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What is a ‘Coywolf?’

Coyotes are explorers and one of the most successful carnivores in North America because of their ability to cope, if not thrive, after decades of persecution. Even New York City has been colonized by coyotes and without much fanfare despite the sensationalized stories in the media this month.
Here in the eastern United States, the coyotes are hybrids. Just like everybody else, they are the result of evolution. Over the years these dynamic canids have acquired a number of nicknames. Both “coywolf” and “coydog” have been growing in popularity, however, the majority of the scientific community recognizes the animal with the less flashy moniker: “eastern coyote.”

Javier Monzon (2)It’s no surprise that “wolf” and “dog” have been woven into the identity of wild canids in the region, current science indicates a number of species are represented within the genome of the eastern coyote. Ecologist and evolutionary biologist Javier Monzón, previously at Stony Brook University in New York, now at Pepperdine University in California, analyzed the DNA of eastern coyotes and found the genes contain all three canids — dog, wolf, and coyote. According to Monzón’s research, about 64% of the eastern coyote’s genome is coyote (Canis latrans), 13% gray wolf (Canis lupus), 13% Eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), and 10% dog (Canis familiaris). Sounds like a recipe for canis soup!

Regardless of what we call them, coyotes are here to stay. Americans are fortunate to have an enormous diversity of wildlife sharing the landscape with us. And as human populations continue to encroach into natural habitats, it’s sometimes necessary for us to modify our behavior to ensure peaceful coexistence with our wild neighbors.

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