National Geographic : 2010 Aug
PHOTOS: NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM, ALBANY NGM MAPS. SOURCES: ROLAND KAYS, NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM; BRADLEY N. WHITE, TRENT UNIVERSITY, ONTARIO WILD New Beasts in the East Hiking in a Nova Scotia park last fall, a young woman was killed by two canids. They were bigger than coyotes and smaller than wolves, with skulls and jaws unlike either species'. Some eastern Canadians and Americans had glimpsed "coywolves" before, but the grisly incident conjured fresh questions. What exactly are they? And should we be worried? Roland Kays of New York State Museum can answer the first one. In the 1920s, he says, coyotes from the west pushed into the Great Lakes region and mated with wolves from the east. The result wasn't a new species but, according to recent DNA analysis, a hybrid that's more coyote than wolf, with the street smarts of the former and the hunting capabilities of the latter. No one knows their current numbers, but eastern coyotes (the favored term) form families, seek food at night, and can prey on pets and livestock---the main reason for their recent run-ins with humans. As for worrying, Cape Cod wildlife specialist Peter Trull says there's no need to; the Nova Scotia case was an anomaly. "Coyotes are wild animals, and people have been bitten by them," he says. "But generally they avoid humans." ---Jeremy Berlin Western coyote Eastern coyote (hybrid) Possible colonization route Great Lakes CANADA UNITED STATES 0mi 400 0km 400 Hybrid Western Coyote range, 2010 Adult eastern coyotes, like this one snapped by a camera trap in upstate New York, weigh 32 to 44 pounds. Wolf genes give eastern coyotes bigger skulls and wider jaws---capable of taking down large prey like deer---than their western predecessors.