Important genetic study confirms Massachusetts coyotes are part eastern wolf-

Dr. Jon Way who often comments on this forum is the lead author of a paper about to appear entitled, “Genetic Characterization Of Eastern “Coyotes” In Eastern
Massachusetts.” He has allowed me to post a draft of this paper.

These relatively large canids are hybrids of western coyotes colonizing the area and eastern timber wolves, canis lycaon. None of animals’ DNA showed a mixture of coyote and domestic dog. So the term “coydog,” which is in common use, is not appropriate.

Here is the draft of the paper. coywolves-jonway

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

17 Responses to In New England they should be called "coywolves," not "coyotes" or coydogs"

  1. mikepost says:

    This is an interesting and explanatory paper. However it does not dicuss behavioral differences between the coyote and the coywolf. Wolves and coyotes have different behaviors and a discussion of how the coy-wolf fits in all of this would be interesting.

    Coyotes, at least in the urban West, have a much greater propensity to attack humans once habituated to human food sources than do wolves. An interesting question would be does the coy-wolf have the same trait with the added biological advantage of size and ferocity of the wolf given the recent human death in Canada.

  2. Jon Way says:

    Hi MikePost,
    If you go to a discuss and the Synthesis of Knowledge Known about them we do summarize what is known about them. Essentially they have behaviors intermediate between western coyotes and eastern wolves.
    However, they do NOT have an ecological role that might resemble gray wolves out west. The red/eastern wolf is a smaller wolf to begin with and it is arguable how similar the role between eastern wolves and gray wolves are. To confuse matters, the wolves that Dave Mech and others study up in MN are likely gray wolf/eastern wolf hybrids, so not pure gray wolves (like found out west).
    Other papers, including on my website:, discuss more about their behavior.
    Interesting question about attacks. The coywolf is very elusive and avoids people. However, there are so many coyotes throughout the US I wonder if the aggression is a product of their share numbers and that some are going to be bold. In other words, might some wolves be like that if they were all over the US too. It is still rare for an attack but obviously they happen…

  3. John Glowa says:

    Excellent paper, Jon. I look forward to its publication. What we now need here in the northeast is a comprehensive analysis of the wolves that have been documented killed here in the last twenty or so years. These animals (most of which were male) averaged in the 80-90 lb. range and were predominantly gray wolf. The most recent known animal was one killed in western Massachusetts in 2007 that the USFWS officially identified as an eastern gray wolf. Where are these animals coming from? Are they breeding here? How many more are being killed that we don’t know about? How many females are being killed and not reported because they are smaller in size and are assumed to be “coyotes”? Are the smaller eastern wolves also attempting to recolonize the northeast? How many of them are being killed? These are just a few of the many questions that our state and federal governments are doing absolutely nothing to answer. There is effectively no protection for wolves in the northeast U.S. due to liberal “coyote” killing policies in the northeast states and the lack of protection for wolves in neighboring Canada. That is why we petitioned the federal government (most recently in January 2009) to regulate the taking of so-called “coyotes” and to develop a recovery plan for wolves in the northeast. To date we have received no response to our petition.

  4. Matt says:

    Maine has a few timber wolves, the state pretty much confirms that here on this page….

    “Two wolves were killed in Maine in 1993 and 1996, but their origin was unknown. Tracks and other evidence suggest there may be additional wolf-like canids in the state, but there is no conclusive evidence of reproduction or establishment of packs ”

  5. Ken Cole says:

    This is interesting stuff Jon.

    As far as gray wolves in the New England area, I often hear uninformed people mention the wolf reintroduction in the Adirondacks. Most recently I heard this mentioned by Dylan Rattigon on MSNBC. Does anyone know why people talk about this as if it’s happened? Are there coy-wolves there? Am I missing something?

    I know there have been wolves in New England because we have posted stories here, but I just find it weird that people are so uninformed.

  6. Jon Way says:

    you are correct altho the wolves coming to ME are likely gray/eastern hybrids, but they are still wolves (and not coywolves) nonetheless. That is what John Glowa refers to when he says wolves have no effective protection b.c of the way coywolves (which they still call coyotes) are treated, similar to western coyotes. The wolves that get there end up dying before reproducing/establishing a population.

    there was discussion of a reintroduction into Adirondacks but that never happened. The canids living there presently are the same coywolves my paper discusses, which colonized the area naturally (we actually tested some samples from thre). I personally think Maine would be a better site for reintroduction and/or natural recolonization of a larger wolf animal than the Adirondacks but we’ll see.

    First to happen, the federal government needs to hire someone (biologist) to sort through this Canid Soup and it will likely require yet another lawsuit to get them to act.

  7. JimT says:


    How does this intermixing of species affect any possibilities of getting full ESA protection for any wolves that do manage to cross over from Canada vs. the re-introduction route?” I remember several years ago when Nina F. of DOW was giving presentations, part of the oppositions argument was that there were no grey wolves in the past; they were red wolves, and so grey wolves would not be “native” to the area.

  8. Jon Way says:

    I am not quite sure to tell you the truth. Hybrids are usually not protected but I am sure a lawsuit can prove that you can’t kill hybrids b.c then pure species (wolves – if that exists in the NE) will be illegally killed.
    While it is pretty certain that we did have red (now called eastern) wolves in New England I am pretty sure we also had gray wolves and at least gray/red hybrids which are likely similar to the Great Lakes wolves. And there is no doubt that some of the wolves returning have gray wolf haplotypes (genetic markers) and there is no question that the gray wolf will do better in northern New England for 2 reasons: 1) moose and 2) not hybridizing with the coywolves that already live here.
    Sorry to not directly answer your question but it is an uncertain answer.

