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The Coywolf, Evolution in Action

Updated on February 21, 2013

Recent genetic verification has confirmed the coywolf, also known as the eastern coyote, is a new hybrid species. The differences between eastern and western coyotes have long been recognized. The reason is now known to be due to interbreeding between coyotes and wolves. Coywolves are bigger, some can reach 80 pounds. They have longer legs, bigger feet, and tails similar to wolves. Like coyotes they are less afraid of humans. Scientist describe them as the most versatile species. They will scavenge and eat everything from small rodents to deer. Coywolves have rapidly spread over southeastern Canada and northeastern United States, ranging from wilderness to urban areas, including Toronto, Montreal, Boston and even New York.

Coywolves fill an important ecological niche that used to be filled by wolves. They are not only an example of accelerated evolution, but an example of a species that evolved to a great degree because of the actions of humans. Roughly 100 years ago deforestation, wolf control programs, changing habitat, and a reduction of prey, resulted in the decrease of the wolf population around the Great Lakes. The adaptability of of coyotes meant they thrived in these same conditions and as their numbers grew they moved east into the Great Lakes territory.

The creation of hybrid species are rare in the wild. Most occur in captivity. The interbreeding of coyotes and wolves was viewed as highly unlikely, because in other places wolves kill coyotes. In Algonquin Park, however, coyotes and wolves mate and raise the pups together.

Coywolves do pose problems that need to be addressed. They are known to hunt sheep and other smaller livestock as well as pets. Their encroachment into red wolf territory has made hybridization the biggest threat to red wolves. Coywolves are an fasinating species, they are very social animals often living in packs of three to five members. They are incredibly family oriented, there is evidence that if the mother dies her mate raised the pups. They are smart, adaptable and beautiful creatures vital to the ecological system.

Check out the documentary Meet the Coywolf, for a look at these amazing and beautiful creatures.

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    • profile image

      micheline m donald 

      5 years ago

      interesting. we just recently watched a Nature of Things show about the Coywolf.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      5 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      An informative easy to read hub. I liked it. My interest in livestock guardian dogs have frequently led me to the eastern coyotes domain.

      To questions from Larry Fields, here is a good article to read:

      http://retrieverman.net/2011/05/24/no-unique-easte...

    • DaceyD profile imageAUTHOR

      DaceyD 

      5 years ago

      There are in fact over 2 dozen differing definitions for the term species used by biologist. Often it is the type of research they the biologist is doing that determines the definition they use. Biologists studying sexual reproduction use the definition of sexually compatible and producing viable offspring as their definition though for many other fields of study it is incomplete at best.

      My understanding is that generally for the purposes of classification of a new group or species, characteristics have to be present in every member of the group that different from other species in the same genus. In the case of coywolves the most evident differences are found when studying their skulls which are smaller than wolves with longer jaws then a coyote supporting a different musculature which allows them to hunt bigger game then a coyote would.

      The most up to date research on red wolves, eastern wolves and coyotes is that they share a common ancestor. So while they have a similar genetic makeup due to the shared ancestor they will have evolved in different ways and have different characteristics. It’s actually been discovered that the eastern wolves, found around the Great Lakes, are a separate species from the grey wolf.

      Hope that all makes sense.

      Thanks for the comments and questions.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Dacey,

      Fascinating hub. Voted up, interesting, and shared.

      Now I have two stooopid questions. My understanding is that two groups of animals (A and B) with overlapping ranges are considered to be separate species if one or more of the following conditions are met:

      1. A and B cannot produce viable offspring.

      2. A and B can produce viable offspring, but most of the time they choose not to mate outside their groups.

      3. If they can produce viable offspring, the youngsters are at a competitive disadvantage compared with parent populations A and B.

      Why are Coywolves considered to be a separate species?

      Second, I remember reading several years ago, that there was a controversy about the Red Wolf of Eastern Norther America. Some biologists were claiming that it was a separate species. Others claimed that it was nothing more than a hybrid. Has that question been resolved?

      If so, and given the putative common lineages, is their any real difference between Red Wolves and Coywolves?

    • Geoff Morova profile image

      Geoff Morova 

      5 years ago from South Dakota

      I had no idea that these even existed. Very interesting hub!

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