Wylie Coywolf: The coyote-wolf hybrid has made its way to the Northeast

Wylie Coywolf: The coyote-wolf hybrid has made its way to the Northeast. By Carina Storrs. Scientific American.

This is hardly new news on this blog, but important for newcomers.

It does show that where there is a major ecological niche, it will be filled. Canids evolve rapidly and are the epitome of a generalist predator.







  1. dailyjacksonhole Avatar

    Not on the subject (sorry!) but since I don’t know how to directly send in these things…

    Pet Bear kills Pennsylvania woman

  2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    That looks like a red wolf.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    ProWolf in WY. I might be a red wolf in part.

  4. Jon Way Avatar

    The eastern coyote should really be called a Coywolf and yes it is a coyote x red wolf hybrid. It is not a hybrid with gray wolves. Also, biologists are starting to call red wolves as eastern wolves b.c most genetic data is showing that the species (Canis lycaon, which merges Canis rufus) actually lived up the whole eastern seaboard, not just in the SE.
    My team also has a paper in press on the topic. I will give to Ralph to post when I get the galley proof (soon). Essentially we use mt DNA and Nuclear DNA and show that they really aren’t coyotes here in the NE and should be called coywolves. Our paper also discusses much about wolf restoration to the Northeast. It will soon be posted on my publications page:

  5. mikepost Avatar

    I have always been amazed at the differences in size and weight between eastern and western coyotes. Is it possible that this hybridization is much older than we think?

  6. Jon Way Avatar

    It is possible Mike Post but it likely occurred around 75 (maybe 100) years ago in southern Canada. Then this hybrid (initially called coydog in the northern NE states) bred true and subsequently colonized all of the NE.
    It is likely that we had red (now called eastern) wolves in most of the NE and gray wolves coming in from the N but just how far south we don’t quite know – probably to where larger than deer prey (caribou and moose) went. The early hybridization was probably between red/eastern and gray wolves and not coyotes as they didn’t seem to be around here until 100 years ago.
    Now we have a new animal here, no doubt facilitated by people through habitat change and killing wolves (but not all of them). Finally, the important thing to keep in mind is that red/eastern wolves are genetically closer related to coyotes than to gray wolves… Interesting stuff!

  7. Chris H. Avatar

    Jon Way,
    What is your opinion on the Red Wolf program in progress in North Carolina?
    I like your website by the way. Thanks!

  8. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Jon, I have heard that the red wolf classification is in doubt and that they were possibly found all over the eastern seaboard. Have they done much genetic testing with these and the ones in North Carolina?

  9. Jon Way Avatar

    Hi Chris and ProWolf,
    I personally don’t have any experience with the red wolf program, however, colleagues of mine are finding that the red wolves in Carolina are virtually identical to the wolves in Algonquin park and in many areas of Southern Canada. It is proposed that these 2 populations be classified as Canis lycaon or the eastern wolf. They are a different species than the larger gray wolf that this blog frequently talks about. That is clear (actually they are genetically closer related to coyotes than grays).
    There is no question that red wolves and coyotes will hybridize down there just like it happened in the area south of Algonquin Park (which produced the Tweed Wolf that has now colonized all of New England and is called the Eastern Coyote but should be called Coywolf) especially in areas that have human development/habitat changes and hence not great wolf habitat. However, biologists are (with great effort) trying to make sure that no hybrids survive and that they maintain a relatively pure core red wolf population in eastern NC.
    An ecosystem sized recovery would value all canids (coyotes and red wolves) and would allow them to decide what canid lives in an area instead of drawing a line and allowing unlimited coyote hunting at the western edge of red/eastern wolf range. Likely outside of the core population (that would likely stay more or less red wolf) a hybrid similar to the coywolf in New England would form. These guys do well b.c they are bigger than coyotes yet smaller than wolves so can literally squeak out a living among people without having to have the super large home ranges/territories that wolves are renowned for.

  10. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    That is some interesting information Jon. Do you know some good sources on red wolves? That would be nice to know that the red wolf range extended that far north, then they would not be so endangered. I always thought it was a tragedy that red wolves could not live in more of the south.

  11. DeLene Avatar

    Dr. Way — this conversation thread is fascinating. I am eager to read your paper that is in press. When will it come out, and in which journal? I recently found your eastern coyote research website (by way of all the coywolf news). I am a freelance science writer in NC, working on a project involving the red wolf. I would like to get in touch with you as my research deepens. I am particularly interested in learning more about the proposal to merge C. lycaon with C. rufus. Will the “rufus” species name go away, and will they then all be called “lycaon”? And if the red wolves in N.C. are managed to exclude coyote hybridizations, but the Algonquin wolves are not (I am making an assumption here, I’m unfamiliar with their management), then what will be the longterm outcome of the two populations? Will they diverge, for example, even if they originally came from the same parental meta-population?

    Thank you,
    DeLene Beeland

  12. Chris H. Avatar

    If you have not already done so, check out John and Mary Theberge’s Wolf Country – particularly the chapter entitled “New Adaptations, New Species”. His bibliography can lead to more in depth info on the genetic details.
    We are working in Kentucky to establish another Red/Lycaon Wolf population.

  13. Jon Way Avatar

    Hi Guys,
    yes, Chris H. gives a good reference (Theberge) for a layman’s account of the eastern wolf (merging rufus and lycaon). At the end of this post I will list 3 important scientific references that say this. DeLene, feel free to email me (on my website’s homepage) with more questions. Your question is interesting and it seems that with minimal human killing lycaon (Algonquin) stays very wolf-like but in the farmyards to the immediate south of the park they quickly become hybrids which are more successful. I suspect the same thing will happen in North Carolina with an eastern/red wolf base in the wild lands and hybrids forming in the agricultural lands – this will likely occur over time even with human management of these hybrids. The coywolf is simply better adapted to the modern landscape.
    Chris H., that is great about a potential new population of wolves in Kentucky. My strong suggestion is that as you go through the process you try to offer coyotes better protection there or many red wolves will likely be killed.
    Here are the sources for merging the red wolf with the eastern wolf (up to southern Canada). And, by the way, the NE U.S. likely had both and hybrids of red/gray wolves originally. Many sources report smaller wolves. Some think they were coyotes, I think they were red/eastern wolves before coyotes showed up in the east.
    Wilson, P.J., S. Grewal, I.D. Lawford, J.N.M. Heal, A.G. Granacki, D. Pennock, J.B. Theberge, M.T. Theberge, D.R. Voigt, W. Waddell, R.E. Chambers, P.C. Paquet, G. Goulet, D. Cluff, and B.N. White. 2000. DNA profiles of the eastern Canadian wolf and the red wolf provide evidence for a common evolutionary history independent of the gray wolf. Canadian Journal of Zoology 78:2156-2166.
    Wilson, P.J., S. Grewal, T. McFadden, R.C. Chambers, and B.N. White. 2003. Mitochondrial DNA extracted from eastern North American wolves killed in the 1800s is not of gray wolf origin. Canadian Journal of Zoology 81:936-940.
    Wilson P.J., S.K. Grewal, F.F. Mallory, and B.N. White. 2009. Genetic characterization of hybrid wolves across Ontario. Journal of Heredity 100:S80-S89. doi:10.1093/jhered/esp034.

  14. DeLene Avatar

    Dr. Way, Thank you for the references, I will definitely be in touch at some point this fall. I am in a basic research phase right now for this project; much needed before I interview scientists. By chance, will you be at the Carnivores 2009 conference upcoming in Denver?

    Chris H., Thanks for the book chapter reference, I have seen that one before but have not yet read it. Will make a point to do so. Who exactly is working to get a second population of red wolves in Kentucky? (Advocacy or NGO, or a government entity?) And what areas are being considered? I thought that Kentucky declined Florida a few years back for a second population of Florida panthers in their state; are they more friendly toward wolves than panthers?