  9. Jon Way says:

    to answer your question with some more though: I really think that all canis in the NE incl. coywolves (despite being abundant) need to be classified as threatened and hunting stopped until reliable means of differentiating canids exists.

  10. JimT says:

    I remember part of Nina’s argument was that red wolves would have been incapable size-wise to take down moose, and or elk if they were part of the landscape a few hundred years ago, and we know there were canid predators in the Northeast. It is an unresolved legal issue because all of the sites in the Northeast for possible wolf reintroduction have deemed inappropriate, or politically problematic, even Baxter in Maine.

    I think the hope is that the St. Lawrence starts freezing over predictably again, and provide a land bridge for Canadian wolves to the Northeast. Getting folks to leave them alone…another issue.

    Thanks for the paper. And I agree with you about the canid predators, no matter what term they are called. They are the only true predator at this point in any kind of numbers, excluding things like bobcats and fisher cats (weasels, really), and the only one able to deal with the explosion of deer. There have been reported sightings of the catamount…it would make my day to actually see them re-established, but so far, I think if they do exist, they are is such small numbers as to not make any kind of mark on the ecosystem. And perhaps that is best for now..for us not to know they are there.

  11. John Glowa says:

    Maine IFW’s website puts a more positive spin on the issue than their actual practice. Their staff always publicly say that there are no wolves in Maine when the issue comes up. They also say that the 1993 wolf was likely a released animal and that the 1996 animal was some type of hybrid. Let me assure you that the state of Maine has no intention of doing anything to promote the survival or natural recolonization of wolves unless and until they are forced to do so.

    Jim T:
    Regarding protection for eastern/gray wolf hybrids, why is it that they are protected in the Great Lakes States and are considered gray wolves for purposes of de-listing by the federal government? There seems to be a double standard. In Minnesota they are considered gray wolves and are protected. In the northeast they’re considered wolf hybrids and the government does nothing. Regarding which species of wolf/wolves is/are native to the northeast, I think it is pure folly to assume that gray wolves are not native to the northeast based on DNA samples collected from two animals.

  12. Matt says:

    Parts of northern and central Maine are very rural, alot of land owned by paper companies, and wildnerness. Some local communities rely on pulp mills and tourist dollars from hunters. The last thing they want is the grey wolf showing up and bringing the Endangered Species Act down on them and stopping timber extraction and possible tourist dollars, like the spotted owl controversy . Locals up there would likely keep any wolf sightings hush hush, or not confirmed. The Maine wolf coalition had some interesting wolf sigthing reports on their websife a few years ago.

    Lynx were found up there a few years ago and they sent a team out to do a population study and they deteremined they are there and not endangered. Perhaps the study was done to confirm that they are not endangered.

  13. gline says:

    Wolf watching brings in tourist dollars.

  14. cc says:

    Maine’s lynx were never listed as endangered, they were listed as threatened under the ESA in 2000 and still retain that status. The ongoing population monitoring by the Maine Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries has not determined that these lynx don’t warrant protection. They found that lynx were reproducing and their numbers temporarily increasing but the long term stability was unclear due to snowshoe hare numbers and habitat needs.

  15. JimT says:

    John G,

    The argument about the gray wolves was made by those resisting any kind of effort to re-introduce, so claiming there were no grey wolves in the area, only red wolves, would mean any re-introduction of gray wolves in the Northeast would be inappropriate since it wasn’t historical habitat. I don’t agree with it based on what I know, and what I have read, but there you are.

    As for Maine, Baxter would be perfect for re-introduction; there is hardly any population centers at all around this area, and the paper and timber industry is insignificant compared to historical levels. Just ask the towns who are struggling to make a living these days. I suspect the wolves will make it there on their own…

  16. John Glowa says:

    Jim T.

    The argument that gray wolves are not native to the northeast U.S. is based on tissue samples from two 19th century wolves and is being made by some in the scientific community and the press. To Maine Fish and Wildlife’s credit, they are surmising that gray wolves are native to northern Maine which was strictly moose/caribou habitat until the 19th century.

    We know that wolves are here in the northeast based on the number of dead wolves that we know about. The two main problems continue to be the lack of real protection for wolves in the U.S. and Canada and the failure to develop and implement a wolf recovery plan.

  17. Debra L. Savje says:

    I just wanted to vent a little on a sighting yesterday 12/20/2010 at about 9 pm……… I swear I saw a wolf running down the middle of Ferry Street Marshfield Massachusetts. It was snowing a big white out and this animal appeared right in the middle of the road. I feel it was a male because of it’s size approx 100 to 125 LBS & I do not believe it was a Gray Wolf but a Timberwolf / mix. We have Coyotes here in abundance but this was NOT a Coyote/ Gray Wolf Mix. It’s muzzle was more rounded & it’s ears wear smaller and set farther back on it’s head. I have seen plenty of South Western Coyotes and this was NOT one of them. This animal was black in color with a tiny bit of off white in it’s fur. The fur was long and sort of flowed in the wind as it loped. As he was loping along, I felt he knew he was in a situation but, in complete control of it. I crossed the street and followed it’s tracks, at times he seemed a bit confused because, in mid lop he changed direction then headed straight for the woods. I can honestly say, I have never seen such a beautiful sight in my life. Right here not 5 miles from the center of town this animal was tangible…………Debbie Savje


January 2010


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey