Eastern “Coyotes” & Wilderness

Zoo Paul McCormack sent us this article on the “eastern Coyote”.

I replied; “Two versions of this:

“One is the conventional, presented here: E Coyotes are a product of modern breeding between wolves and Coyotes who got here after humans altered the landscape.

“Two: They are a coyote x wolf hybrid like the red wolf from the south, but like it pre-Colonial, only with different proportions of genes.

“I rather favor the second hypothesis. I don’t think the Massachusetts colonists were country enough to tell the difference between C. lupus and C. latrans. I think different genes would be selected for in the North woods than in the southern bottomlands. But what do I know? You do know that C. latrans is a Native American, lupus a Eurasian invader. Eastern coyotes have much heavier dentition and occipital crest than the western ones. I used to have quite a collection. I also used to watch these and Eastern coyotes chase deer out onto the ice on Quabbin reservoir and kill them; ecologically, wolves in every way…

I LIKE them, but will will shoot ANY of them who kills my falcons. The (standard Western) ones on the West Mesa owe me, but I am without a varmint- caliber rifle at the moment…

That got a correspondence going. Westerner Mike Kiester wondered what the “Massachusetts Wilds” mentioned by my old hunting companion Reed Austin WERE; Nantucket?

I replied:
“Well, THAT. But also where I used to live in forgotten west Central Mass, in the January Hills between Quabbin Reservoir and the Connecticut River Valley, a truly wild region (much more so than the more famous Berkshires further west) that includes land now classed as an essential “wildlife corridor” in the larger Appalachian ecosystem. Only eighty- some miles from Boston, it is cut off on the east side by huge Quabbin reservoir, which nearly bisects the state, where human passage has been legally banned since the thirties (yeah, right); on the west by the tobacco farms and universities of the Connecticut valley. Resident species are “northern”; include deer and sometimes wandering moose; bear, fisher, porcupine in your yard, at least one documented lion, the Eastern “Coyote” — a wolf in every way that matters— Goshawk and Bald esgle. Balds scavenging deer carcasses killed by the coyotes on Quabbin’s winter ice are not a rare seasonal sight).

It is a beautiful, dark, haunted, sometimes slightly creepy land, with a sort of regained virginity, which land can acheive.

But not without traces. There are deep wells you can fall into and never be seen again in the woods, traces of everything from King Phillip’s War to Boston’s edict to drown five towns in the 30’s .There are also houses built in the 1600s and still on dirt roads, secret underground rooms ditto, and the settings for AT LEAST two H P Lovecraft stories (“The Color Out of Space” and “The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward”). My hills TERRIFIED Lovecraft!

5 thoughts on “Eastern “Coyotes” & Wilderness”

  1. The thing about coyotes is they were found to be much more recently split from the wolf than we thought, so much so that they might as well be a subspecies of Canis lupus. VonHoldt believes their most recent common ancestor lived in Eurasia 51,000 years ago. So it's not a truly native dog either.

    This is based upon a study that showed significant hybridization between gray wolves and coyotes, using full genome sequences.

    Mutation rates and generation times might be off a little, but not that much to justify the old hypothesis that they directly descend from Canis lepophagus.

    That means our only truly native dog is the Gray fox.

  2. I left out the link to the genome comparison, because I came across this post just before bed:

    http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/7/e1501714

    This study is about Red and Eastern wolves being hybrids, but that's not the most important discovery. The recent split between gray wolves and coyotes is essentially equivalent to the divergent times for all extant gray wolves (that we classify as gray wolves without argument, unlike the Himalayan wolf and the golden wolf). This recent divergence discovery is the most important find in Canis evolution, because the split between wolves and coyotes is used to set the metric for all divergence. Various papers use 700,000 to 1 million years for the split, but it is probably far more recent than that.

    I've always thought there were small populations of coyote in the East at the time of contact. John Smith wrote about the "wolues" of Jamestown being not much bigger than English foxes (which sounds a lot like a coyote), and Henry Wharton Shoemaker, the Pennsylvania naturalist and folklorist, includes accounts of a small brown wolf that was common in Central and Eastern Pennsylvania. This small brown wolf made a barking howl.

    I don't think that part is entirely wrong, but I think our assumption that coyotes are a fundamentally different Canis than gray wolves is particularly accurate. In the Old World, we have Arabian wolves that are very much like coyotes, only coyotes take that mated pair instead of big pack lifestyle a bit further. They've sort of evolved in parallel. If the golden wolf turns out to be a subspecies of Canis lupus, then it will be a coyote that evolved in parallel almost entirely.

