Coywolf: Hybrid Tops Food Chain As It Spreads Through Eastern US

What is a coywolf? It might sound like something out of a science fiction novel or some horror movie monster, but it is neither of those things. It is the hybrid between a wolf and a coyote, and it is now spreading throughout the eastern United States. In fact, New Jersey Online reported that the coywolf is now the apex predator in their state because there are no other animals that can take it down.

The coywolf has numbers in the millions, and that number will continue to grow in the eastern United States for the foreseeable future. There are several names for this species, including “coydog, the eastern coyote, the tweed wolf, the brush wolf, the northeastern coyote, or the new wolf.”

How did the coywolf come into existence?

Scientists first noticed the species in the 1960s, but it was not until recently that scientists figured out just how much of a hybrid coywolves actually are. Javier Monzón, a biologist at Pepperdine University, spoke about the species in an interview last year, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“We’ve known for a while that most Eastern coyotes are hybrids to some degree, and now we’re finding a greater degree of hybridization than anyone expected.”

Monzón conducted research that investigated the hybridization of the eastern coyote, and he revealed the genetic make-up on the hybrid. According to his research, coywolves are “62 percent coyote, 27 percent wolf and 11 percent dog.” He released these findings in a paper he published in 2013.

Why is the coywolf making news right now? It is making headlines now because it is spreading. There are more and more coywolves. Up until now, they have only been seen in the northeastern United States, but they are now pushing further south. In the northeastern United States, coywolves have managed to adapt to their environments. The hybrids are not only found in the woods, but there are at least 20 coywolves inside New York City. Coywolves can also be found in the cities of Boston, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.

Yes, the wolves have managed to adjust to that crowded and noisy environment. Some scientists think that the ability to live in such a noisy place is thanks to that dog DNA. Dogs are accustomed to noisy environments because they have become pets over time. The coywolves appearance in cities began in the last decade or so.

The Economist reported on the hybrid’s ability to adapt and live in city environments. The coywolves have even learned to look both ways before crossing roads.

“Some speculate that this adaptability to city life is because coywolves’ dog DNA has made them more tolerant of people and noise, perhaps counteracting the genetic material from wolves—an animal that dislikes humans. And interbreeding may have helped coywolves urbanize in another way, too, by broadening the animals’ diet. Having versatile tastes is handy for city living. Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food. They also eat rodents and other smallish mammals.”

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The new reports make it sound like coywolves are a new creature, but the hybridization of the coywolf began approximately 200 years ago, according to scientists. Deforestation is to blame for the mating of coyotes and wolves. In Ontario, Canada, people began to cut down trees and kill the wolves in the area. In the United States, coyotes began to move northeast after deforestation opened the door for them to move from the plains between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. Once the coyote entered the northeastern U.S., it found its new breeding partners – the wolves and some of the farmer’s dogs in the area.

To this day, the coywolf is willing to mate with any of three species that make up its DNA. The breeding has created an animal that is bigger than the coyote. Dr. Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, revealed that “many coywolves have twice the heft of purebred coyotes. With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer. A pack of them can even kill a moose.”

This hybridization is fascinating scientists because it happened right in front of their eyes. It did happen over time, but researchers have been able to witness the evolution of this new species for themselves. Dr. Kays called the coywolf an “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose.”

What do you think about the coywolf?

[Image via Shutterstock]