I live in Ontario, where there are both Coywolves (Wolf/Coyote Hybrids) and pure coyotes I believe. If I see a coyote, how can I tell whether or not it is a Coywolf or a Coyote? Also, I heard from somewhere online that Eastern Coyotes are the same as Coywolves, yet “Inaturalist” lists the Eastern Coyote and the Coyote both as Canis Latrans. I am just confused, so any help and clarification would be much appreciated!
No need to feel confused…mother nature doesn’t always provide us with distinct species. Mother nature sometimes gives us a sort of spectrum of gray in between black and white. And in those situations, it’s impossible to pigeon hole the diversity with names. There is actually much hybridization between divergent lineages in nature. Some researchers recognize two species of wolf in N.A.–Eastern timber wolf (Canis lycaon) ] and the Gray wolf (Canis lupus). Only one species of coyote is recognized. There really isn’t such a thing as a coywolf–as most of them have a bit of coyote and wolf mixed together.
Some relevant papers to sink your teeth into (warning, it’s a bit complicated, but the discussion sections are what you can focus on).
Whole-genome sequence analysis shows that two endemic species of North American wolf are admixtures of the coyote and gray wolf
“Our analyses suggest that all of the North American canids diverged from a common ancestor less than 6 to 117 ka and that both Great Lakes region wolves and red wolves are highly admixed with different proportions of gray wolf and coyote ancestry.” However, their study has been criticized.
I am actually a bit surprised that there is no taxon on iNaturalist for Canis lupus x latrans, Canis lupus x familiaris, or Canis latrans x familiaris. Not to mention the hybrids between dogs and golden jackals, or hybrids between golden jackals and grey wolves.
They could easily be added, but because the hybridization is so rampant within these groups it would be difficult to place individuals (even more so than it is without them). For example, it’s thought that pretty much all eastern coyotes resulted from hybridization between coyotes and the eastern wolf/domestic dog. And some (albeit controversial) evidence suggests that the eastern wolf itself is thought to have resulted from hybridization (thousands of years ago) with a larger form of coyote which is now extinct. So, essentially, they may all be hybrids of some degree–and distinguishing them without genetics is likely impossible (even difficult with genetics). In the scientific literature, eastern coyotes, despite being known to be hybrids with wolves/domestic dogs, are still currently being referred to as Canis latrans, though sometimes Canis latrans var. is used. My take on all of this is that it wouldn’t be useful to have hybrid categories here on iNat and would just lead to greater confusion.
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