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Coywolf: New coyote-wolf hybrid sees explosion in numbers

'It's an amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose'

Zachary Davies Boren
Sunday 01 November 2015 18:29 GMT
The eastern coyote aka coywolf
The eastern coyote aka coywolf

In one of the great success stories of interspecies animal breeding, the coyote-wolf hybrid ‘coywolf’ can now count its numbers in the millions.

This new animal, which has emerged in the eastern part of North America over the last century or so, is better than both its predecessors.

At 25kg, it’s twice the size of a coyote; it has larger jaws and bigger muscles meaning it can take down deer; it’s equally adept at hunting in forests and open terrain.

It’s also got some dog in it, about a tenth. With 25 per cent wolf DNA, coyote is the dominant species, according to research by Javier Monzón from Stony Brook University in New York.

That dog DNA means it can get along with people better than either a wolf or coyote, and consequently it can increasingly be seen in urban environments.

What’s extraordinary about this isn’t that it came into existence - the changing landscape of the United States forced canines to broaden their mating horizons - but that it has multiplied so rapidly.

Dr Roland Kays of North Carolina State University told The Economist its numbers are now in the millions.

The creation, which is also called the eastern coyote, can go nearly anywhere. And it’s expanding its territory.

So smart is the coywolf that is even looks both ways before crossing the road. Dr Kays is blown away by this “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose”.

Some dispute whether the coywolf is genetically different enough to be considered its own species but Jonathan Way from the National Park Service says that there’s enough morphological and genetic divergence that it should be placed in a class of its own.

But there is the rule of species that it doesn't breed with outsiders, and the coywolf continues to mate with dogs and wolves. Perhaps they’re not so different after all.

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