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Womb with a view

National Geographic Channel’s critically acclaimed “In The Womb” series returns this month with two new one-hour specials — including one that follows the fetal journey of four litters of canines.

Featuring some amazing visual images, the show follows the development of litters inside a Neapolitan mastiff, golden retriever, chihuahua and wolf – from fertilization through the remarkable 63-day journey that takes them from a single cell to man’s best friend.

“In the Womb: Dogs” airs Jan. 4 at 8 p.m.; followed by “In the Womb: Cats” at 9 p.m.

I screened the dog special last week, and can report that it’s both a visually riveting hour of TV and a highly informative account of what’s happened in the 15,000 years since wild wolves began making the transition to domesticated dogs — and of what man did to them after that.

The show intersperses dog history with visits inside the womb, showing how all breeds (more than 400 of them) stemmed from wolves, thanks to selective breeding of them by humans. So hunters wouldn’t have to go pick up the birds they shot, we made retrievers. To scare off intruders, we made mastiffs. To rid our land of varmints, we made short-legged dogs that could burrow into holes. It wasn’t always in dogs best interest — sometimes quite the opposite — but as a result, dogs became the most diverse species on earth.

Despite all that diversity, the four canines tracked in the womb are remarkably similar for the first month or so in the womb — both to each other and any other vertebrate, including us. Even then, though, they practice behaviors they will need once born, like running and panting.

After that, they begin to take on distinctive shapes. By day 39, the ears are formed. Floppy ears are a sign of the submission humans have bred into dogs, but erect wolf-like ears persist in a few species, including the Chihuahua. Snouts, too, develop relatively late. After 55 days of development, the wolf, mastiff, golden retriever and Chihuahua all exhibit traits particular to their breeds.

Sixty-three days after the eggs were fertilized, the puppies make their debut, leaving the solace of the womb for the real world. 

For more information, on the series, click here

(Image courtesy of National Geographic Channel)

Comments

Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time January 2, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I’m looking forward to this. I grew up as part of a large and happy pack of Dachshunds. Back then, their hindquarters, backs, and legs were so strong that it was said you could lift one by its tail without causing any discomfort or injury. (Not that we ever did that.) Now they seem prone to every kind of spinal and hip problem imaginable. If people want to say that they are fond of purebred dogs (as I admit I am), then they need to quit breeding for form and get back to breeding for function. For myself, I never want anything else but a rescued hound.

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