  15. Chris H. Avatar

    Well, right now it is a small group of people in Louisville, Ky.
    The area considered is the Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky. Formerly managed by the TVA, it’s now run by the U.S.F.S. This was the original reintroduction site of the Red Wolf Program even before Alligator River N.W.S.
    There are two reasons why this did not occur.
    1. The people who formerly lived in that area (before TVA built two dams) were resettled, not necessarily willingly. The U.S. F.&W.S did a poor job “selling” the project to everyone – including the locals. This was in the early 1980’s,
    not long after the Texas round up of Red Wolves.
    2. The animal rights activists were against the plan to eradicate the LBL coyote population in order to establish a Red Wolf population.
    There are many reasons why it has not been pursued since then. The genetics question, change in land managers, and Republican rule in Frankfort and/or Washington.
    Nonetheless it is still a great place for a second population. The Nature Station there participates in the captured breeding program and there have been at least two wolves there for a long time.
    The one achievement we made was to insert into the Land and Resource Plan for LBL is a clause which allows the reintroduction of previous fauna.
    If you need more info let me know. You can e-mail me if you like.
    Gotta go now to work seeing what brown can do for me and everyone else!

  16. Jon Way Avatar

    I have been at the previous 2 Defenders Conferences but won’t be at this one. I am in between jobs, and looking for funding, which I don’t have right now to continue my Coywolf research on Cape Cod, MA. Wish I was going though.

  17. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Chris’s statement that the Kentucky folks didn’t like the idea of killing off coyotes to allow wolves to successfully propogate unspoiled with coyote genes brings from me this statement,” disorder seeks out order” (this is what i wrote the other day in a post that somehow didn’t make it on this blog).

    The first reintroduction of red wolves did not follow this logic…..and those responsible for that reintroduction still do not understand this dictum. They can not understand …or worse yet, justify the need for coyote genes to be a part of red wolves life to be successful in their “present environment”.

    Any species is going to do what it has to to survive as a species. this extends down to any isolated population. For all they know they are the Last of the Mohicans. if it means taking in “defects” whether it is inbreeding or loss of “purity” they will do it. These problems can be taken care of later…numbers can not.

    If the goal is to have pure red wolf in either NC. or Kentucky then well infrastructured packs need to be put there..not individuals. what USFWS did in NC would be like the country recruiting young men out of a general public, put some uniforms on them and tell them to subdoe and then colonize another country. The first thing that would happen is those sent, or what is left of this “army” would go native.

    There has to be infrastructure in any reintroduction whewther it is herd animals or predators. And the roles each component of this introduced population has to be understood before management can be put in place.

    And unless USFWS biologists can look to human examples as guidelines for this reintroduction they will forever get it wrong…just like they did in NC. Yes, reintroductions do work in some cases but those seeing this success do not understand the reasons for it.

  18. Jon Way Avatar

    I don’t quite get what you are saying. The Yellowstone reintroduction (soft release in pens) was modeled after the red wolf reintroduction where families were reintroduced from pens into the wild. The current hope in NC is that wolf packs will keep out coyotes b.c of the fairly large area where the 100 or so wild wolves live.
    I agree that intact families are important and are often ignored in wildlife management decisions when allowing hunting, but in NC they tried to mimic actual wolf packs in the wild when doing this reintroduction… And the same thing would have to happen in Kentucky for that to be successful, if it happens…

  19. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    It seems that Land Bewteen the Lakes would be a good site. I had not heard about a possible panther reintroduction there. Have they ever looked at any reintroductions in the Ozarks? (For either species?)

  20. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    The amount of competition from coyotes in Yellowstone is a lot less than in N.C. Therefore the infrastructure of those red wolves needed to be better, especially in the areas where the biologists wanted expansion to happen.

    This was so important so the red wolves would have other packs to breed and “mingle” with….without having to be dependent on coyotes for expansion. They were not allowed the infrastructure to keep cross breeding out.

