The coywolf, a hybrid species between a coyote and a wolf, has emerged as North America’s newest top predator, and it appears its population has been thriving lately.
According to estimations made by Roland Kays, head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at North Carolina State University, there are millions of such animals, also known as woyotes or eastern coyotes, populating the United States and Canada.
It appears that due to widespread deforestation and a decline in the number of wolves, the canids were forced to mate with dogs and coyotes in southern Ontario, and that’s how the coywolf appeared.
This new animal which has resulted from inter-species breeding is extremely versatile and sturdy, and has managed to spread rapidly across the continent, especially in the north-east.
As Dr Kays has said, this is an “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose”.
The coywolf’s agility and speed are much greater than that possessed by ordinary coyotes, and its muscle mass is much better developed.
Also, its jaws are more prominent and powerful, allowing it to attack much larger quarry. For example, one single animal of this kind can successfully hunt down a deer, and a whole pack can easily vanquish a moose.
On the other hand, woyotes can just as easily survive while feeding on squirrels, cats and other smaller sized mammals, as well as on discarded food and seasonal produce.
As far as genetic inheritance is concerned, DNA pertaining to coyotes represents almost two-thirds of the total genetic makeup (65%), while wolf genes account for a quarter. Dog DNA amounts to a tenth and tends to belong to larger breeds such as German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers.
These findings, determined by Javier Monzon from Stony Brook University in New York, explain why the coywolves are around twice as large as ordinary coyotes, and weigh approximately 50 pounds.
According to Jonathan Way at the National Park Service, the DNA differences are significant enough for animals to be regarded as a separate species, despite the fact that some critics believe the similarity with coyotes is too extensive.
Even the cries this animal makes suggest its hybrid nature, given that they start off as a deep wolf’s howl, and end as a high-pitched coyote’s call.
The genetic inheritance also serves to explain why coywolves are so easily adaptable, in a variety of environments, moving beyond the prairies that coyotes usually inhabit.
Due to their wolf DNA, they can track prey in thick forests, while their coyote side allows them to perform well in open terrain and other less untamed settings. In addition, their dog genes make them less fearful of humans, which is why they experience no reluctance to hunt even in populated urban areas.
As a result of their versatility and population boom, it’s not unlikely to find woyotes in locations where coyote sightings had never been reported before, such as New York City, Washington D.C. or Boston. For instance, in the Big Apple approximately 20 coywolves have been reported, and their numbers keep growing.
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