By now, most of us who spend much time outside in the Adirondack Park have seen some sort of large canid that looks too big to be a Coyote, not quite big enough to be a Wolf. Quite likely, many of us have seen what some wildlife observers are calling the CoyWolf.
What is a CoyWolf?
The CoyWolf is a skilled predator combining the wily nature of the Coyote with a healthy mixture of Eastern Wolf (resulting in more heft and power) and perhaps also a small amount of our beloved domestic dog (resulting in more nerve around humans). Recent genetic testing suggests that these hybrid canids are probably on average something like two-thirds Coyote, nearly one-third Wolf, and a small fraction domestic dog.
CoyWolf, the Back Story
How the CoyWolf emerged is a long, fascinating, and somewhat mysterious story. To greatly oversimplify, eastern North America originally had two or three Wolf species, at least one of which (now known as Red Wolf and surviving in tiny, imperiled numbers in coastal North Carolina) was closely related genetically to the Coyote. When European settlers eradicated our large Wolf species, they left a void that Coyotes moved in from the west to fill.
As Coyotes colonized eastern North America, they occasionally interbred with remnant Wolf populations in eastern Canada, and then moved south into the northeastern US. Coyotes in the US Southeast apparently came by a more southerly route (and were released by hunters, some accounts suggest) and did not interbreed with the larger Wolves (but do so now with Red Wolves), so are generally not as big as our northern Coyotes.
Click to enlarge.
Opportunity to Embrace Evolution
In my opinion, informed by thousands of miles of rambling Eastern forests and listening to and reading the words of naturalists and biologists, it is time to recognize this charismatic canid. Specifically we should:
- welcome the CoyWolf,
- consider the CoyWolf a native top predator,
- and protect the CoyWolf as an integral part of healthy ecosystems.
The CoyWolf may be partly a consequence of human modifications of natural systems, but its emergence offers glorious evidence that evolution still works, even in our fragmented world. The Coyote and the CoyWolf are important regulators of prey populations which otherwise might grow out of balance with harmful results for natural and human communities. Plus, these big wild dogs are beautiful creatures, worthy of our respect and admiration.
Read the second installment in this series: “Wrong to Kill Coyotes, Wolves and CoyWolves.”
[Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature several of his photographs in this post.]
- Return Wolves to Increase Public Safety (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Will Cougars Return to the Adirondacks? (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Greater than the sum of its parts (economist.com)
- New Genetic Evidence Confirms Coyote Migration Route to Virginia and Hybridization with Wolves (newsdesk.si.edu)
- Coyote-Wolf Hybrids Have Spread Across U.S. East (nationalgeographic.com)