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We Could See A New Species Emerge From This Successful Wolf-Coyote-Dog Mix

ryan.ford 8 Jan 2019

Evolution typically happens at a creep, over millennia, too slow for us to observe before our eyes. That's nature for you, always keeping its own pace.

But in the right scenario, we might get a glimpse of things happening much more quickly. And that might just be playing out in the Northeast, where a hybrid animal that got all the best parts of its genetic makeup is quietly booming.

Homeowners in New York, Boston, and other cities in the Northeast have been reporting an increasing number of close encounters with larger, more aggressive coyotes.

Flickr | aj4095

A plumber in Nyack, New York, got video of one of the beasts stalking a neighbor, a grown woman, as she took out her trash. Many others have reported small dogs being attacked and dragged off.

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The animals troubling these areas aren't your typical coyotes, although they might look that way at a glance.

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They have the behavior of coyotes, but they're a hybrid, coyote crossed with a wolf and, to a lesser extent, dogs.

Known as coywolves or eastern coyotes, they've been around for about a century, but only recently, they've emerged as a huge presence.

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The coywolf takes the sheer size of wolves and adds to it the temperament and habits of coyotes.

Flickr | TwoWild

The result is basically a bigger coyote, with larger jaws, more muscle, faster legs, and amazing adaptability to be able to survive both in the forest and in urban areas.

Even the howl is a blend of wolf and coyote, with a deep pitch at first giving way to the coyote's yipping.

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The dog DNA, which makes up about 10% of a coywolf's genetics, also provides some surprising benefits.

Flickr | BruceK

It's believed that the dog DNA helps coywolves adapt to cities because they're more tolerant of people and noise.

They're also ridiculously smart. They've figured out to travel from city to city along rail corridors, and they will look both ways before crossing a road.

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The coywolf's incredible genetic success has made it a force to be reckoned with.

Flickr | TwoWild

They've spread into areas where coyotes previously refused to go, and where wolves couldn't survive. The result is a population boom in the Northeast, with North Carolina State University's Roland Kays estimating that they now number in the millions.

He told The Economist the coywolf represents an "amazing contemporary evolution story that's happening right underneath our nose."

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However, the coywolf's situation isn't quite as clear as all that.

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coywolf_hybrids.jpg

Researchers can't quite agree on whether the coywolf is a distinct species or not at this point.

Jonathan Way, an eastern coyote/coywolf research scientist, argues that they should be considered a separate species, saying that they are "physically and genetically distinct from their parental species of mainly western coyotes and eastern wolves."

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And although Dr. Roland Kays says that evolution is happening under our noses with the eastern coyotes, "coywolf is not a thing."

Twitter | @nywolforg

He's more cautious, saying "this is not a new species — at least not yet — and I don't think we should start calling it a 'coywolf.'"

He notes that genetic testing of these animals is far from consistent and none of them are just coyote and wolf. "In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species."

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Whatever you call them, however, they're a problem that's not going away anytime soon.

Flickr | Whistletown Wilds

Wildlife management services in the Northeast are increasingly having to send out warnings about coyote activity, and more and more anecdotes about aggressive behavior are being heard.

"It's becoming a bigger and bigger and bigger problem in this area," professional pet tracker Jamie Genereux told NBC 10 News in Rhode Island. "We've had many cases where they come right out of the woods and grab the dog while the people are standing right there in the yard."

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If you do encounter anything even resembling a coyote, police have some recommendations.

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"DO chase them away and make noise (bang pots and pans) if you don't want them in your yard....DO NOT feed coyotes or other animals...DO NOT feed your pets outside...DO NOT let your cat outside...DO leash your dogs."

h/t The Economist

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