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Professor interviewed about unusual Chinese lamb

April 5, 2011



Professor Irv Kornfield, the director of UMaine's Molecular Forensic Laboratory, was interviewed for a story on AOL News about a lamb born on a farm in China that resembles a dog. The birth has given rise to rumors that the lamb is the result of the mating of a sheep and dog. Kornfield told AOL the chances of a sheep giving birth to a puppy were impossible because dogs and sheep have been isolated genetically for so long that they differ greatly in their chromosome numbers.

This farm has gone to the dogs, or should we say "sheep dogs." Well, seeing is believing -- unless, of course, what we're seeing is either a hoax or an odd joke played by Mother Nature on a farmer.

Basically, simply, allegedly, a sheep in China has given birth to a dog.

There, we've said it, but is this impossibility of the animal kingdom really true?

According to Liu Naiying, it is. The Shaanxi Province farmer says the new offspring of one of his sheep has a covering of lamb's wool, but its mouth, nose, eyes, paws and tail appear to be those of a dog, The Daily Telegraph reports.,feedConfig,localizationConfig,entry&id=624098&pid=624097&uts=1301373671

Sheep Dog

Did a sheep give birth to a dog? A farmer in western China's Shaanxi Province, was left open-mouthed when he saw the young animal running around his field. The "lamb" has a mouth, nose, paws and tail which look very similar to a dog's features - but still has a white woolly coat. Experts say this is impossible and is nothing more than an urban legend.
Quirky China News / Splash News
Quirky China News / Splash News

Liu says he found the, umm, infant puppy out in one of his fields.

"I was herding the sheep and saw a sheep licking her newborn lamb on the grassland. The lamb was still wet," Liu said.

"When I went up close to check on the lamb, I was shocked because it looked so weird, like a cross between a sheep and a dog."

Sheep and dogs are of different species, says Yue Guozhang from the Xi'an City Animal Husbandry Technology Centre.

"It's not possible that a sheep could become pregnant with a puppy," Yue said. "It's likely that this is just an abnormal lamb."

That sentiment is strongly echoed by Irv Kornfield, a professor of biology and molecular forensics at the University of Maine, in Orono.

"The bottom line is that it's impossible," he told AOL News. "A dog and a sheep have been separated in time by about 80 million years from a common ancestor. Those two animals are in separate orders or taxonomic designations."

Kornfield, who is also director of the Molecular Forensic Laboratory, says that dogs and sheep have been isolated genetically for so long that they differ greatly in their chromosome numbers.

"It's the equivalent of trying to do a hybridization between a primate and a sheep -- it's that level of divergence."

This is a lamb in China that looks just like a dog.
Quirky China News / Splash News
Lamb, dog, hoax or urban legend? Whether sheep or canine, it's still cuddly.And there is another equally plausible explanation for this sheep-dog story.

"This is a rural urban legend," Loren Coleman, owner of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, told AOL News in an email.

"The Chinese sheep herder never saw a birth take place. He merely found the two animals near each other.

"No way is this a possibility, biologically, but it does make for a merely humorous slow news day story," Coleman said.

There are, indeed, examples of hybrids resulting from some unusual mating practices of the animal kingdom.

Last year, a zebra and donkey came together to form a zedonk that was born at the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega, Ga. The baby had her donkey mom's ears and zebra dad's striped legs.

And then there were those cute little liger cubs -- hybrid offspring of a male lion and female tiger, born in a Taiwanese zoo in August. While it's against the law to breed rare animals in Taiwan, the zookeeper claimed the two adult felines mated on their own.

But in the case of China's sheep-dog miracle, "It looks like a normal, fuzzy-furred young canid that was found born near sheep," cryptozoologist Coleman said.

While forensics expert Kornfield acknowledges the many examples of animal cross-breeding, he reminds us that those are primarily cases where the animals involved are somewhat related genetically -- but not so with dogs and sheep.

He also points out that China has the largest sheep population in the world -- an estimated 130 million -- and "the probability of their sheep producing aberrant offspring is high in general."

"This one in the news looks like it has characteristics that sort of look like a dog, but I am absolutely confident, if one were to take a DNA sample of the thing, it would be unquestionably a sheep," Kornfield said. "I'd be willing to bet anything -- my house and my tenure.

"It's certainly, absolutely not a hybrid."


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