IS A NEW SPECIES PROWLING IN KINGSTON?
You’ve heard about wolves. You’ve seen coyotes.
But have you ever heard of the coywolf?
It sounds like the name of a low-budget horror flick. Picture it: The Coywolf, a story of a wolf and a coyote that interbreed to form the perfect canine predator who roams the streets of suburban neighborhoods terrorizing locals and feasting on our furry friends.
However, this is no movie. This is the name of what many biologists consider an up and coming species and it is the newest inhabitant of Kingston.
And you may be surprised where it lives.
“Too hot to sleep?”
On a sultry and humid mid-August day I ventured into the woods with my friend Rick after a relaxing day at the beach. As the mercury soared to 95 Fahrenheit, the trails behind Berrybrook Fields (a conservation area on the Duxbury/Kingston line) on Winter Street seemed inviting as we sought escape from the sun and an up-close interaction with nature.
Indeed, the forest was relief from the summer heat and teaming with life, especially mosquitoes. Slashing our way through the brush and exchanging small talk, we trekked deeper into the woods.
Then, we saw it.
Standing at attention only a few dozen feet from where we stood was a fully grown and indescribably beautiful coywolf. It was notably larger than a coyote and its coat was a brilliant mix of red and brown colors. Its cloudy white tail contrasted with the forest like a neon sign at night. My friend whispered to me, “I hope it’s just too hot to sleep and doesn’t have rabies.”
We stood awestruck at the creature, unable to believe that a predator so large lives in…of all places…Kingston. More disturbing than the time of day we saw the coywolf (2:30 in the afternoon) was where we saw the coywolf.
We were walking a trail that is on the property of Berrybrook Preschool in Duxbury and only a few hundred feet behind Town & Country Estates, which was still visible through the pine trees.
After only a few seconds the creature lost interest in us and continued on its way through the forest, oblivious to our presence.
“We catch glimpses…”
Along the trail where the coywolf stood signs, labeled the trees differentiating them by species. It was obvious that this trail was used by the preschool as an outdoor classroom, and having gone to Berrybrook myself as a young boy I remember walking the same trail with my teachers and schoolmates.
My next stop was Berrybrook Preschool.
Elaine Piccuito is a teacher at Berrybrook and says that the trail behind the school is occasionally used to educate students during schooldays. “Occasionally we catch glimpses of [the coywolves] but it’s only very early when we arrive in the morning,” Piccuito said.
She then alarmingly asked, “You said you saw this thing during the day!?”
Not your Grandfather’s coyotes
Several hundred years ago, the Eastern Canadian Red Wolf was a dominant predator in Southeastern New England. Their range covered almost the entire Northern United States, but targeted hunting in New England drove the wolves back to the sparsely populated conifer forests of Quebec and Ontario and to the brink of extinction.
Without missing a step, the coyotes moved in. Once only restricted to the Mojave Desert, coyote populations exploded in the absence of their main competitor for food and territory.
Coyotes and wolves, typically, do not share the same habitat. Coyotes have always avoided wolves for obvious reasons. But once Europeans moved in, and wolves moved out, vast expanses of habitat once considered off-limits was open for the taking.
From the deserts of Arizona and Southern California the coyotes ventured outside of their old stomping grounds to the Great Plains, the grasslands of Texas and beyond to the Appalachian Mountains.
Flash forward to present day.
Coyotes now populate the entire continent, including Kingston. With their territory now stretching from sea to shining sea, the coyote is once again rubbing shoulders with their longtime rivals. In Southern Quebec and Ontario, coyotes and wolves are once again neighbors.
It is in Southern Canada where the story of the coywolf begins. Although interbreeding is uncommon among wild canines, Eastern Canadian Red Wolves and Eastern Coyotes seem to be an exception to the rule. The result of this interbreeding is a hybrid canine that shares the body of a coyote with profound wolf-like traits. But when it comes to personality, that’s where the coyote comes in.
Coywolves are quickly populating the Northeastern United States and are placing a special emphasis on New England. They live among suburban neighborhoods and are not intimidated by human presence.
It gets even crazier…
The dominant genes in the coywolf are those with wolf ancestry. The coyote genes are recessive.
Needless to say, these are not your Grandfather’s coyotes.
Don’t call it a comeback
Something remarkable is happening right before our eyes.
The Eastern Canadian Wolf, a species that was about to fall off of the evolutionary cliff has reemerged as a dominant predator in a territory it was forced from hundreds of years ago.
Coywolfs may not be Eastern Canadian Wolves per say, but at the New England Wildlife Center they are considered a special breed.
Rob Adamski is a veterinarian at the wildlife center in South Weymouth and is all too familiar with coywolves. “I wouldn’t call them a distinct species but these coyotes are different from coyotes that haven’t bred with wolves. They may be more aggressive” Adamski says.
Adamski believes that the coyotes that migrated to New England took a different and more northwesterly route than their southern neighbors, and they bred with wolves on the way. “Coywolves are very common in [Southern New England] but that doesn’t mean every coyote is of wolf ancestry.”
The end of the tail…
One thing was still missing as I was about to write the story of Kingston’s coywolves. I didn’t have my picture.
I headed out to venture back into the woods, drenched myself in bug spray and grabbed my camera.
As I arrived to Berrybrook Fields in Duxbury I noticed the fur of a brilliantly colorful tail illuminated by the sun on the side of the road. At first glance, it appeared like a dead raccoon but upon further inspection it was obviously a severed tail.
I couldn’t help but notice that the tail looked remarkably similar to the coywolf that my friend and I saw in the woods only days earlier. It was cleanly severed and appeared to be done so at the hands of humans. Coywolves have valuable fur and hunting them is not prohibited since they are seen as coyotes, an invasive species. (However, if this coyote was hunted on Berrybrook Fields it was done so illegally in a “No Hunting” area.)
Disheartened, I still headed into the woods but emerged empty handed. Nonetheless, the tail recovered from Winter Street is photographed above and you can be the judge.
Coywolf or coyote?
Invasive species or evolutionary miracle?