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Letter: Was that a coyote? Or was it a dispersing eastern wolf?

Re “Sights set on coyotes” (Sunday Monitor Sports section, Jan. 26):

Columnist Bob Washburn wrote, “ Where the eastern coyote can hit the scales at 75 pounds, its western cousin is lucky to hit 30 pounds.”

While it is true that our eastern coyotes have some history of inter-breeding with eastern wolves and are larger than western coyotes, they do not reach the size or weight that Washburn suggests. In 2004, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife collaborated with geneticists at Trent University in a study of the eastern coyotes in Maine. These are the same eastern coyotes found in New Hampshire. The researchers examined more than 100 Maine coyotes and found that 22 percent had genes that could be traced back to wolves, so wolf genes were not detected in more than 75 percent of Maine coyotes in the study.

Moreover, according to Dr. Walter Jakubas, mammal group leader for the state of Maine, eastern coyotes average 30-35 pounds (females and males) compared to 21 and 24 pounds (females and males, respectively), for western coyotes. He notes that despite anecdotal accounts of animals in the 60-80 pound range, eastern coyotes that exceed 48 pounds are rare.

A coyote-like, wild canid in New Hampshire that weighs 75 pounds could be a dispersing eastern wolf from Canada, which is currently protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. It would be irresponsible and unlawful to kill one intentionally. How does a hunter distinguish between a “large” coyote and a dispersing eastern wolf while hunting at night? Good question.

MICHAEL AMARAL

Warner

Dear Hunter Dan: I saw the Nature program and the term Coywolf is a poor choice for our eastern coyote. Yes, the direct progeny (first generation) produced by a wolf - coyote interbreeding will be a 50% cross (a coy-wolf), but succeeding generations will be predominantly either coyote or wolf, depending on the predominant parent species nearby. Since we do not have a breeding population of eastern wolves in NH, our eastern coyotes are likely to be breeding exclusively with other coyotes, keeping the wolf genes an interesting, ancestral addition to their genetic makeup. I suspect you would't call a dog that looked like a black labrador, but whose great, great, great , great, great grandfather was a blue-tick hound, a lab-hound. M. Amaral

Well then Michael it really doesn't matter what you call anything then, does it? This game of semantics that we humans play doesn't change the fact that the "coyotes"(or coywolves, coydogs, wolf-coyote hybrids, songdogs, 'yotes, etc, etc) that we have here in New England are NOT the same as the puny little southwestern mutts that were the inspiration for the villain in the "Roadrunner" cartoons. Ours are much bigger, hunt in packs like wolves and take down prey much larger than their western "cousins."

You're both wrong. They're not coyotes. They're not dispersing wolves. Their Coywolves. Watch the new episode of "Nature" on PBS. Science is finally admitting what people have wondered for some time: our "Eastern coyotes" are the offspring of interbreeding between wolves and coyotes.

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