Here is Janet DeMaio’s story:
Some research has shown that a population of coyotes that moved northeast around the Great Lakes on an eastward trajectory interbred with red wolves and gray wolves along the way. These hybrid animals are larger and have different musculature in their skull and mandible which enable them to take down larger prey, such as deer. Dubbed “coywolves” these animals demonstrate a common feature in the genus Canid, which is that many species in this biological category can interbreed and produce fertile hybrid offspring. Events like this continually challenge how scientists define the meaning of a “species.”
It was the morning of Nov. 6, 2009 and we were getting ready for work and school. We live in a home that has about 2 acres of land, the backyard faces a wooded area that leads to Mt. Biesek behind our house. Since we have lived here we have seen deer daily, coyotes, wild turkeys and even a copperhead now and then. However, on Nov. 6th it was 6:30 A.M. and as my daughters were getting ready to go to the bus stop my husband noticed an animal sitting in the backyard facing the woods. As we looked it appeared it might be a large dog with a lot of fur but because it was sitting about 100 yds from the house we couldn’t tell for sure. Therefore we proceeded to grab our binoculars to get a closer look. As we did this it was almost as if the animal knew we were admiring it as it kept turning its head toward the house to look at us. Once the binoculars confirmed that this was not a dog I proceeded to call my neighbors to tell them. They all have small dogs and I was fearful if the dogs were let out this animal may go after it. We were able to take a few pictures and although they were from a distance we could clearly see that this animal sat about 3 feet tall and once we were able to get it to run toward the woods its body was between 4-5 feet in length when running. We contacted the St. of Ct. [state of Connecticut] and they feel this was a male Eastern coyote although it was quite large. We have seen coyotes plenty of times and all have been about the size of a small to medium sized dog, none ever this large. This animal we saw was much larger and its face had slightly different features than the coyotes we normally see. I suppose we may never know for sure what it was but I will say we were fortunate to have had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of it. He was beautiful!
Judging from Janet’s positive account of seeing the animal in her yard, events like this also bring an element of wonder and joy into people’s lives. From my perspective, wonder and joy is derived from knowing that despite the major transformation humans have inflicted on the landscape of our country, it’s refreshing and surprising and humbling to see that some animals are adapting and thriving; and that despite our major impacts upon large mega-fauna, something new is possibly being generated in the northeast.
Are coywolves the genesis of a new species? Time will tell… perhaps these animals will persist and expand and displace coyotes that don’t have wolf genes boosting their survival chances. Or perhaps they will become reabsorbed into the eastern coyote population, which has conducted its own succesful biological invasion of the East over the past couple of decades, filling in territory long-vacated by the red wolf.
Some scientists, like Jon Way, founder pf Eastern Coyote Research and author of Suburban Howls, believe that coywolves should receive special protections. From a perspective of restoring ecological function, I do too. Not many people know that New England used to have a native population of wolves — the red wolf. I am currently reading Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, by Jon Coleman, which traces anecdotes of European settlers encounters with both wolves and Native Americans. It also chews on ideas about how European’s perceived both wolves and native peoples. The title is as much a reflection of how settlers viewed the wolves as it is a statement of how people treated wolves.
Have you seen larger-than normal coyotes in New England? Would you like to share your story? Drop me a line, or post a comment.