Can A Wolf And A Coyote Mate?

Coyotes and wolves are not really all that different. They’re part of the same biological group, so… Could they breed? What would happen if they did? 

Can A Wolf And A Coyote Mate?

Science has been interested in this for a while, and finally, we all have some answers, because it turns out, wolves and coyotes can indeed mate! 

Rare But Possible

Biologists wanted answers as much as the rest of us, and finally, they discovered that wolves from the West of the U.S. are actually fully capable of successfully mating and hybridizing with coyotes. 

The finding is relevant to the debate around whether Eastern US wolves are a totally separate species, although, this does not actually settle that debate. 

It is well known that wolves in the Eastern U.S. are able to mate with coyotes, which does explain the potential reason for some coyote-like mitochondrial DNA being found in eastern wolves.

However, hybrids are yet to be seen in the western U.S.

Researchers collected semen samples from captive western wolves, then used AI to inseminate 9 coyotes.

One female became pregnant in 2012, however, the fetus did not survive, another ate their pups, but the 3rd had 6 healthy pups which were hybrids. 

This states that gray wolves are the same across the U.S., however, while western wolves can produce viable hybrid offspring, this does not mean they ever have in the wild. 

The Coywolf

The coywolf is technically real. We cannot say, yes it definitely is, however, genetically these two canines are able to interbreed, as they are so closely related.

Interbreeding between wolves and coyotes can and does happen. However, a perfect mix between these two is not a real thing. 

Of course, one must also take into consideration these two animals wanting to breed. 

What Is A Coywolf?

Genetic blending has been underway between these species, this is how it is possible that these two would be able to procreate. 

New DNA shows that eastern coyotes are a mix of coyotes, dogs, and wolves. Therefore, there are 3 distinct species all intermingled into this hybrid, the coywolf. 

Percentages of DNA do vary depending on the region and the test done.

Coyote-Wolf Mixed Genetics

In Vermont in the 40s coyotes first appeared from the West, where they bred with wolves. A larger coyote accompanied them. 

These hybrids now are much more diluted, according to genetic testing, these hybrids are somewhere between 60-84% coyotes, 8-12% dogs, and 8-25% wolves in the NorthEast of the U.S. 

The mix will vary from South to East, where Southern coyotes contain a combination of wolf and dog genetics, but in Virginia, coyotes have much more dog than wolf genetics. 

Tests conducted in the East show that some Eastern coyotes have nearly no wolf in them at all. 

When they are a dog-coyote mix then they are known as ‘Coydog’, instead of ‘Coywolf’. This is a totally new interbreed which is often misunderstood thanks to human breeding. 

A Coydog is actually a term that used to be used to describe a coyote and domestic dog interbreed, however, these animals exist in wild settings too. 

However, using more ambiguous terms like this can be confusing for some.

A new genetic organism is not by any account a totally new species, Coywolves are a population of coyotes with non-coyotes DNA mixed in, for example.

Why Do Coyotes Breed With Dogs & Wolves?

This is a question many of us have. Eastern coyotes are rarely observed breeding with wolves or dogs. Coyotes, dogs, and wolves are three species which rarely want to interbreed, in spite of being biologically close enough that they can. 

DNA shows that coyotes typically mated with wolves 100 years ago, and then they mated with dogs around 50 years ago. 

So, why?

Many years ago, wolf populations found around the Great Lakes were actually so low that female wolves struggled to find a wolf mate, so many females ended up having little choice but to simply settle for a coyote. 

Eastern coyotes can now find a coyote mate very easily, and the population thrives in their new woodland homes. Even now, coyotes tend to seem more enthusiastic about killing dogs than breeding with them.

Wolves are also now coyotes’ most deadly opponent, not a last bid mate.

Coyote Wolf-Dogs

The hybridization of a species is a natural evolutionary process, most of whom will die, simply being a compromise between two long-known species that are well adapted to their specific habitats. 

Yet, in the changing environment of the modern world, new varieties can outperform some older ones, leading to success in hybridization in some cases. 

As an example, in order to manage the incredible overabundance of deer in eastern forest areas, coyotes who have wolf genetics are better suited. 

Descendants of these coyotes became the eastern coyote after traveling more eastward. 

It is actually quite challenging in current times to know which wolf and dog genetics have actually survived natural selection in the modern eastern coyote. 

Can A Wolf And A Coyote Mate? (1)

Coywolf Physique

Any hybrid combo will usually be larger than a coyote but smaller than a wolf. The behaviors of the coywolf will be between the coyote and the other parent. 

In a captive experiment of a coywolf, 6 female hybrid pups from a male northwestern prey wolf and a female coyote were measured and their weight after birth. 

In spite of being birthed by a female coyote, the pups of this hybrid nature were actually much heavier and larger than a typical coyote pup litter which was born at a similar time. 

Around 6 months old, they were monitored closely. The howls of these pups were actually much more like a regular gray wolf, their vocalization strong and deep.

However, part way, changes occurred, and they started to sound much more like a coyote, with a high-pitched yip.

In comparison with pure coyotes, these coywolf hybrids formed much more cooperative social structures and are typically more gentle when they play with each other.

Hybrids also reach sexual maturity when they are older, which is usually much later than is found in pure coyotes. 

Coywolves: A Unique Mix

Some people will use the name ‘coywolf’ as a colloquialism, and as such is seen with other colloquial names, there is a bit of truth to it. However, there is also a great deal of misinformation tied to it. 

For now, the eastern coyote is a unique hybrid of coyotes that is going through a unique evolutionary transformation. 

Whether you wish to call it a subspecies, or by the scientific name it has gained ‘Canis Latrans Var’, to specify what it is, is up to you.

However, to name it a coywolf, and to fully understand exactly what a coywolf is, are two very different things. 

A wolf and a coyote can breed together, however, coywolves are something unique in themselves, and coyotes and wolves in the wild are not all too keen on breeding, but that is not to say they weren’t before.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. 

Olivia Kepner