Just what is a coy­wolf, any­way? Simply put, it’s some com­bin­a­tion of west­ern coyote and east­ern wolf with a bit of dog DNA thrown in.

Unlike grey wolves, the smal­ler east­ern wolf and coyotes evolved in North America, so share some ge­net­ic ma­ter­i­al from thou­sands of years ago.

But, in the early 1900s, set­tlers al­most wiped the east­ern wolf out. That al­lowed west­ern coyotes to mi­grate east­ward where they even­tu­ally began mat­ing with east­ern wolves. The res­ult is the coy­wolf, also known as the east­ern coyote.

These hy­brids gen­er­ally have longer legs than coyotes, plus big­ger paws and a broad­er skull, which provides space for big­ger teeth and a stronger jaw. Like wolves, they some­times hunt in packs and take down lar­ger prey than coyotes nor­mally do.

Coywolves may get their size and strength from wolves, but they of­ten re­tain the mind­set of a coyote. This is most ap­par­ent in their com­fort level around hu­mans. In fact, some are con­duct­ing their every­day lives in densely pop­u­lated areas such as Toronto, Montréal, Boston, Chicago and New York.

Most people nev­er see these an­im­als or have any idea they’re present. That’s be­cause urb­an coy­wolves are usu­ally on the small side and  tend to be totally nocturnal.

No one’s sure how the re­la­tion­ship between hu­mans and coy­wolves will evolve. They scav­enge hu­man garbage, sneak up on porches to eat pet food left out­side and kill pets. And, al­though rare, they have ac­ted ag­gress­ive to­wards people.

In Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park, coy­wolves (of­fi­cially called east­ern coyotes in the park) have fol­lowed people and chased cyc­lists, bit­ing the rear tires of bikes as if try­ing to take down prey. In October 2009, nine­teen-year-old sing­er-song­writer Taylor Mitchell was mauled to death by coy­wolves while on the park’s Skyline Trail.

Incidents out­side the park in­clude coy­wolves at­tack­ing dogs, trail­ing people and, on at least two in­stances, at­tack­ing them. All coywolf/​eastern coyote at­tacks have been linked to ha­bitu­ation and pos­sibly be­ing fed by humans.

Photo by Jonathan G. Way