Wolves or coyotes? asks an article in ScienceNOW 23 September 2009. Coyotes are widespread throughout North America but they vary in size, shape and behaviour, with the northeastern coyotes being larger than the western ones. Roland Kay, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Museum, and colleagues have photographed coyotes from various places and studied mitochondrial DNA from 680 individuals and measured 196 skulls. They found that the northeastern coyotes had some wolf DNA in their mitochondrial DNA. These animals had some wolf-like features, e.g. wider mouths, with more surface area on the skull where chewing muscles attach, giving them a stronger bite for killing bigger prey. They also “eat more deer and are comfortable in forests, much like wolves”.
Matthew Gompper, a wildlife biologist at the University of Missouri, Columbia commented: “in many ways they are acting like a small wolf, but they look like coyotes.” The researchers concluded that wolves and coyotes had interbred, but they were surprised that this hybridisation produced more robust animals. According to Gompper animal hybrids “do less well,” but “in this case, the hybrids appear to have greater fitness. It shows the importance of hybridization in providing the meat for adaptation.” The ScienceNOW article ends with this question and comment: “So what exactly are the wild canids in Northeastern America – coyotes or wolves? That puzzler will give evolutionary biologists a bone to gnaw on for a while.”
Editorial Comment: The answer to this question does not lie in evolution. This study shows that wolves and coyotes are all members of dog kind, and therefore, quite capable of interbreeding, given the opportunity. This also means coyotes with wolf genes are not true hybrids, so there should be no surprise that they are healthy, fit animals that can reproduce. The fact that wolves and coyotes are considered to be separate species is an artefact of the classification system, not real world biology. Wolves, coyotes and other canines, including domestic dogs are simply subgroups of the original created kind. (Ref. canines, mammals, genetics)
Evidence News, 17 February 2010