What does domestication mean

Domestication or Domestication is an intraspecific change process of wild animals or plants, in which these are genetically isolated from the wild form by humans over generations. This makes it possible to live together with people or use them by them, vividly "in their house" (Latin domus), made possible.

In a figurative sense, the term is also used to denote the defusing or falsification of an original idea, such as a political concept or a scientific theory.

The following text deals with the domestication of animals.


The domestication of wild animals results from the human selection and isolation of those individuals for the breeding of the species which most correspond to the desired characteristics, for example less aggressiveness towards conspecifics and humans. The purpose of domestication is to use it as a farm animal or as a pet. Once this has happened, one speaks of Domestication the animal species, which should not be confused with the taming of a single wild animal, as the example of the honey bee shows, which was domesticated as early as 7000 years ago, but as an individual animal, completely reflex-controlled, evades taming.

With the onset of domestication of an animal species, the prerequisites for the development of the species are decisively changed. The natural evolutionary development is replaced by artificial selection of humans according to breeding criteria. The genetic characteristics of the animals therefore change in the context of domestication.

Important domesticated species


Wolves as dogs were the first domestic animals and were probably trained first as hunting helpers and later as herding dogs. Coppinger and Zimen have a different theory: the wolf (as a puppy) joined humans. This early stage of (self-) domestication can still be observed today on Pemba in East Africa and Namibia. They regard the "house dog" as a wolf that remains in the juvenile phase. This is supported by Zimen's observation that juvenile wolves can be trained in the same way as dogs; however, with puberty they lose all tameness and change to pure wolf behavior (e.g. increased flight distance).

The earliest evidence (paw print) is around 23,000 years old. A genetic calculation shows that dog and wolf separated at least 135,000 years ago,[1] which consequently means that the dog and the wolf have been pets for a much longer period of time; More at: house dog.

House cats are a young, domesticated species of predator, around 10,000 years old, that was first detected in Cyprus.[2] In Central Europe they did not displace the previously domesticated ferret, which descends from the polecat, until some time after the beginning of our era.

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Egyptian drawing of domesticated cattle

Humans domesticated as early as 12,000 BC. Goats, sheep and cattle probably in the area of ​​the Fertile Crescent, the 8300 BC. Arrived domesticated on Cyprus. All herbivores initially served the meat supply; it was not used as a farm animal (draft animal) until thousands of years later. The first draft animal was the ox in 5500 BC. BC (the castrated bull). Donkeys and horses came later as pack animals, then as draft animals and finally as mounts. At the same time, the first camel species came into use with the trample.

Around 8000 BC The pig was probably domesticated in Asia and the horse was domesticated 5000 to 6000 years ago. The domestication of horses appears to have taken place in the Kazakh steppe. Original features were found in the Caspian pony. Linguistic research found typical equestrian terms in the oldest Indo-European language families. Investigations on the mitochondrial DNA of the animals, however, did not reveal any common breeding strains. After the Ice Age, the horse remained as a "residual population" in isolated areas (Iberian horses). It is assumed that such wild remaining populations were crossed in, which led to this picture. This represents a form of post-domestication that began in 3500 BC. in north-eastern Europe and from 1500 BC also in western Europe (Shetland pony).

In recent history, llama, guinea pigs for meat production on the American continent and reindeer were domesticated.[3] Recently, the domestication of various laboratory and pet animals, such as golden hamsters and colored mice, has fallen.

Chronology of Domestication of Pets

The chronological classification of many domestication results has not yet been clearly clarified, which is why several times and occasionally several places are given:

Changes in characteristics through domestication

With domestication, a number of typical changes in characteristics compared to the wild form can usually be determined (cf., inter alia, the Trut fox experiment et al.. as well as the work of Hermann von Nathusius, see literature), this is also known as the domestication effect:

  • Decrease in brain mass by 20 to 30 percent, decrease in furrowing, especially in the areas of the brain that are important for processing sensory impressions
  • Reinforcement of properties useful for humans (e.g. milk yield in cattle)
  • Change in the expression of some behaviors (e.g. reduced aggressiveness)
  • Reduction of the teeth and horns
  • Color change from camouflage colors to more diverse, conspicuous color variants (for example goldfish or koi)
  • Reduction of the fur (for example in domestic pigs)
  • Appearance of lop ears
  • Steep forehead
  • Reductions in the digestive tract
  • Training of breeds with sometimes serious differences in appearance (for example the two dog breeds Chihuahua and St. Bernard, which are descended from the wolf)
  • Less well developed escape and defense behavior
  • Increased reproduction rate, sometimes up to the complete abandonment of seasonality of reproduction.
  • Less pronounced brood care behavior

Since such effects can sometimes also be observed in humans (e.g. in comparison to Neanderthals), some biologists (including Konrad Lorenz) also speak of the "depletion" of humans in the course of their development. Many of these traits are retained youth traits. One speaks here of neoteny.

