Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Lots of folks up here in Northern New England have Coy-Dog sightings frequently. However, after reading this article, from a local newspaper, we'll have to look a bit closer! Read on for some VERY interesting observations!

The Caledonian Record

Biological Investigators Discover Wolf Ancestry

Eastern Coyotes Are Becoming Coywolves

By DAVID ZIMMERMAN, News Correspondent
Saturday July 2, 2005

A handsome, stuffed, wild canine presides over the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife's conference room on Portland Street in St. Johnsbury.

Shot in Glover in 1998 by Eric Potter, the animal, a male, is a puzzler. With its gray, tan, black, and beige pelage, it looks like a coyote. But, as Fish and Wildlife biologist Thomas Decker points out, it weighed 72 pounds at death, and it's built like a wolf.

"It's smaller than a wolf, and larger than a coyote," Decker said. "It's a hybrid" - a cross - "between a large, eastern coyote and a wolf."

He said the animal's ancestry was confirmed by genetic testing. What it is not, he said, is a cross with a domestic dog. In fact, none of the coyotes tested in New England in recent years have turned out to carry dog genes, Decker said.

In New Hampshire, Eric Orf, a biologist with the state Fish and Game Department, agrees with Decker, saying it is "wrong" to call the animals "coydogs," because they have no dog DNA.

The "coywolf" is thus becoming a poster animal for issues that biologists, farmers, and sportsmen are trying to sort out: What are the "coyotes" now seen or killed in the Kingdom? And where do they come from?

For answers, researchers are turning more and more to genetic studies, called DNA profiles. The answers that geneticists come up with will help shape wildlife management plans - and may be decisive in the question as to whether wolves should be reintroduced in New England.

In point of fact, as hybrids, wolves already are here.

Several years ago, for example, Donald "Rocky" Larocque of Lyndonville, who is a mechanic for the St. Johnsbury highway department, was hunting deer in East Barnet. It was late in the season - Thanksgiving, he recalled in a phone interview - and late in the day he encountered a large "coyote" and shot it.

The animal, a female, weighed about 60 pounds, and appeared heavyset, more like a wolf than a coyote. Larocque said he showed it to Rodney Zwick, a professor at Lyndon State College, who was impressed enough to send the animal to a biologist in Kansas. Its DNA was tested, and it was "part wolf," Larocque said.

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.

Eastern coyotes are larger and heavier at 32 to 38 pounds than western coyotes at 22 to 30 pounds.

The diet of eastern coyotes includes white-tailed deer, while western coyotes feed mostly on rabbits and small game. The coyote in the Fish and Wildlife conference room had four pounds of deer meat in his belly when he died. But, aside from diet, part of the reason for the eastern coyotes' larger size may be hybridization with wolves.

The Fish and Wildlife specimen and Rocky Larocque's animal certainly have wolf genes. More tellingly, 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. The study, co-written with Shevenell Mullen of the University of Maine, is awaiting publication.

In plain language, Wilson said his work suggests 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, he said, may become amplified in size by further crossings between the now-larger eastern coyotes and Canadian wolves.

Vermont's Tom Decker said he wants to see more evidence published to support that view. However, he said, collecting evidence is difficult since no systematic genetic sampling of the state's coyotes has been done.

The gaps may soon be filled. Biologist Roland Kays, who is curator of the New York State Museum in Albany, said he and his associates are planning a major investigation to supplement the study by Wilson and Jakubas of coyotes from Maine. Their work "opens up a lot of new questions," Kays said.

Between 100 and 1,000 animals from throughout New York and New England will need to be studied to sort out their backgrounds, he said. Kays and his associates would like to get samples, particularly whole animals, along with information on where they were from. He can be reached for further information at 518-486-2005.

The outcome of further studies could discourage wildlife officials and conservationists who have talked about reintroducing wolves to the Northeast, Decker said. The usual goal of reintroduction efforts is to preserve true species, not create more hybrids.

The other side of the reintroduction coin is that hybrids may be better suited than purebred wolves to survive in 21st century New England.

"Once you get that coyote-and-wolf hybrid," Paul Wilson said, "it is a very adaptable animal."


At July 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for such an interesting post!


At July 06, 2005, Blogger North Country Maturing Gardener said...

It's not exactly gardening...but I think it's of interest to all of us with our heads in the great "out of doors"!

At July 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's really creepy. Just moved to Guilford Vermont from the city, and the neighbors tease me with talk about coy dogs all the time. I won't let them know but they scared me to death. My husband (a native of the area) said there is no such thing as coy dogs, coyotes and dogs will not interbreed. Your post is even more disturbing than coy dogs. thanks for the ammo...maybe he'll bring me home.

