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Controversy: The Adirondack Coywolf December 20, 2005 8:22 AM

There have been many myths about a large wild canine that has settled in Northeastern America. When sightings first began to be reported, it was thought that this new species in the East was a mixture of dog and a supposed new coyote inmigrant that had travelled from the west. However studies have shown that unless manipulated by humans, dogs, coyotes and wolves cannot adjust their breeding cycles in order to time their mating seasons to coincide with each other. So, even though dogs and coyotes can interbreed, in the wild the likehood of this happening is impossible. So there is no such thing as a coydog in New England. One explanaition is that this new animal evolved larger and very wolf-like in order to capture large prey like deer. While evidence is inconclusive and coyote-like animals in other habitats that kill large prey show no size differences, it is unlikely that large size to kill deer is the reason for this wild canine's uniqueness. The only other answer is that coyotes and wolves have bred together. Recent genetic evidence shows this to be the case. Even further it shows that the wolf of the East is really the Red Wolf and is very closely related to the coyote - they may even just be variations of each other. Neither the Red Wolf (now called the Eastern Canadian Wolf) or the Coyote associate much with the far larger Grey Wolf although they can all interbreed. Unfortunately some conservation groups don't like this new animal either as they would rather encourage the Grey Wolf, which was never proven to be native to the east. This new species is already under tremendous pressure from humans - having to adapt to increasing human population and unlimited hunting pressures. Many coywolves are already being killed every year. However the coywolf is to be admired, for they are filling the niche as a top of the food-chain predator. They control deer populations - in some areas deer constitute 80% of their diet. They also prey on marmots and muskrats and heavily on beaver, hares and rabbits. They are a very important predator in the Eastern ecosystem. They can adapt to humans and agriculture (like coyotes) and fill the role of a top predator regulating large prey populations (like wolves) and every scale in between. It seems that in the natural scheme of things, this new 'coywolf' has settled in to a natural palce in the ecosystem. Organizations like the Wild Dog Foundation have already given the coywolf subspecies status; 'Canis latrans lycaon', although this classification is not officially recognized. Others refer to it as 'Canis soupus' - basically the Eastern Coyote, but one that reaches 60 to 70 pounds in size. So what do you reckon? An alien species that needs to be eradicated, or a naturalyl occurring canine that's filling a niche in the environment? Personally I think that if the 'coywolf' is a result of natural crosses between wolves and coyotes (without human intervention), which have established themselves as a viable population, then good luck to them. Then again, if wolves and coyotes are coming into contact with eachother as a result of habitat loss and shrinking forest range, then this would be an unnatural event, because in an untouched environment, both coyote and wolf would be living in different habitats - one preying on smaller mammals, and the other tackling larger game. Its a difficult one this, but putting ecological issues aside, I would prefer that the coywolf just be left alone. This is a new subject to me, so I'm probably a little ignorant, and may not have all the relevant issues at the moment, so if any of you have any more information about the coywolf controversy, please post it here!  [ send green star]
Historical record and genetics: December 20, 2005 8:34 AM

Based on DNA tests, a picture is emerging on the relationship of coyotes and other wild canines in the Northeast, although the history is still quite fuzzy.

In the Colonial era, there were few if any coyotes in New England. Wolves were here. But, strangely, because there are so few ancient wolf specimens still around in museums, DNA research to determine what kind of wolves they were cannot be done, according to a pair of biologists, Paul J. Wilson, a DNA profiler at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, and Walter J. Jakubas, a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The scant evidence, according to Jakubas, suggests they were not "timber wolves," or gray wolves (Canis lupus), as northern and western wolves now are called. Rather, he said they appear to have been similar to the red wolves (Canis rufus) found in Canada's Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto. Red wolves are also in the southeastern U.S., where a captive breeding project has been started to save them from extinction.

The settlement of New England destroyed or drove off the resident wolves, according to the scenario developed by Jakubas and Wilson. In the last century, they speculate, coyotes replaced wolves, filling their empty biological niche. The researchers said coyotes appear much abler than wolves to live among people.

What is unclear, is where the coyotes came from. "We don't know," Decker said.

A study by Wilson and Jakubas shows that of 100 coyotes collected in Maine, 22 had half or more wolf ancestry - and one was 89 percent wolf. Over half of the specimens had eastern coyote ancestry, but only 4 percent were mostly descended from western coyotes (Canis latrans).

"The [introduction] of eastern Canadian wolf genes into eastwardly expanding coyotes could have provided a composite genome [Canis latrans X lycaon] that facilitated selection of animals with a larger body size... that may be more adept at preying on deer than smaller western coyotes," Wilson and Jakubas report in their study.

In plain language, the large, eastern coyotes in Canada are hybrids of the smaller western coyotes and wolves that met and mated decades ago as the coyotes moved toward New England from their earlier western ranges. The animals may become amplified in size by further crossings between the now-larger eastern coyotes and Canadian wolves.
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 December 23, 2005 1:07 AM

What a beautiful animal!

Thanks for the posting.

 [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 December 25, 2005 6:12 AM

Yes, it is a beautiful animal - and you can easily make out traits from both its coyote and wolf ancestors.

Here's another example:

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 December 25, 2005 6:18 AM

Another piece of interesting info about the coyote x wolf occurrences:

"Normally, wolves chase coyotes away from their territory or attack and kill them.

The number of wolves, however, has dwindled since settlers started moving west in the 1700s. When the picking's poor, a male wolf will mate with a female coyote. Their offspring live and reproduce. Apparently, male coyotes don't mate with female wolves. At least, their offspring don't survive.

"[This] may indicate that the smaller male coyotes cannot inspire the larger female gray wolves to mate with them," speculates Robert K. Wayne, biology professor, University of California at Los Angeles."

Poor male coyotes are obviously missing out!
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