Do Wolves Wag Their Tails Like Dogs and More Questions From Our Readers

Other questions ask if DNA testing has led to the redesignation of species

(Harry Campbell )
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Has DNA analysis led to any redesignation of plant or animal species?
Donald Nicklin
Papillion, Nebraska

Yes, even in well-studied groups and geographic regions, such as when our fish experts redesignated the soapfish Rypticus carpenteri in 2012 a new species distinct from R. subbifrenatus, with which it had long been confused. For less studied groups, such as invertebrates and insects, DNA has identified far more new species than there are expert taxonomists to name them. This has led to proposals for using “provisional” scientific names based on DNA sequences until names can be formally assigned.
Lee Weigt
director of the Laboratories of Analytical Biology, National Museum of Natural History

Do wolves wag their tails, like dogs? If so, why?
Matthew Thompson
Washington, D.C.

They do, and largely for the same reasons—to signal either excitement or submission to more dominant animals in their pack. In the human-domestic canine relationship, we are the “top dogs,” and tail wagging is one way our pets show respect.
Lee Jackson, 
curator, National Zoo

Is it true that Australian Aborigines ignored the first European ships to arrive on the continent?
Norm Mundhenk
Poulsbo, Washington

No. From the first Dutch landing, in 1606, Europeans and Aboriginal people clashed often. In April 1770, Captain Cook noted that “all they seem’d to want was for us to be gone,” and the 1778 arrival of convict ships was met with repeated skirmishes. Aboriginal resistance to European colonization has been overlooked.
Doug Herman
Pacific Island specialist, National Museum of the American Indian

Think you know everything about your own body? Test your smarts against this one-minute video, where Ask Smithsonian host Eric Schulze uncovers the facts behind five popular myths about the human body.

In how many ways is the earth moving, beginning with plate tectonics (if that is the “smallest”)?
Philip Booth
New York City

The motions are uncountable, if you include the smallest. Think beyond rotation, revolving around the sun, moving through space: Although the earth is a rocky ball, it acts like a fluid, constantly reacting to every gravitational stimulus from the outside and to every dynamic stress in its ever-shifting interior. Newton taught us that every body in the universe attracts every other body with a force equal to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to their mutual distance squared—so every body in the universe somehow causes the earth to move and to tidally distort.
David H. DeVorkin
senior curator, Division of Space History, National Air and Space Museum

Why does a lieutenant general outrank a major general? A major outranks a lieutenant.
Jerry Walter
Muscatine, Iowa

Beginning in late medieval times, regiments appointed sergeant major generals as their leaders; they were subordinate to lieutenant generals and captain generals. Over time, the “sergeant” was dropped. 
David Miller
curator, armed forces history, National Museum of American History

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