    It is just like buffalo families. 15-20 makes up a nucleus core group able to move away from the extended family but they still need support from the power group. An extended interactive group can be 300 animals. This size of group has all the roles, direct and indirect, needed for this “family” to be self sustaining.

    Either the power group is moved for reintroduction or there is void enough for this smaller satellite group to expand on their own before competition (whether coyotes or hunters).

    In NC this was not done. The ones moving out from the core group had no other packs to find. They had to start families with what had the most order…coyotes. It could have been prevented if the biologists understood infrastructure needs better. The trajedy is they still don’t.

    I went to the presentation by the lead researcher of this transplant and he had no thoughts of this need.

    In the bison world the common practise is to start herds with calves and yearlings because from experience it has shown adult cows will get run the fences and then get out and never come back. With our herds we transplant by moving the big bulls the day before, then ship the cows and offspring the day after. Upon release from the trailers the matriarchal components run around the bulls, not the fences. Of course if it was any ole male it would not work. It has to be the males this family trusts with such a frightening move from home.

    It is the same problem I see with big horn sheep and other herd (pack) transplants. Biologists move “some” in and don’t ever know why some projects take and others don’t.

    The key to knowing they didn’t know in NC is in the outcome….interbreeding with coyotes. The coyotes had a lot better infrastructure than those reds brought in.

    One other example. in the 1860’s cowboys would quit the trail and go it on their own. They could sort up to 2000 cattle a month out of the bison herds.

    In the 80’s, with the breaking up of all bison infrastructure, cattlemen had difficulty sorting all the bison out of their cattle herds. Same species involved but a reverse of who has the most order.

    I see the same thing with my infrasrtuctured bison herds. I have to put up additional electric fence to keep the neighbors dysfunctional heifers he ships in from breaking down my fences to get in with my bison. My bison don’t care a hoot about getting into his herds. if this neighbors cattle do get in with my herd we all have a very hard time getting them out out of there. Finally split them and away they go again, making a dash to get in the middle of my herd. Disorder seeks out order and unless biologists understand this or ….. give enough isolation for red wolves to expand well beyond small, not well ancestored packs, what happened in NC will repeat itself all over again.

    One has to remember the two species lived as seperate, compatable species for thousands of years. What kept the fringes from co mingling is infrasrtucture, infrastructure infrastructure.

  21. kat Avatar

    hello, most learned and interesting wolf/coyote guys! i’ve been reading your blog, found by chance while looking for information — i’m hoping maybe you wouldn’t mind helping me, as i don’t seem to be able to find what i’m looking for elsewhere:

    i just moved to leland, nc (near wilmington) from westchester county and long island, ny; i am just not used to all the wildlife around me! and, tho i’ve always been a proponent, apparently i’m really ignorant; all the nature shows i’ve spent so many years watching just have not prepared me for this! in particular, i’m wondering about an animal we’ve just started seeing here in this new community. most of us are calling it a coyote, which is at first what i thought it must be when people spoke of howlings, and the reputation of the coyote as shy and unagressive has not caused much of a response.

    however, now that i’ve seen them myself, i am not at all sure that’s what it is… unfortunately (in a way), my siting was limited to a sort of silhouette, being at night as it was. but, what i saw the outline of was much more big-dog-like, bigger, broader, bigger head, shorter/wider-eared and bolder than coyote are reputed/depicted to be, but it did have a long ‘bushy’ sort of tale that was bigger, but coyote-ish… sadly, i could not discern it’s snout at all (but, from the width of it’s head, i’d be surprised if it was the long, thin coyote type!).

    so, it did get me wondering if there might be wolves in this area?? now i find your discussion about the red wolf in north carolina, but it seems to be only up north (i am in the extreme south/east corner of the state). the thing is that although one of the two i happened upon did run away, the second stood no more than five feet away from my running car, staring right at it/me for several minutes and was never intimidated, i’m the one who drove away! and, though that was in a somewhat less developed area of the community, they have now been reported in the highly populated areas, including my own street! i walk my dog around here at night (she’s about 50lbs, probably similar in size to the animal in question) and there are many who walk with much smaller pets. while we assumed a coyote would not approach people even with the smaller dogs, whatever i saw was not even afraid of a big car with people in it! obviously there is some concern about coming upon these animals while walking our streets (with or w/o pets), not to mention the wooded trails!

