Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘coyote’

Making coydogs

Shepherd dog mates with coyote bitch and the resulting litter of coydogs. From Stanley Young’s The Clever Coyote (1951):

dog-mates-with-coyote

Dog genes have worked their way into the coyote population in much the same way.

This was a captive coyote, but this does happen in the wild on occasion.

 

Read Full Post »

Hairy coyote scat

Deer season means a lot of deer carcasses and “spare parts” for the coyotes to clean up.

img_0141

Read Full Post »

Coyote vs. Turkey decoys

Read Full Post »

Coyotes can bark

Canis latrans means “barking dog,” and it’s a good name!

(Source)

Scooter is featured in John Lane’s Coyote Settles the South.

Read Full Post »

Strange California canid

California coyote

I don’t know the original source of this photo, but it appears to be of a coyote or coydog in the West.  If this is a wild coyote or coydog, then this would be evidence of hybridization between dogs and coyotes outside the East. My initial source said it was in California.

If anyone knows, I would greatly appreciate it.

Update  (3 September 2016): This animal was photographed in Baja California, which is in Mexico.  There isn’t much written about coyote hybrids outside of the US and Canada, but it is assumed that they do happen in Mexico and Central America. Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico did cross coyotes. dogs, and Mexican wolves in their menageries. 

Read Full Post »

eastern coyote

Within Canis, there are lots of bogus species proposed. A few years back,  a team of researchers in Australia made some skull measurements of dingoes and decided that we should declare the dingo a new species distinct from the domestic dog and wolf. Never mind that every single genetic study on dingoes clearly puts them within the East Asian dog clade. A dingo is a feral dog very closely related to things like chow chows and akita inu.

Comparative morphology once declared the Japanese chin a distinct species, complete with their own genus, Dysodes. Never that such a thing wouldn’t pass the smell test now, it is still being tried on dingoes.

Within the genus Canis, there has always been a desire for some to split up species. Morphological variation is really great in the more wide-ranging species, but thus far, every proposed new species has come out lacking. Molecular techniques have discovered one species in this genus, the golden wolf of Africa, and there might be a distinct species of wolf in the Himalayas.

But all the rest have come up short. A recent study of wolf and dog genomes revealed that if you make dogs and dingoes a species, the entire species of Canis lupus becomes paraphyletic. So unless we want to abandon cladistics as our classification model, we pretty much have to keep dogs and dingoes within the wolf species. The red and Eastern wolves have also come up short in these studies,

And, I would argue, so has the coyote. Because coyotes split from wolves only very recently, I think a case can be made to classify them as Canis lupus latrans.

But that’s not where some people want to go. In fact, as of March this year, there was a paper that came out calling for classifying the Eastern coyote as Canis oriens.

I think this is quite unwise. For one thing, this ecomorph of coyote, which does have both wolf and domestic dog ancestry, is pretty new. Further, there is no evidence that this population is fully reproductively isolated from dogs, wolves, or the original Western coyote population. There might not be a lot of crossbreeding with domestic dogs.

But Western coyotes that are free of dog or wolf blood can still come into the East.There are no massive barriers that stop these coyotes mating with coyotes that might have wolf or dog in them.

Roland Kays, who was part of one of the original genome-wide studies of North American wolves, recently wrote a piece arguing against calling the Eastern coyote “a coywolf” or a distinct species. In the piece, Kays argues that this population of coyotes is not reproductively isolated, so it really is premature to call them a species now.

I would argue that the Eastern coyote is actually an ecomorph that is evolving to live in the human-dominated world that was once woodlands of Eastern North America, and an ecomorph is not a species. It could become one, but it takes quite a bit of time and isolation in order to do so.

In fact,  I think the big take away from all the most recent study is that coyotes are a small type of wolf.

And that means that all this splitting we’ve done in Canis isn’t really all that helpful in understanding their exact biology and natural history.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t species of wild dog to be discovered. The case to split red foxes into two species is quite strong, and there is also a strong possibility that the gray foxes of the  West and of the East are distinct species. The new species of wild dog will be found in creatures in like these, not in the larger dog species.

But Canis is where the charismatic dogs are. Wolves and their kin capture our imaginations. They are the closest relatives of the domestic dogs, and the domestic dog is descended from the Old World wolf. Within domestic dogs, we’ve been splitting them up into different varieties for thousands of years, and in the last two hundred, we’ve been doing so almost insanely. This has had to have had some effect, perhaps subconsciously, on how we view their closest relatives.

At one time, people used to go nuts naming things. Clinton Hart Merriam named dozens of species of bear in North America, which we now all recognize as belonging to one species. There is a herpetologist in Australia who does much the same thing with snakes and lizards in that country.

