Did You Know?
Quite a few scientists believe coywolves are among the smartest animals on the planet.
Since the arrival of the first European settlers, coyotes have always been considered undesirable in North America. They were initially killed for being suspected livestock-predators, and, later, for their fur. However, despite their best efforts, humans were never able to wipe out these animals, whose population has only grown to cover most parts of the continent. They never faced the same fate as wolves, their more formidable cousins, who were almost driven to extinction, until rescued by last-ditch attempts. This has a lot to do with their intelligence and adaptability, qualities for which coyotes are slowly being appreciated. But what if an animal has the size of a wolf, but is as smart as a coyote? This is a near-accurate description of a coywolf, which is described below with some interesting facts.
What are Coywolves?
A coywolf is a hybrid between a coyote and one of the various wolf species found in the North American continent - eastern wolves, gray wolves (including their Mexican and Northwestern subspecies), and red wolves. It is also known as the eastern coyote, since most coyotes in the Northeastern United States have been found to carry some wolf genes.
Coywolves have obtained 62% of their genes from coyotes, 27% from wolves, and 11% from dogs. So, they are not 50-50 hybrids of wolves and coyotes as many people believe, though such hybrids have been produced by scientists through artificial insemination.
Coywolves are about 4 to 5 feet in length from their nose to the tip of the tail. They are usually smaller than wolves and larger than coyotes, but resemble both. Their coats show a variety of hues, ranging from blondish to dark-blackish.
Coywolves mostly consume rodents and other small prey like rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, geese, ducklings, carrion, along with nuts and berries. They also routinely rummage through garbage bins in suburban areas, looking for leftover food scraps.
Habitat and Range
They are more common in rural and suburban areas, though spreading rapidly into urban zones too. They make their homes in ravines and near streams, and prefer woodlands to grassy plains. Coywolves occur in large parts of Southeastern Canada, and some Northeastern US states like Illinois, Chicago, and have even reached metros like New York and Toronto. Their population is rapidly spreading westwards, both in USA and Canada.
In North America, human interference in nature has rapidly increased in the last 150 years. With a rise in the human population, deforestation, encroachment on forest land, pollution, and general persecution, eastern wolves were forced to migrate northwards from Northeastern USA where they earlier thrived. As a result, those living in the Southwest moved in to fill in the gap. Eastern wolves were almost completely exterminated from 48 US states, and survived mostly in parts of Canada. Due to such large-scale reduction in their population, they were forced to see western coyotes―which they normally killed on encountering―as potential mates. As a result, the first coywolf was discovered in Canada's Algonquin Provincial Park, in 1919.
Owing to their elusive nature, the exact lifespan of coywolves is not known. However, it is thought that they can survive up to 10 years in urban areas, and between 3 - 5 years in the wild.
Attitude Towards Humans
Coywolves are not dangerous to humans, as is believed. They share their cousin, the coyote's shyness, and generally avoid any contact with people. However, if you see any animal getting too close for comfort, raise your hands and create a din or whistle. Avoid the urge to turn around and flee. Moreover, avoid feeding these animals, as they may lose their fear of humans, and can become a threat to others. They are known to prey on pets, so it's advisable to keep your pet safe, and pet food inside.
Differences with Coyotes and Wolves
- Coywolves are omnivores, which means they can survive on both, a meat and fruit-based diet, like coyotes. Wolves, being carnivores, survive either on meat or carrion.
- They are up to 40% larger than western coyotes, but smaller than eastern wolves.
- The weight of a coywolf (35 - 45 lb) lies between that of a coyote (15 - 30 lb) and wolf (75 - 100 lb).
- They have longer and wider jaws than coyotes, with broader foreheads and strong jaw muscles like a wolf.
- Coywolves have longer limbs and shorter ears, which are more rounded than coyotes.
- The vocalization starts with a deep, wolf-like howl, and changes midway into the high-pitched, yipping sound of a coyote.
- They are more social than coyotes, similar to wolves, and live and hunt in packs of 3 - 5.
- Pups are larger at birth, and play without violence, unlike coyotes. Moreover, coywolf pups become sexually mature at 2 years of age, much later than in coyotes.
Benefits of Interbreeding
- Their larger size and increased bite-strength allows the coyote-wolf hybrid to hunt bigger prey like white-tailed deer, whereas, the largest prey coyotes can take down is a deer fawn. However, they are much smaller than wolves to hunt large prey like moose and full-grown deer.
- They have the ability to adapt to a variety of habitats, including urban areas, just like their coyote cousins. Wolves, on the other hand, lack such adaptability, which has contributed to their decline.
- One reason for the rising success of coywolves is that, unlike other hybrids, they are fertile and can breed to produce offspring.
Since dogs, wolves, and coyotes belong to the same genus, Canis, they readily interbreed amongst themselves. This behavior has led to the rise in their population, along with coyote-dog hybrids, known as coydogs, though this is mistakenly used as synonym for a coywolf.