Recreate the Research

What is a Quagga?

A game with balls?
No, this is not a Quagga. It is the game of bocce, a member of the boulessport family. You can read more about it here.

A vegetable?
No, this is not a Quagga. It is a root vegetable, called Rutabega,swede or turnip in different countries, and it is a member of theBrassica family of plants. You can read more about it here.

A mammal?

Yes, the Quagga is a mammal, and a pretty curious one too.


A curious mammal ...
There are several aspects about the Quagga which make it interesting to us:

  • Its front half is striped and resembles a zebra.
  • Its rear half is unstriped and resembles a donkey or small horse.
  • The quagga lived in the grasslands of South Africa.
  • The quagga was first described by European scientists in 1778, but within a hundred years the species was extinct, by hunting for meat, hides, and to stop it competing with domesticated stock for grazing.
  • The last quagga died in a zoo in Amsterdam in 1883.
  • Only a few photographs and some preserved museum specimens remain of the quagga.

... but what is it?
Unfortunately, the quagga was extinct before scientists were really sure about the quagga's closest relatives and where it should fit in the classification of mammals.In the mid-20th century, we still didn't have an answer to the question, "What is a quagga?" Was it a zebra without stripes on its rear? Was it a horse-zebra hybrid? Was it an ancient striped form of horse?

Ancient DNA and Allan Wilson
In 1984, Allan Wilson, with his colleague Russell Higuchi, decided to try to find the answers to these questions. They applied DNA sequencing methods to a preserved museum specimen, to obtain what is now called ancient DNA. Then they inferred the evolutionary relationship of the quagga to other similar mammals using phylogenetic analysis.

What do you think the quagga was? You can try doing the analysis yourself to find the answer (Recreate the Research).