We live in a time when most of the larger fauna have become known to science. Pretty much the only way new species can be discovered is through trying to race molecular evolution. We don’t live in those times of gentlemen naturalists taking ships up the Congo River in search of new species of leopard.

We’ve just cataloged so much nature since that time. We don’t know it all, but we know a lot more than we did in 1880 or 1920.

And while I’d argue that the term “species” has to have a subjective element to it, it can’t be so subjective that it become squishy and useless.

And that’s unfortunately what we’re getting with things like Canis dingo and Canis oriens. 

They really aren’t that much better than Dysodes pravus.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

crab-eating fox coyote

In the US and Canada, there has been much discussion about how coyotes have been able to colonize so much territory. They were pretty much a Western species that was able to colonize land that had been previously occupied by wolves. We killed the wolves off and did the same with coyotes. The wolves became exceedingly rare and extirpated from much of their range. The coyote’s range expanded.

We know this well. It’s one of those wildlife stories that North Americans know well. The fact that they are found in new areas mean that it’s actually quite common for people to call them an invasive species, which is a bit erroneous. Coyote-like animals have been living North America for millions years, and this current form, which is perhaps more closely related to wolves than the previous models, is something our ecosystems have been putting up with for quite some time. Coyotes or coyote-like animals lived in the East all through the Pleistocene. the current form isn’t invasive but reclaiming lost territory.

The thing about coyotes, though, is they are expanding their range to the south as well. Most of us are aware that coyotes live in Mexico. The term coyote is derived from the Nahuatl coyotl, which supposedly means “barking dog,” and their range expanded to the south as well. The tropical forms of coyote were probably always present in southern Mexico and northern Central America,  but today they are found to the eastern part of the Panama Isthmus. This eastern part is the part that attaches to South America, and should coyotes continue to expand their range in Panama, they will probably cross into Colombia. These southern coyotes are expanding along the Pan-American Highway and the expansion of cattle ranching in the region.  The current thinking is they may not make it South America until and unless the highway is built across the province of Darien into Colombia, which has generally been put off as unfeasible.

I don’t know if I would put much stock into the road being the only way that coyotes get into South America, because as coyotes began this expansion south, another species of canid began its expansion north out of South America.  The crab-eating fox is quite common in northern South America, and it started showing up in Panama in the 1990s.  This animal is experiencing a range expansion in Colombia, using open areas around the Pan-American Highway as its habitat, just like the coyote in Panama. One recently was captured on trail camera near the Panama Canal.

That means that crab-eating foxes were able to cross the relative wilderness of Darien to get deeper in Panama.

It also means that coyotes could quite possibly cross Darien into Colombia, just as the crab-eating fox went the other way.

Much stock has been placed on the fact that coyotes prefer open habitats, but I wonder if this is missing something else that could have led this territory opening up for coyotes. Central American jaguar and cougar populations are on the decline. With the larger predators becoming rarer, smaller ones can begin to fill in, just as coyotes did when wolves were wiped out of most of the Lower 48.

Coyotes in my part of the world make use of forested habitat quite extensively. It is very rare to see one out in the open during the day, but you can see them out and about in the woods during the day. Granted, I’m talking about temperate deciduous forest, and that which exists in Panama is tropical forest. But I’d be very surprised if coyotes didn’t use the habitat.

So if the crab-eating fox is able to work its way into the North American continent a little deeper, why wouldn’t the coyote be able to go the other direction?

Further, the crab-eatng fox isn’t the only South American wild dog to wand up into Panama. The much rarer and much more elusive short-eared dog has crossed from Colombia into Darien at least once. Unlike the other two species, it is a much more forest dependent animal, so even if it were to spread, it would only be found in forests.

But the fact that something as weird and as specialized as a short-eared dog would take the baby steps pretty much would hint that something as bold as a coyote could easily take the steps in the other direction.

So dogs are moving north, and dogs are moving south.

And if the coyote makes it into Colombia, it will be the first creature from the wolf lineage (other than domestic dogs) to do so since dire wolf came into the continent. When the dire wolf came, it was a big, packing creature that readily hunted camelids and other ungulates. Now a meeker and more generalized offshoot of that lineage is working its way toward South America.

They may not make it.

But I honestly wouldn’t bet on it.

They didn’t need a road to get them from Kansas to Nova Scotia, and I bet they really don’t need a road to get them from eastern Panama into Colombia.

And after the hit South America, I think it’s quite time that Australia got a chance to enjoy coyotes. They will keep red fox numbers in check. What could possibly go wrong?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: