|Captive-bred F1 gray wolf-coyote hybrids, Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota|
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
|Species:||C. latrans x C. lupus/lycaon/rufus|
Coywolf is an informal term for a canid hybrid descended from coyotes and one of three other North American Canis species (gray, eastern and red wolves). The coyote is closely related to both eastern and red wolves, having diverged from them 150,000-300,000 years ago and evolved side by side with them in North America, thus facilitating hybridization between them. In contrast, hybrids between coyotes and gray wolves, which are Eurasian in origin, are extremely rare, due to the latter species' habit of killing coyotes. Such hybridization in the wild has only been confirmed in isolated gray wolf populations in the southern USA, while several specimens were produced in captivity via artificial insemination.
Hybrids of any combination tend to be larger than coyotes, and show behaviors intermediate between coyotes and the other parent species. In one captive hybrid experiment, six F1 hybrid pups between a male northwestern gray wolf and a female coyote were measured shortly after birth with an average on their weights, total lengths, head lengths, body lengths, hind foot lengths, shoulder circumferences, and head circumferences compared with those on pure coyote pups at birth. The results found that despite being delivered by a female coyote, the hybrid pups at birth were much larger and heavier than regular coyote pups born and measured around the same time.
Eastern wolf-coyote hybrids have been recorded to form more cooperative social groups than pure coyotes, and are generally less aggressive with each other while playing, in contrast to pure coyotes which are known to display higher levels of aggression and start mild fights preceding play. Hybrids also reach sexual maturity when they reach two years of age, much later than in pure coyotes.
Varieties of coywolf
Gray wolf-coyote hybrids
An analysis of controlled-region haplotypes of the mitochondrial DNA and sex chromosomes of Mexican gray wolves by Uppsala University detected the presence of coyote markers in some specimens. However, these markers were absent in captive Mexican gray wolf populations, thus suggesting that some male gray wolves from remnant wild populations began mating with female coyotes and coywolf hybrids, later backcrossing to other male wolves. Analysis on Texan coyote haplotypes also detected the presence of male gray wolf introgression, such as gray wolf Y-chromosomes in some of the male coyotes. In an extremely rare case, the study found that one coyote out of seventy individuals from Texas was discovered to carry a mtDNA haplotype derived from a female Mexican gray wolf, thus indicating that a male coyote had also managed to breed with a female Mexican gray wolf in the wild. The Mexican gray wolf may be the only gray wolf in the southern states besides domestic and feral dogs to have hybridized with coyotes. In tests performed on a taxidermied carcass of what was initially labelled as a chupacabra, mitochondrial DNA analysis conducted by the Texas State University showed that it was a coyote, though subsequent tests revealed that it was a coyote–gray wolf hybrid sired by a male Mexican gray wolf.
In 2013, a captive breeding experiment conducted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center Predator Research Facility in Logan, Utah between gray wolves from British Columbia and western coyotes produced six hybrids, making this the very first hybridization case between pure coyotes and northwestern gray wolves. The experiment used artificial insemination and was aimed with the intention of determining whether or not if the sperms of the larger gray wolves in the west are capable of fertilizing the egg cells in the western coyotes. Aside from the historical hybridizations between coyotes and the smaller Mexican gray wolves in the south as well as with eastern wolves and red wolves, grays wolves from the northwestern USA and western provinces of Canada are not known to interbreed with coyotes in the wild, thus prompted the experiment. The six resulting hybrids included four males and two females. At six months of age, the hybrids were closely monitored and were shown to display both physical and behaviourial characteristics from both species, as well as some physical similarities to the eastern wolves, whose status as a distinct wolf species or as a genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf is controversial. Regardless, the result of this experiment concluded that northwestern gray wolves, much like the eastern wolves, red wolves, Mexican gray wolves, and domestic dogs, are capable of hybridizing with coyotes.
Eastern wolf-coyote hybrids
Eastern wolf-coyote hybrids, termed eastern coyotes, occur in New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The eastern wolf is particularly susceptible to hybridization with the coyote, due to its close relationship to it and its ability to bridge gene flow between both coyotes and gray wolves. Furthermore, human persecution over a period of 400 years caused a population decline which reduced the number of suitable mates, thus facilitating coyote gene swamping into the eastern wolf population. Aside from posing a threat to a unique species, the resulting eastern wolf-coyote hybrids are too small in size to substitute pure eastern wolves as apex predators of moose and deer. The main nucleus of pure eastern wolves is currently concentrated within Algonquin Provincial Park. This susceptibility to hybridization lead to the eastern wolf to being listed as Special Concern under the Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) and with the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO). By 2001, protection was extended to eastern wolves occurring in the outskirts of the Park, thus no longer depriving Park eastern wolves of future pure-blooded mates. By 2012, the genetic composition of the Park's eastern wolves was roughly restored to what it was in the mid-1960s than in the 1980s-1990s, when the majority of wolves had large amounts of coyote DNA.
Red wolf-coyote hybrids
Due to intensive persecution, forest clearing, road building, and perhaps declines in deer populations throughout the 1900s, red wolves were eliminated from most of their historic range, being reduced to a small population in Louisiana and Texas by the 1960s. This limited range was also occupied by coyotes, which began to hybridize with the remaining red wolves, to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered in 1967. The Service initiated a captive breeding program in 1973, with over 400 wild canids being captured for the purpose, though only 10% of this stock was determined to be of pure red wolf stock. 14 of the captured animals were ultimately released into northeastern North Carolina in 1986, though coyotes began to colonize the area in the early 1990s, resulting in the production of hybrid offspring. The Wildlife Service's current management strategy consists of sterilizing hybrids, though the identification of hybrids with more than 50% red wolf ancestry is difficult based on appearance alone, so they are instead identified through assignment tests based on microsatellite loci.
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- The complicated science of studying coyotes and hybrid species: Mysteries That Howl and Hunt
- Interbreeding Threatens Rare Species, Experts Say
- Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/
- "Meet the Coywolf" episode of PBS' Nature series (premiere 22 Jan 2014): http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/meet-the-coywolf/meet-the-coywolf/8605/