Bigger Coyotes

Eastern coyotes have a genetic mix of coyote, wolf and dog, giving it greater size than its Western cousin.

 

Coyotes have long been a part of the landscape in the Twin Tiers, along with the belief that they have some wolf blood in them — a theory stemming from the Eastern coyote’s greater size over its Western kin.

Indeed, recent genetic tests have shown they are actually a mixture of coyote, wolf — and dog.

And, according to an Associated Press story this past week, Eastern coyotes might be getting increasingly similar to wolves. The hybrid carnivore has expanded its territory and thrived over the past eight decades, and increasingly wolflike traits are making it a larger, more adaptable animal equipped for survival on the East Coast, scientists say.

The growing wolflike characteristics mean humans must learn to better coexist with the adaptable predators, scientists and wildlife advocates said.

"We now have a novel, large canid to take over that new role," Robert Crabtree, chief scientist of the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, tells AP. "The right size is going to be selected for us by biological evolution itself."

It's especially bad news for deer. In becoming more wolflike, the coyotes might become more effective predators, scientists say. And the genetic changes bode well for their ability to keep thriving in highly populated areas, including New York City and Cape Cod, Mass., as well as the deer-rich woods of upstate New York and Pennsylvania.

And it could ultimately mean the coyotes start to play the role of top predator on the East Coast — one played by wolves long ago and no longer occupied by a single, dominant species.

The Eastern coyote is one of 19 subspecies of coyote, which are adaptable predators that live everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to Florida swamps. The Eastern subspecies, which ranges as far west as Ohio, is thought to have migrated to the Northeast some 80 years ago, taking over the range occupied by wolves and interbreeding with the larger animals.

They no longer overlap with wolves, which are long gone from the East save for the very rare red wolf, but they remain eight to 25 percent wolf genetically, said Roland Kays, a leading coyote biologist with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

They are also about eight to 11 percent dog due to past interbreeding with feral dogs, he said. The Eastern coyote remains capable of having pups with dogs, but it's not common in part because their breeding cycles don't neatly overlap.

Hybridization with wolves gave Eastern coyotes their size and weight, with Eastern coyotes averaging about 35 pounds and the Western subspecies averaging about 25 pounds.

Scientists see evidence that the wolf DNA is increasingly helping the Eastern coyotes survive, Kays says. And they might also be growing in number.

Current numbers of Eastern coyotes are hard to come by, state wildlife officials said. Kays has estimated there are likely more than a million.

Suburbanites from New Hampshire to Maryland have complained that they snatch outdoor pet cats. Police in Lynn, Massachusetts, advised pet owners to avoid leaving pet food or small pets outside on Wednesday after a coyote was spotted in the Boston-area city of 90,000. And Manhattan dwellers have even reported seeing them in Central Park.

But fears that the animals could become a bigger threat, especially to people, are largely unfounded, said Camilla Fox, executive director of California-based Project Coyote. The animals are generally timid around humans.

There has been only one documented fatal Eastern coyote attack. Canadian singer Taylor Mitchell, 19, was mauled by coyotes in Nova Scotia in 2009.

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