The coywolf is currently most commonly called “eastern coyote”. However, recent research suggests that this animal is both genetically and morphologically intermediate to western coyotes and eastern wolves. So, even though most people refer to these canids in the Northeast simply as “coyotes”, their background is much more complex and recent science states that we should more properly call this animal coywolf. It is important to note that this hybridization episode did not occur recently; rather, the animal has always been a hybrid of two different closely related species since it colonized the Northeast US starting 50-70 years ago (and now, they are found throughout the region). Initially they were called coydog, then eastern coyote, but we now know that coywolf is the most appropriate descriptor of this animal because the original wolf found in the Northeast was most probably the smallish (~60 pound) eastern wolf (Canis lycaon), which is very closely related to (and possibly the same species as) the red wolf (Canis rufus). The eastern wolf is actually more closely related to western coyotes than they are to the larger gray (western) wolf (Canis lupus). Thus, the coywolf has “native” wolf genes and got here on its own four feet: it therefore should not be considered non-native or invasive. Furthermore, it is questionable if the gray wolf actually ever lived in the Northeast, or if the eastern wolf and possibly gray/eastern wolf hybrids (which are common in the Great Lakes states, Canis lupus x C. lycaon) were endemic to this region.
Common/vernacular names: coywolf, coyote, eastern coyote, northeastern coyote, brush wolf, coydog, new wolf, Tweed wolf.
Scientific classification: formerly Canis latrans var.; currently Canis latrans x C. lycaon.
Food habits: small to medium sized mammals such as mice/voles, rabbits, and woodchucks, all the way to deer including fawns of the year and sometimes even adults (mostly in late winter/early spring).
Size: 30-55 pounds, average 32-40 pounds
4-5 feet long from nose to tail tip
Tracks (heel to claw tip): 3 – 3.5 inches (occasionally 3.75 inches)
Range: Northeast US and Southeastern Canada
1. Coywolf Range
Map of contemporary Canis (coyotes and wolves) in North America focusing around northeastern Coyote/Coywolf range. Note: map reflects approximate locations of locations of where various Canis can be found. Dashed lines (e.g., southern Ontario) include probable zone of hybridization between northeastern Coyotes and Eastern Wolves and western Coyotes and northeastern Coyotes. Question marks and dashed line at south edge of northeastern coyote range reflects uncertainty in mid-Atlantic United States of where northeastern Coyote range ends and southern wave of western Coyote expansion continues. Boundaries should not be considered static as there is hybridization between canids at the edges of their respective ranges.
2. Body Mass Comparisons of Western Coyote, Eastern Coyotes (Coywolves), and Eastern Wolves
Ranges of body masses (kg) of western Coyotes, eastern Coyotes/Coywolves, and Eastern Wolves showing that Coywolves are intermediate to the two other types of canids.
3. Comparison of Body Mass of “Coyotes” (including Coywolves) based on Latitude and Longitude. Figures show that Longitude (i.e., degrees East to West) has four times the variability that Latitude (i.e., South to North) has. Thus, “Coyotes” are bigger the further east they go not the further north.
Coyote body masses (kg) in different regions of North America correlated with longitude: Male coyote body masses and longitude.
Coyote body masses (kg) in different regions of North America correlated with latitude: Male coyote body masses and latitude.