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Is the eastern coyote really a wolf?

Depending on who you talk to, yes.

Scientists are in the process of analyzing DNA collected from the Eastern coyote (Canis latrans) to determine if the master of opportunity is in fact a wolf (Canis lupis). It will be interesting to say the least if this was found to be true since Connecticut considers the Eastern coyote vermin while the two wolf species, Gray wolf and Red wolf, found in the United States are protected as a threatened or endangered species.

I came across this tid-bit of news while researching coyotes in Connecticut, which until the mid 1950's was nonexistent in the state. Back then this cousin to the smaller Western coyote was restricted to the north-west region of the state. Today, it can be found state wide and is an established member of the ecosystem.

As the smaller, western version of the coyote began moving east, it is believed to have either mated with domestic dogs, the Gray wolf or with the Red wolf (Canis rufus) living in New Mexico and the southern states. This conjecture is based on the fact that our Eastern coyotes are significantly larger than its Western cousins. However, a debate is now raging between naturalists and scientists that the Eastern coyote is in fact a distinct wolf species separate from the Red wolf and Gray wolf. In fact, one could think outside the ecological box and think of the Eastern coyote as the Eastern wolf. Fueling the debate is the discovery that the behavior and eating habits of the coyote found in the state and throughout the East Coast is more “wolf-like” compared to the Western coyote. Deer, mice, voles, and rabbits are the chief food source and an individual animal's range is significantly greater. The Eastern coyote is also twice the size of its Western cousin averaging around 60 pounds. In addition, DNA suggests the Eastern coyote is more “wolf” (specifically the Red Wolf) than Western Coyote.

Sadly, research is crawling along at a slow pace because the Eastern coyote is being killed when discovered in a populated area. Part of the “vermin” mentality surrounding the coyote is fear and misunderstanding. Pet owners, especially, fear coyotes because when given the opportunity, they will quickly kill a pet cat or small dog when left unattended. In addition, it is still legal to trap and hunt coyotes in the state as long as all hunters follow specific provisions.

So for now, the debate continues to rage on. But in my opinion, it is very exciting to think that the next time I see a coyote running through the yard or hear a small family pack (usually the Alpha male and female and off spring under two years old) howling in the distance, that it may be in fact a misunderstood wolf species.

(Follow this link for more information about coyotes in the state of Connecticut.)


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