At July 21, 2005, Anonymous Hollis said...

Our Pembroke Welsh Corgi sings along when coyotes carry on in the middle of the night on these hot Upstate New York nights. He thinks he is frightening them off, but I fear they think he is singing the harmony parts.

At September 13, 2005, Blogger natalie said...

Your blog is great! It's hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about dna testing these days! I have a secret dna testing blog if you want to come check it out

At September 13, 2005, Blogger paige said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At January 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh how old this is. Anyways I was looking around for some info on coy dogs, and I found your blog. Coy Dogs do exist and sadly...They arent sterile. I live in upstate NY, in the back woods land. (Luckily of which there still is in this state) We actually have coy dogs here in small scattered groups. But only because there are many wild or free roaming dogs. Coyotes are known for their ability to interspecies bred. If a lone female coyote can into heat in an area where there is not a large number or any male coyotes she will tend to be less picky.. However her offspring is mated to a normal or free roaming dog would have issues in finding a mate simply because the cycles between dogs and coyotes are very different. However its not unheard of up around here about there being 2-3 generation old coy dogs. Just thought it would be an interesting addition to your posting.

At December 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Upstate NY and work as a forester. I have some very interesting and close experiences with coyotes for many years. I began to notice in the early 90's though a larger more dominate canine I would not class with the coyote appearing. This group seamed to be in areas and not generally distributed as the coyotes are and much larger, in the 70 lb range. The large canine has beautiful markings, a bit more pronounced than a coyote and much more confident in its nature, like it is the top predator in the area, coyotes seam more aware there is competition out there. The groups are small, three or maybe four member packs, and the foot prints are wide and spread out in soft earth, indicating more weight being supported. Seeing one leaves no doubt that they could and do take down deer, I have found deer in winter prayed on by both groups. There is one thing I have noticed about the approach both canines use in taking deer; they hunt from the valley up the hills in groups and confront a heard of deer from down hill, the deer that run up over the hill they do not peruse but the deer that turns and runs down hill they chase and attack the hind quarters. The largest deer I have found was a 4 point buck in the 110lb range, but for the most part smaller doe and fawns/yearlings are the target. There is no doubt they are both filling a place in the ecosystem, for example; where the larger canine is, the coyotes does not seem to be there or is limited in the area. With them in the ecosystem maybe there will be a slowing down of the diseases we have seen in the deer population, which can cross over to humans sometimes, as in the case of Lyme’s disease. But I would be cautious if I were hunting any canine in the Northeast because there is a chance they could have the diseases that afflict the deer population. You may have noticed I have not said the larger canines were wolves. I think so but, I am a forester not a biologist, if they are wolves biologist will have to determine. On the other hand I have watched the crosses between coyotes and dogs come and go, the breeding cycle of the dog dooms the offspring from staying a part of the population, I have found several starving pups in the winter, I do believe they just phase out. This larger canine I have observed appears to have a non-dog origin that gives it a strong footing in the ecosystem, and I think for a long time to come. When hunting canines please keep in mind they have a big part in the balance of the woods. Please use discretion and be a part of the environment you hunt in and not an invader with a lack of understanding. It is okay to have another predator in the wood other than us, they have there place too, like ourselves. More canines do not necessarily mean less healthy deer for the hunter, as a matter of fact it may mean the continuation of the healthy herd considering all the threats arising out there to the herds now. By having a predator who goes after the sick and weak and controls the population (not just take the best of the herd as we do) they could insure the health of the herd in the future, and may insure the health of the hunter and even the community (Lyme’s disease is no fun!). I hope this insight will help the readers keep an open view of things. GB

At April 18, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very pleased to find most of what I wanted to know about a relationship between s coyote and a Wolf. Me and my mate are Native Americans, a mix of cherokee/Cree (me) and he is Sioux/Cherokee.LOL. His primary totem is wolf and mine is coyote. We are from southern US. Currently living in Virginia. He is a War Chief and I was raised to be most proud of my native heritage. Thank you so much. If you know more about how close the relation is instead of breeding only, I would love to know, or do they breed without forming a couple like the wolves do? PS We are both past 45yrs old, so no pups will be created. LOL

At August 01, 2011, Anonymous The Philisopher said...

I live in southern NH and saw what looked to be a gigantic coyote. In the 60 to 70 lb range. Could have been a wolf I suppose though, I only had about 30 seconds to get a look at it.

At January 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody needs to study coyotes in Ohio. Here in Miami county,they are being mistaken for wolves.All the info I find on the internet seems to be research in New England and eastern Canada.i have found evidence that they are pretty good deer hunters.I have watched them stalk deer. I have found deer skulls 5 and 6 at a time.This appears to be the work of an apex predator.


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