Over the past two centuries, the North American wolf has bred with the coyote, creating a fierce predator, which has also bred with large dogs owned by farmers. The result is the coywolf, a hybrid animal that can hunt successfully in every kind of terrain, including cities. It is sometimes known as the woyote or the eastern coyote.
As humans hunted down wolves and pushed them out of their natural habitat – decimating their population – today’s top dog in America is definitely the coywolf.
Scientists believe this interbreeding started with wild wolves in southern Ontario about one or two hundred years ago.
The coywolf is larger, faster and stronger than the coyote. (Image: easterncoyoteresearch.com)
This relatively new canine species is rapidly expanding in the Northeast United States. According to The Economist, there are at least one million coywolves alive today.
According to Professor Roland Kayes, a biologist at North Carolina University, these animals reproduce at an astounding rate.
Scientists are astonished by the coywolf’s success. The Economist says:
“The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago. This is astonishing. Purebred coyotes never managed to establish themselves east of the prairies.”
“Wolves were killed off in eastern forests long ago. But by combining their DNA, the two have given rise to an animal that is able to spread into a vast and otherwise uninhabitable territory.”
Scientists have not yet formally classified the coywolf as a new species. Jonathan Way, who works at the Massachusetts National Park Service, believes they should.
The coywolf is larger than the coyote but smaller than the wolf. (Data source: blogpublic.lib.msu.edu)
A successful and powerful hybrid
Usually, interbreeding between animal species leads to offspring that are less vigorous than their parents. However, the DNA cocktail of coyote, wolf and dog is an exception.
They possess much greater strength and agility than traditional coyotes, which a 2013 study says is thanks to DNA they inherited from dog breeds like German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers.
Their faster legs, larger and stronger jaws, and denser muscle mass mean they can hunt small deer. Packs of coywolves have been known to down a moose. Coywolves weigh at least 36 pounds, while coyotes weigh about 27 pounds.
Since the turn of the century, these unusually-well adapted canid hybrids have entered American cities. The Gotham Coyote Project says at least 20 have been seen in New York City, mainly around the Bronx area. Others have been spotted in Washington D.C. , Boston, Toronto, and several other cities and towns.
A study of 700 coyote skulls from New York to Pennsylvania, carried out in 2010, found Wolf DNA, thus proving that Canadian wolves progressively interbred as the species’ territories converged.
Perhaps not a different species?
Not everybody believes they should be classed as a unique species. Professor of wildlife ecology, Stan Gehrt, a coyote expert who works at Ohio State University, said in an interview with Detroit Free Press:
“They are eastern coyotes. They aren’t really different from other coyotes, other than they have a little bit of genetic difference. I’ve trapped and tracked hundreds of Midwestern coyotes and a pretty good sample of eastern coyotes in Nova Scotia, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.”
Video – Coywolf vs. Coyote
This animated video describes the coywolf, including how it differs from the purebred coyote.