    i’d be so grateful if any of you could venture an opinion as to what these animals might be and, accordingly, how concerned we should be about sharing our neighborhood with them?? i just can’t seem to find what i need elsewhere. can coyote be as big and bold as what i saw? or, do you think the red wolves (or hybrids) you all speak of could have made it down here? i would even have expected a wolf to run off in that instance, though… and, not least, what should we do if we happen upon them without the protection of our cars?? (btw, would you also happen to know what to do if one runs across a bear or an alligator too?!)

    thank you SO much for your time and edification — and, thank you even more for what you all do, for trying to help preserve all these wonderful animals!!

  22. cc Avatar

    Red wolves are closely monitored in their defined recovery area far NE of you (Dare, Hyde, Terrell, Washington counties and west to US 17 in Beaufort and Martin counties). The recovery area is bordered by impassible water for the wolves on the north, east, and south sides. Any wolves leaving would have to go west past US 17 towards Greenville so its unlikely they would head southeast to Wilmington, and any that leave have to be caught and returned to the area.

    So what you are seeing is most likely to be coyotes, coyote/dog hybrids, or feral dogs. Coyotes look awfully bigger up close than most people expect. It’s possible they are younger coyotes newly out on their own and thus acting a bit foolishly just as young people tend to. Clapping your hands, yelling, or honking your car horn should send them running. They are a threat to small dogs and cats who should not be let out unsupervised. Keeping them from acquiring food from people either directly feeding them or indirectly feeding them through pet food and garbage should keep everybody safe.

  23. cc Avatar

    The red wolf recovery team has proven to be well aware of the species needs and is doing a very effective job dealing with the coyote hybridization issue. The recovery area’s western border is the only one that allows coyotes access because it is not bordered by large bodies of water. Coyotes within the area initially and currently are either lethally removed or sterilized and released to hold their territory for the short term. The incidence of hybridization has greatly decreased if not entirely disappeared thanks to the vigilance of the biologists. At some point in the distant future there will be enough core populations that hybridization on the borders will not need to be managed.

    According to the USFWS, there are currently 130 wild red wolves in NC. The biggest threats to the wolves are illegal shootings and getting hit by vehicles. Another problem is that the recovery area is too small. Managing the coyote issue will be harder if the recovery area extends to areas without natural water barriers but the current population is running out of room. Dispersing wolves have trouble finding unoccuppied territory unoccupied by established pairs and packs. The illegal shootings tend to target breeders so some of this is reduced. There is likely to be little cooperation from the state of NC to expanding the recovery area. Every year the state proposes to allow the night hunting of coyotes within the red wolf recovery area and is shouted down by wolf advocates. The state tries this despite the fact that those caught having shot a wolf usually claim they thought it was a coyote and the USFWS does far more effective coyote control than hunters.

    By the way, the main reason wolves were not reintroduced in the Land of the Lakes area was public opposition. The USFWS didn’t educate the public enough and learned from that mistake. The reintroduction to the Great Smoky Mtns NP failed because the wolves kept leaving the park (and the limits of the legal recovery area) to find prey and poor pup survival.

  24. Chris H Avatar
    Chris H

    I” take a stab at it. It is possibly a wolf hybrid (a gray wolf hybrid, not a red wolf hybrid). Although wolf hyrids are illegal to “harbor” in many states and/or communities, some people obtain them to keep as pets. In the county I live in, Jefferson Cty, in Kentucky, that is exactly what the law says – illegal to harbor.
    Unfortunately, while they are cute as puppies, as they grow up they revert to some of their wild ways. Many owners of such wolf hybrids eventually either give them to a sanctuary or let them free in the woods. Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs for the animal. They are not quite equipped to survive in the wild and there are not enough sanctuaries to hold them all. Here is a link to the colorado Wolf and Wildlife Sanctuary. I have visited this facility and they do an excellent job. Many of the “wolves” there are hybrids and most come with horrific stories.

