A mysterious wolf-like creature that showed up on a Montana ranch before it was killed by a rancher has wildlife experts and the public scratching their heads.
The animal, killed May 16, is definitely a member of the canid family, which includes dogs, wolves, foxes and coyotes.
However, the initial suggestion that it was a wolf seems unlikely, officials now say.
Several Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf specialists looked at photos of the animal and collectively doubted it was a purebred wolf: the canine teeth were too short, the front paws too small and the claws on the front paw were too long.
In the absence of a definitive identification, social media was quick to come to its own conclusions — some more likely than others.
In a bid to come to a firm conclusion and dispel any notions that the animal is some sort of legendary creature (we're looking at you, chupacabra), FWP sent the carcass to the Department’s lab in Bozeman where tissue samples will be collected, then shipped to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Laboratory in Oregon.
In a laboratory, scientists will extract DNA from the animal's cells and look for markers specific to individual species.
Those markers are then compared to samples of known species on hand.
While the process may take a week, just getting to that stage may take weeks or months, depending on the laboratory’s backlog of cases.
"All of which means it may be awhile before the anyone really knows what the animal near Denton really was," the FWP said.