  • Color change from camouflage colors to more diverse, eye-catching color variants
  • Reduction of the fur
  • Training of races


  • Helmut Hemmer: Neumühle-Riswicker deer. First scheduled breeding of a new form of livestock. In: Klaus Rehfeld (Ed.): Scientific review. 58th year, no. 5, Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, ISSN 0028-1050, pp. 255–261 (The classic domestic animals such as sheep, cattle and goats were bred from their wild form in centuries of breeding In just a few generations, the author succeeded in breeding a form of livestock from the fallow deer that shows all the characteristics of domestication. A decisive selection criterion was the size of the brain. It was beneficial that behavioral characteristics are coupled with easily comprehensible fur characteristics.).

The changes in the characteristics of domestic animals compared to their wild forms

  • Lyudmila N. Trut: Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment. In: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (Ed.): American Scientist. 87, No. 2, March-April 1999, p. 160 (At an experimental farm in Novosibirsk, Siberia, geneticists have been working for four decades to turn foxes into dogs. They are not trying to create the next pet craze. Instead, author Trut and her predecessors hope to explain why domesticated animals such as pigs, cattle and dogs are so different from their wild ancestors. Selective breeding alone cannot explain all the differences. Trut's mentor, the eminent Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev, thought that the answers lay in the process of domestication itself, which might have dramatically changed wolves' appearance and behavior even in the absence of selective breeding. To test his hypothesis, Belyaev and his successors at the Institute have been breeding another canine species, silver foxes, for a single trait: friendliness toward people. Although no one would mistake them for dogs, the Siberian foxes appear to be on the same overall evolutionary path — a route that other domesticated animals als o may have followed while coming in from the wild., hum.utah.edu, accessed on March 28, 2010).
  • Hermann von Nathusius: Preliminary studies for the history and breeding of domestic animals at first on the pig skull. Wiegandt and Hempel, Berlin 1864 (books.google.de, accessed on March 28, 2010).

See also

Web links

  • Desmond Morris: How the wolf got into the house. Domestication of cats and dogs. In: NZZ Folio The magazine of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. No. 11, Verlag NZZ Folio, Zurich 1997 (nzzfolio.ch, accessed on March 28, 2010).
  • Michael Stang: Accelerated Evolution, Part 1. How domestication is permanently changing the animal world. In: Science in focus. Deutschlandradio corporation under public law, Cologne April 12, 2009 (Aurochs must have been impressive animals. Huge wild bulls that could hardly be tamed. How did our ancestors come up with the idea of ​​taming, breeding and finally to domesticate ?, dradio.de, accessed on March 28, 2010).

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Christian Natanaelsson, Mattias CR Oskarsson, Helen Angleby, Joakim Lundeberg, Ewen Kirkness, Peter Savolainen: Dog Y chromosomal DNA sequence: identification, sequencing and SNP discovery. In: BioMed Central Ltd. Website. Natanaelsson et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd., October 6, 2006, accessed on March 27, 2010 (english).
  2. Where do the house cats come from, Image of Science from June 29, 2007
  3. ↑ Dipl.-Biol. Gerd Bauschmann: The Rote Höhenvieh - breeding history, current situation and possible uses in landscape maintenance. In: Chionea - magazine for natural history and nature conservation in the Vogelsberg. No. 16, Schotten 2001, pp. 21–56 (PDF 1.6Mb, accessed on March 27, 2010).
  4. ↑ Dienekes' Anthropology Blog: Dog domestication in the Aurignacian (c. 32kyBP)
  5. ↑ MSNBC: World's first dog lived 31,700 years ago, ate big
  6. ↑ Luise Dirscherl: The Pharaoh and his donkey - Ancient Egyptian finds provide clues to the history of domestication. In: Science Information Service V. Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Communication and Press Department, March 19, 2008, accessed on March 28, 2010.
  7. ↑ Hélène Martin and Dominique Armand, "The horse: Domestication" in: "Steppe warriors. Riding nomads of the 7th to 14th centuries from the Mongol", Primus Verlag, LVR-Landesmuseum Bonn, 2012, p. 88 f. Excerpt:
    • "The sites that have been suggested as the cradle of horse keeping are in areas such as Ukraine and Kazakhstan and are between 5000 and 6000 years old. An example is the settlement of Botai in Kazakhstan, which dates to around 3700-3100 BC and in which the oldest evidence for the domestication of the horse was found. "
  8. ^ Rudolf Piechocki: The goldfish and its varieties. 6th edition. Westarp Sciences, 1990, ISBN 978-3894323981 (First reports on goldfish under Governor Ting Yen-tsan from 968-975).