and black/silver coats, these foxes have sported white, grey, and piebald patterns, and they bark and wag their tails and can be trained to use a litter box! Unfortunately, the changes made the experiment a bit of a failure for its original purpose, as these foxes aren't the best fur producers, but it provided a whole new set of invaluable results about the effects domestication can have on a species, changing how we look at traits seen in our own domestic dogs. While the experiment does continue on to this day in Russia, some of the foxes are now sold as pets, for hefty fees that help fund continuing research.
I should also point out that even the domestic fox is a pretty terrible pet for unprepared pet owners. Yes, they are affectionate and fairly tame, but at about 10 months old, they start showing wild-like behaviors that are nearly impossible to train out...like perhaps marking your house and peeing in your coffee cup, for example. They have all the affection of a domestic animal but still have the difficulty of an exotic pet. I think we're still a few hundred years from a true fox-dog. But for those up to the challenge and with the money to spend on this animal, they can be quite loving and a joy to own!
5. Fuegian Dog
From Patagonian Monsters Blogspot
Also known as the Yaghan dog or Selk'nam dog, this is the most fascinating animal on this list! It is a testament to just how much dogs mean to us...largely because it is both a dog and not a dog.
Dogs are incredible. Most recent findings from 2008 show that dogs have been domesticated at least by 25,000 years ago, and genetic evidence suggests they may have begun the process 85,000 years ago! The leading theory is that dogs domesticated humans as much as humans domesticated dogs, and this is seen by the fact that we took dogs everywhere we went, from Afro-Eurasia to the Polynesian islands to North America and to Australia. But one place they did not end up with people, for whatever reason, is South America. However, it's believed that the first people to settle any of the Americas were the ancestors of the Yaghan and Selk'nam, who settled the cold southern tip of South America. It's believed these people share ancestry with the Australian aborigines, which means these were a people who knew dogs, even if they themselves did not bring any. And would you know it; in the absence of dogs, they made other dogs!
But did they domesticate wolves? No. South America has no wolves or any canids of the genus Canus. They have their own unique canids: the South American foxes, also known as zorros. These canids are their own distinct group, more closely related to canines like wolves, dogs, and jackals than to actual foxes. And it's from one of these zorros that the Yaghan and the Selk'nam bred their own canid companion, the Fuegian dog. Some think this is domesticated from the the culpeo or Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus), while others think it may be domesticated from the extinct warrah or Falklands Island wolf (Dusicyon australis), the closest living relative to which is the maned wolf. Whatever the case, the Fuegian dog was roughly about the size of a Shetland sheepdog and looked very fox-like with white or tawny coats. The Yaghan and Selk'nam used them for hunting and for keeping warm at night and for general companionship. They were said to not be particularly protective of their people and also quite aggressive, though admittedly this comes from biased European sources.
But if you want to view a Fuegian dog now, you can't. Last recorded in 1880, they were extinct by 1919. The only known specimen of it is the one photographed above, found in a museum in Chile. It is stated in records of the time that this is because they were dangerous to people and livestock, and early 20th-century writers claimed they were replaced by the "superior" European dogs. But I think it's more complicated than that, and far more tragic. The sad history of this domestic South American fox is mirrored by the tragic history of the people who bred it. Once a very numerous people, in the 19th century, European disease absolutely decimated the Yaghan and Selk'nam, wiping out over 50% of their population at least. On top of that, Yaghan largely lived off the sea, but white whalers and seal hunters were destroying their food resources. Meanwhile, the Selk'nam were land hunters and did not understand European concept of ownership and so often killed settlers' sheep and cattle, which resulted in the military responding with genocide and forcible relocation. I believe many of their dogs were killed for transgressions against livestock during this time, and with their own population struggling to survive after breaking down from a plague and facing dwindling food resources, the Selk'nam and Yaghan could not worry about caring for and maintaining anyone else, even their dogs. But even with this, I think there might have been one final hit that was the nail in the coffin for these zorro-dogs. The Fuegian dog's disappearance coincides with the heartworm disease, a dangerous and deadly infection to all canids, reaching the southern end of South America. Faced with such a disease, the last of an already decimated population of Fuegian dogs might not have been able to recover. Mind you, this is just my theory, but the timing fits.
Not long after the disappearance of their dogs, the last 783 Selk'nam were moved to the Dawson Islands to work in concentration camps. Not long after that, the Yaghan would settle Keppel Island. Both continued to dwindle in number. The last Selk'nam, Ángela Loij, passed away in 1974. The last surviving member of the Yaghan people today is Cristina Calderón, who lives in Puerto Williams, Chile. She is 80 years old.
The dogs' disappearance, it seems, was prophetic and inevitable, a sign of a dwindling people that we will soon be gone forever. But here's a small comfort for this story: you came to learn about unique domesticated animals, and now you will remember these people, their culture, and their animals, even long after they're gone.
And those are 5 domesticated animals you might not have known about! Go ahead and mention down in the comments if you've ever met any of the first four and if you know of any other obscure domesticated animals. Or just tell me about your pets. I have the standard pets myself, a cat and a dog. The cat, Isabella, is feral-bred, and I've had her since she was a kitten. She's my baby, and she's a grumpy mooch. The dog, Mia, is actually my roommate's dog and is some sort of black Labrador/shepherd mix, and she's a sassy animal but very cuddly and sweet and I adore her to pieces!