Meet the Coywolf

SCIENCE

It is rare for a new animal species to emerge in front of scientists’ eyes. But this seems to be happening in eastern North America. (The Economist)

Use our resources to learn more about coywolves.

These coywolf littermates are hybrids of male western gray wolves (Canis lupus) and female western coyotes (Canis latrans). Photograph courtesy L. David Mech , Bruce W. Christensen, Cheryl S. Asa, Margaret Callahan, Julie K. Young, PLoS One

These coywolf littermates are hybrids of male western gray wolves (Canis lupus) and female western coyotes (Canis latrans).
Photograph courtesy L. David Mech , Bruce W. Christensen, Cheryl S. Asa, Margaret Callahan, Julie K. Young, and PLoS One

Discussion Ideas

 

  • According to The Economist, “Interbreeding between animal species usually leads to offspring less vigorous than either parent—if they survive at all.” How is the coywolf different? Read through our terrific article for some help.
    • According to Nat Geo, “this ‘new’ canine cousin . . . may be so successful . . . because it combines coyote brains with wolf brawn.”
    • The hybrid coywolf is an “extraordinarily fit new animal” now numbering in the millions across eastern North America.
    • Thanks to DNA from both wolves and dogs (mostly large breeds, like Doberman pinschers and German shepherds), coywolves have larger jaws, more muscle, and faster legs than coyotes.
    • Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain (which coyotes prefer) and densely wooded areas (which wolves prefer).
    • Perhaps most crucially, coywolves’ dog DNA may have made them more tolerant of people and noise, allowing them to successfully inhabit urban and suburban areas.

 

  • How have coywolves adapted to urban life?
    • You are what you eat, and coywolves have a more varied, omnivorous diet than wild wolves or coyotes. According to The Economist, “Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food. They also eat rodents and other smallish mammals. Many lawns and parks are kept clear of thick underbrush, so catching squirrels and pets is easy. Cats are typically eaten skull and all, with clues left only in the droppings.”
    • A more varied diet has allowed coywolves to thrive in smaller territories—more coywolves in a smaller area.
    • Coywolves have become nocturnal, as surviving city life “requires a low profile.”
    • Coywolves have learned traffic laws! They have learned “the Highway Code, looking both ways before they cross a road.”

 

  • Is the coywolf really a new species?
    • That question is definitely up for debate. Stay tuned.
      • Yes! Some biologists say they coywolves have significant genetic and morphological differences with coyotes, wolves, and dogs.
      • No!One common definition of a species is ‘a population that will not interbreed with outsiders.’ Since coywolves continue to mate with dogs and wolves, the argument goes, they are therefore not a species. But, given the way coywolves came into existence, that definition would mean wolves and coyotes should not be considered different species either—and that does not even begin to address whether domestic dogs are a species, or just an aberrant form of wolf.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

The Economist: Greater than the sum of its parts

Nat Geo: Coyotes on the Move

(extra credit!) PLoS One: Production of Hybrids between Western Gray Wolves and Western Coyotes

One response to “Meet the Coywolf

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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