    In your case, it is best to be careful. most wild animals are afraid of people but they are wild. I believe that wolf hybrids are more dangerous as they look to people as pack members and are therefore bolder.

  25. Jay L Avatar
    Jay L

    I live in the Durham Region southern On. In the summer there was an article in the local paper about coywolves preying on livestock. I have also noticed an increase in supposive large coyote sitings in the northern suburbs. At night at any given time you can hear the yipping and howling of large packs around the northern parts of whitby oshawa. I have heard them pretty far into the suburbs, they dont mind traveling in little bits of field and forest. If these coywolves are around would they force out the native coyotes that may have lived there? or do coyotes even travel in large packs?

  26. Attila P Avatar
    Attila P

    Jay L,

    As a resident of Scarborough right beside the Rouge Valley, I can reassure you that the coyotes which reside there are definitely coywolves.

    People seem to believe that these animals are something new, but really, they aren’t – they’ve been around for going on 100 years as a matter of fact. They are bigger, stronger, and just like wolves, do hunt in packs. As a matter of fact, the howling you’re hearing is most often associated with a successful kill and they are calling in the other members of the pack to feed.

    People in this area need to wake up and stop thinking that they own the areas where these animals exist, and also learn to not walk their dogs off leash in areas where we’ve known coywolves have existed for decades.

  27. kat Avatar

    thanks to the couple of guys who tried to help enlighten me… i’m thinking you might be right about a hybrid, maybe even with a large dog… i know what i saw was more of a wolf head (suppose it could’ve been malamute/akita type dog) and size, but with a coyote-type tail (albeit larger than expected)… whatever they are, they don’t seem to be too timid about people, as sightings in the residential area are becoming frequent despite there being many more square miles of UNdeveloped land around here — maybe a dog hybrid would be more comfortable around people and/or less comfortable completely in the ‘wild’??

    in any case, now i’m even more worried about their safety — not only people hunting them but now we’ve had another even more amazing sighting for an area like this — people are saying there’s a cougar around here now!! i feel like i unknowingly moved from the suburbs of new york city right into the middle of one of the wild nature shows i love to watch — like them better on tv!!

    thanks again, and please keep up the important work of trying to help all us creatures live together. . .

  28. DeLene Avatar

    Dear Kat, There are no wild cougars in the east other than a very small and well-studied population of Florida panthers in southern Florida. If there is a cougar in NC it is almost certain to be an escaped pet.

  29. Chris H Avatar
    Chris H

    You may want to check out the following:

  30. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Chris H and all,

    There is also http://www.easterncougarnet.org/breakingnews.html, “The Cougar Network.” They have been on my blogroll (right hand column) for a long time.

    They track the eastward movement of cougars.

  31. Jay L Avatar
    Jay L

    Thanks to Attila for the info. I am an environmental student, and im concerned for these creatures because of the hype they have been getting lately, its interesting to know they have been around for a while. If your envolved in any conservation efforts let me know.
    another question concerning the rouge. I was exploring last fall in the valley when i saw some tracks and scat that looked to be from a cougar. i know there have been reports in the past of cougars. I am wondering if you know about a population living there, and are they very well studied.

  32. Carol Schoff Avatar
    Carol Schoff

    Hi All,

    I have a dilemma similar to Kat’s, only I live in southwestern Florida – Tampa Bay area. What I have been seeing very clearly in the mornings is what I thought was a coyote, but it is much larger than the 25-37 pounds I read they usually are! This canid was about the size of my German Shepherd/Husky mix, who is about 75-80 lbs. It is always wandering around a large field in rural Manatee County (I see it on my way to work in the morning). I am close enough to it each time I see it that I am certain of the telltale coyote face/head (definitely not a dog).

    I would really love one of the experts to help me figure this out. Could this animal be the red wolf/coyote hybrid I keep reading about?

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