Scientists are stunned by the new hybrid species evolving right before their eyes.
According to the Economist, interbreeding between wolves and coyotes has led to the rise of a new hybrid species, which scientists are calling the “coywolf.” However, the number of coywolves already in existence and the hybrid animals’s powerful DNA has left the scientific community stunned.
As the Economist notes, interbreeding between different animal species generally leads to offspring weaker than its parents. This is not the case with coy wolves, however.
As the population of wolves has gradually declined in North America, some wolves have had to look outside of their own species to reproduce. Meanwhile, forest clearance has caused coyotes to move from their habitats in the prairies into the forest. These changes have led to a large increase in the interbreeding of wolves and coyotes.
Roland Kays of North Carolina State University says that the number coywolves is likely in the millions.
The coywolf’s genes are a combination of some of each species’ strongest traits, creating offspring potentially greater than the sum of its parts. The DNA of a coywolf, according to Newsiosity, is roughly two-thirds coyote, one-fourth wolf, and one-tenth dog.
Coywolves have more muscle, faster legs, and larger jaws than purebred coyotes. They are more willing to hunt in forests than purebred coyotes, which comes from the fact that wolves prefer to hunt in the forest. This means that the coywolf is skilled at hunting in both open terrain and wooded areas.
The species has spread to encompass eastern North America, including some urban areas, over the last decade, and continues to spread southeast.
Despite the rise of the species’ population, it is still debated whether the coywolf has fully evolved into a distinct species. Some scientists argue that because coywolves continue to breed with wolves and dogs, they are not yet a species. However, others argue that the fact that the coywolves have genetically and morphologically diverged from its ancestors is enough to define the animal as its own species.
See the video below to learn more about the rise of the coywolf:
Sources: Economist, Newsiosity / Photo Credit: Forestwander.com via The Economist