Coywolf: Why Are Coyotes Breeding With Wolves And Making Wolf Hybrids? [Videos, Photos]

The coywolf has been dubbed America’s newest super-predator, but what has caused this coyote-wolf hybrid to appear in the first place? The coywolf is gaining in numbers and current estimates are that there are millions in North America. While many marvel at this first-hand look at evolution, the question many have asked about the coywolf is, “What would cause coyotes to breed with wolves in the first place?” While interbreeding between closely related species is not unheard of in the wild, the coywolf differs from many animal hybrids in several ways. Coywolves are not infertile, not genetically inferior and have added strengths and abilities, making them capable predators. In fact, it is expected that coywolf numbers will continue to rise across North America.

While the coywolf appears to be a new creature, the hybrid’s history reaches back to a pre-Columbus era and a time when the eastern part of the United States and Canada were densely forested. North American coywolves are a hybrid between western coyotes and the eastern wolf. The eastern wolf was prevalent in North America at the time European expansion moved into what would become America and Canada, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. As settlers came to the New World, two things occurred. First, the forests were cut down at an alarming rate. Second, wolves became demonized. As time went on, the wolf would become the subject of great fear and stories would be told about their destructive ways. “The Big Bad Wolf” had to be destroyed. Over time, not only were forests removed, but wolves were being killed at high rates. The new area was dewolved and deforested, making it perfect for western coyotes to move in and populate. As more coyotes moved in, and the declining wolf population made it difficult to find a suitable mate, western coyotes and eastern wolves began breeding. Due to this reason, some people refer to the coywolf as the eastern coyote.

Algonquin Provincial Park, located in Ontario, Canada, has been a safe haven for wolves for many years. As coyotes moved into the area, they began breeding with the wolves. The first coywolves were seen approximately 300 years after the European expansion devastated the wolf population, in the early 1900s, reports CBC. It is believed that the Algonquin Provincial Park coywolf migrated in packs to the United States and have been reproducing at rapid rates. DNA testing has attributed coywolves found in the U.S. to have directly descended from the Algonquin Park region. Genetic testing shows that coywolves are 60 percent coyote, 30 percent wolf and 10 percent dog.

According to PBS, the coywolf differs from the western coyote whereas the coywolf has longer legs and a longer body, a bushier tail, a larger jaw and smaller ears. Coywolves can travel between 10 and 15 miles per day and are pack animals. They are social creatures that live with family members. There are usually between three and five coywolves in a pack. An adult coywolf can weigh between 35 and 45 pounds and measure between 4-and-5-feet, with the tail included. Coywolves eat a diet similar to that of coyotes and feed on deer, small rodents, rabbits, berries and fruit. Wildlife expert Stan Gehrt has studied coyotes and the coywolf extensively. He is an expert in the field. You can learn more about Gehrt and his work with coywolves at the Ohio State University where he works. Have you ever seen a coywolf?

Watch below for more Coywolf videos and videos about other hybrid animals.

[Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images]