There is a PBS special called Meet the Coywolf, a recent article in the Economist, and it is now trending on Facebook. There is no doubt that there is a hybrid canid living in the eastern US, and that it is the result of an amazing evolution story unfolding right underneath our noses.
However, this is not a new species – at least not yet – and I don’t think we should start calling it a “coywolf.” What creature are we talking about?
Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes.
Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog).
However, biologically speaking, they are similar enough that interbreeding is possible.
This genetic swapping has happened more than once in their history; one study showed that the gene for black coat color found in North American wolves and coyotes today (but not in Old World wolves) originated in dogs brought to the continent by the earliest Native Americans.
A doglike coyote stares back at a camera trap in Eastern Panama.Wolf populations in the Great Lakes have also recovered, and the wolf is once again the worst enemy of the coyote, rather than its last-chance prom date.Coyotes have also expanded north into Alaska, although there is no sign of hybridization in that range extension.Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. A dark eastern coyote is caught on camera trap as it hunts with his better-camouflaged pack mate in North Carolina.This German shepherd-like coloration probably comes from a dog gene that moved into the coyote gene pool in a hybridization event ~50 years ago.