Have you ever noticed how certain animal sounds can pluck an ancient, reflexive chord in us? Take, for example, the sound of a coyote or wolf calling across misty fields, farms, parks, urban wastelands, and our neighborhoods.
Remarkably, we will all be hearing a hybrid call more often and we hope to demonstrate today how that is an amazing thing.
Let’s meet the Coywolf!
Definitely a creature that demonstrates this is still an amazing world. (Our motto here at EWC!)
In today’s EWC article we will share the remarkable story of one of the most adaptable species on our planet. The coyote has started mixing with the eastern grey wolf and a hybrid, now officially referred to as a coywolf may be something new to our landscapes.
Nothing to panic about! We hope to shine light on facts that demonstrate that we can trade our fears for a little more wonder and amazement. We might even find they improve our landscapes both urban and rural. They may actually help us control other species that ruin our yards and gardens, damage property and spread diseases.
Who knows, maybe by the end of this piece, we can even get this ball down the field as far as welcoming this nearly harmless, clever predator back into our lives.
The event that got me interested in this subject happened a few months ago: I was sleeping with the bedroom window cracked on the first warmish night after a long winter in Vermont, and our bed is situated so our pillows are essentially in the window sill.
I love to lay wide-eyed and peer out at the night sometimes. It was about 3:00 a.m. and the moonlight on the remaining snow left a blue glow on the landscape. Suddenly I became aware of a dark, hulking figure navigating in and out of the deep woods on the edge of our yard. It bounced along purposefully, nose to the ground, and then suddenly it stopped to look right at my bedroom window, seemingly straight into my curious eyes.
But it was 50 yards away, our house was dark, and my window was barely cracked: how could it know I was there?
Then I thought, “moments earlier, could it have been right under my window, thereby knowing our scent and alerting this critter to the notion that the cracked window held a dangerous occupant?”
Or was this animal so exquisitely in tune to its surroundings that it could perceive every breath I was taking?
So large was this particular coyote that I suspect it was a coywolf.
We spent several minutes in a dance of connection: he watching me, me testing to see if he could perceive my slight movements. It was an amazing five or ten minutes; one of those rare instances where time seemed to stop and I was left with more questions than answers.
Next morning, I went to work to learn more. Here’s one of the first videos I came across as I was looking into this for us:
The complete version of the Nature episode they are referring to is fabulous, and to see it, just search “Meet the Coywolf” on Netflix.
Absent that, I’ve done more research for us to run through today, and I’m happy to say that I am now delighted to suspect that coywolves are in my woods. The benefits turn out to far outweigh the drawbacks, and let’s start by taking down those myths that fan our fears.
First: We are not going to be attacked by marauding coyotes or coywolves.
I found a great research project that is studying coywolves that gives us the statistics we need to move away from that notion.
You can have a look at their stats for yourself there, but the bottom line is that 15 to 20 people die of confrontations with dogs every year in the U.S. (from the 4.7 million dog bites per year, 1000 per day go to the hospital) but there have only been 2 deaths in the last 500 years related to coyotes.
Coyotes are actually very small canids, on average 45 pounds (20 kg.) and coywolves averaging about 60 pounds (27 kg.)
That’s the size of my son at age 4. I’m not going to get my socks in a knot over an animal that size.
It also appears that the coywolves are not hunting the way packs of wolves do, so they rarely prey on anything larger than themselves. (Wolves use complex group strategies to take down prey much larger than themselves.)
Coyotes and coywolves are more often searching for food as individuals, taking anything small when the opportunity arises. They eat everything from fruit to mice, rabbits, woodchucks and deer when available.
After really looking into this, I’m no longer concerned about running into coyotes or coywolves on a walk in our woods or for that matter, even the eastern grey wolf is now off my radar screen.
I discovered a great study done in 2002, by Mark E McNay for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that looked at wolf attacks in Alaska and Canada, and found that “despite (a) large and widely distributed wolf population, no human deaths have been attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900.” 2
Good enough. Our local lore about vicious coyotes, coydogs, and coywolves may be like stories of the fish that got away.
Here’s a nice infographic:
Speaking of local experience with these hybrids, here’s some natural history: here in Vermont (and I suspect many other places) locals have been noticing these supersized coyotes since the 1970s, calling them “coydogs,” based on the assumption that new kid on the block was the result of interbreeding with massive wild dogs.
The intuition about the hybridization was correct, but the source wrong: it turns out that our scrawny 40-pound western coyotes were interbreeding with eastern grey wolves from the Canadian North and then these new, more successful canines have been steadily migrating south.
Now before you go all “Annie Get Your Gun” on me, hang in there!
Aside from the rare occasion when these new predators will attack the occasional backyard cat or farmer’s calf (and these instances will be remarkably rare), there is no evidence yet demonstrating that they will do anything but continue to slink around in the dark on the fringes of our awareness in the future.
In fact, nightly visits from coyotes and coywolves may even turn out to be some sort of a blessing in some areas!
What if there was finally an urban resident of the night that could bring down populations of rats? And how might they help us with the unchecked growth of deer populations in suburbs and neighborhoods where deer have become gardeners’ worst nightmare?
Do know that the rise in Lime Disease is intertwined with the rise in the many small warm bodies (mice, rats, raccoons, and skunks)? If the new coywolf and even the savvy western coyote become fixtures in our increasingly complex environment, maybe they can go a long way to restoring the balance that was lost when we removed all the top predators.
And as reclusive as they are, we would barely know they were out and about.
In urban environments, it is conceivable that they could help correct the imbalance of pests that are rabies transmitters like raccoons, skunks, and feral cats, and they might also decrease the urban white-tailed deer populations that decimate backyard landscaping and gardens.
I know plenty of folks who would be happy to keep their cats in at night in order to let a predator save their yard from the ravages of white-tailed deer.
I am one of those people! Since losing our aging German Shepherd, the deer have eaten every flowering shrub I once carefully tended down to the twig.
Now that we know more, I’m going to be happier hearing that spine-tingling howl every night and in fact, to save my beautiful garden, I might even put our welcome mat out for our local coywolf!
Here is another clip from that amazing video about the new coywolf, and after watching we were so spellbound that we just had to share it with you. It’s like a little window into the unseen world all around us.
You will never look at your darkened backyard or urban street the same.
Thanks for stopping by EWC today for a new insight or two. You can find hundreds of articles, on every subject under the sun, that will remind you what a wondrous world this is, despite what the negative 24-hour news cycle tells us. Every week we get a nice email from someone telling us that checking in daily here has changed their whole perspective, at a time when they had almost given up hope for the state of our planet!
Explore the site, and remember, stay open, curious and hopeful!
~ Dr. Lynda
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- “Meet the Coywolf: A New Hybrid Carnivore Roams the City | MetroFocus.”YouTube. THIRTEEN, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 July 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd18fLEf_Cw>. ↩
- McNay, Mark E. “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada.” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Techinical Bulletin 13(2012): 199-219. Wild Sentry. Division of Wildlife Conservation. Web. 25 July 2016. <http://www.wildsentry.org/Images/Wolf-Human%20Encounters%20in%20Alaska.pdf>. ↩