  3. Interesting article, but several things wrong with it! One is the statement that neither wolves nor coyotes have adapted to urban living(stating that the tiny percentage of dog genetics is only now allowing this), blatantly ignoring the fact that coyotes have been infiltrating cities throughout the West for a long time now–from Los Angeles to Chicago! LOTS of studies to verify this, too. There are places in Europe where wolves have also taken to town living–wolves outside of Rome, Italy, have been scavenging from the dumps there for decades now. And a MAJOR factor in the coyote's colonizing the East, that is unpopular and ignored by the scientific community, is that HUNDREDS, possibly THOUSANDS of coyotes were purposefully brought East and released by fox hunters, and certainly was a greater factor in the coyote's colonizing the East than just expanding naturally on their own. But researchers are either ignorant of this, or just don't like the "artificial" aspects of this purposeful "contribution" by certain humans. Another factor not known or ignored because of it's political incorrectedness, is the escape or release, or simply the free roving PET wolves that THOUSANDS of people have had over the years–especially throughout the 1970's, 80's,and 90's. What do you think an intact former pet wolf,on the same breeding schedule as coyotes, and not raised in a wild pack that taught it antipathy towards coyotes, would do during mating season if it encountered coyotes in the area it was living in? With no other "appropriate" mates? Most escaped tame wolves usually never live long, but I personally know of a few that lived well over a year, and one that lived a long life as a free-ranging pet, coming and going as it pleased, in an isolated area of the Appalachians. All long enough to have contributed some gray wolf genes to the local coyote population! Regardless of HOW the "Eastern Coyote" has come about, we certainly NEEDED a larger canine predator in the East, and I, for one, am glad they are here. I've always suspected the Red Wolves were just an earlier pre-colonial form of this naturally occurring hybrid phenomenon, that filled a specific niche in the East,and was/is worth preserving regardless of it being of hybrid origin. As many scientists have suspected, various species may well have "evolved" as hybrids, rather than just slow, isolated evolution(like us humans, for example, with Neanderthal and Denisovian genetics!), and here is a marvelous, unique chance to study it! And kinda "coincidental", I think, that these "Coywolves" look amazongly like Red Wolves, and fill the same niche in the same geographical area! As said in "Jurassic Park"; "Nature finds a way"…….L.B.

  4. Hi Steve,
    Genetic tests on the Eastern coyotes have shown them to be hybrids of coyotes and Eastern wolves. Eastern wolves are a separate species. The remaining "pure" Eastern wolf population is in Algonquin National Park and surrounds. These Eastern wolves are likely the same as the red wolves of the southern US, and likely lived along much of the East Coast at one point. The coyotes in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the East are not gray wolf-coyote hybrids.

    Genetic testing of wolves in the Great Lakes area found them to be hybrids of gray wolves and eastern wolves.

    Here's something I wrote about this a few years ago, and I think it is still current: https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/08/03/wolf-coyote-coywolf-understanding-wolf-hybrids-just-got-a-bit-easier/

    Matt Miller

  5. Oh my, it is far too early to emphatically state that Eastern Coyotes ARE NOT derived from Gray wolf X Coyote genetics–especially when it has yet to be fully proven(if it can EVER be at this point!) that the original Red Wolves of the southeast AND the Algonquin Eastern Wolves are not from earlier(precolonial) Gray Wolf X Coyote crosses. To think that such species hybridization is only happening in fairly modern times defies common sense–it has likely been occurring ever since Gray Wolves first encountered Coyotes eons ago. I have read genetic reports on Red Wolves stating #1–that they are a unique species; #2–that they are the ANCESTORS of both Coyotes AND Gray Wolves(!); and #3–they are derived from Coyote X Gray Wolf hybridization. What I learned from this is #1–obviously different genetic testing can yield different results!; #2–Genetic testing results can be manipulated for various political reasons; and #3–I predict in 50 years(those of us still kicking) will be very contemptuous of those "early attempts" at genetic testing, as the science will have advanced considerably, and refute a lot of the "absolutes" it is professing now. A LOT of the Red Wolf politics(especially debated here in North Carolina where I live, where the only free roaming, but seriously endangered population of "old bloodline" Red Wolves still exists) just turns a blind eye to things that they fear will cancel out their protection, which is a shame, as they are valuable and worth preserving regardless of their origins–heck, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE of their origins–whether naturally occurring hybrids or not! Another factor that is usually ignored here(in N. C.) is that there has been a lot of Red Wolf X Coyote hybridization, both in the Eastern part of the state, where the "pure" Red Wolves still are, AND in the Smoky Mountains, where the Cade's Cove experimental releases left quite a few crosses to add to the "Canid Soup" that is part of the new, vigorous, fascinating and necessary(in my opinion) large canine predator, well adapted to living alongside modern humans, of the East. And a worthy subject for study, but the results will never really be ACCURATE if various components are left out because they just don't happen to be popular with whomever is conducting whatever study! People often forget, "science" is conducted by humans, who are prone to mistakes, and susceptible to prejudices, and it is foolish to blindly accept various studies without some skepticism–which is part and parcel of the ever evolving scientific process!…….L.B.

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