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Attacks on dog linked earlier to coyotes may actually be hybrids known as coywolves

June 18, 2014

Muskego — The coyote attacks on two fairly large dogs — one 60 pounds and the other nearly 80 pounds — on Woods Road in Muskego has led to speculation that hybrids called coywolves might have been responsible.

Coywolves are a cross between coyotes and wolves. Wildlife experts say the cross breeding came about as the numbers of wolves in the upper eastern United States and eastern Canada were depleted in numbers and coyotes had migrated into their range.

Coywoves, first noted in 1919, are bigger than coyotes but much smaller than wolves. They have a bigger fluffy tail and their jaws are wider than a coyote's. They are hard to distinguish from coyotes.

But the chances that coywolves were responsible for the dog attacks are extremely slim, said Jonathan Way, a foremost coywolf researcher and founder of Eastern Coyotes Research. Coywolves are also known as eastern coyotes.

The estimated range of coywolves is from the New England states and eastern Canada down through western New York state and south almost to Virginia, according to information on Way's web site.

He notes that coyotes and wolves could be mating in the section of Ontario, Canada, that drops westward almost to eastern Michigan. But most of the research in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota shows that the wolves there and the coyotes are different than their more eastern cousins and are not interested in mating, Way said. This is based on genetic research, he said.

Coywolves were the subject of a Nature special aired on PBS in January, prompting calls to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from people asking if the coyotes they saw could be coywolves.

"We got a lot of phone calls about that," said Dianne Robinson, DNR wildlife biologist and regional educator for southeastern Wisconsin. She told the callers that the animals were coyotes.

Part of the callers' concern came about because the television program included extensive information about a research project in Chicago, she said. But the animals in that research were all coyotes, not coywolves, Robinson said. One den of coyotes actually lived in a Chicago freeway interchange.

Part of the speculation about coywolves also came about because they are about 35 to 45 pounds, compared with coyotes that are about 25 to 45 pounds, Robinson said, and possibly more likely to take on bigger dogs.

The attacks that have come to light both happened in the 17500 block of West Woods Road to neighbor dogs. The 60-pound dog was attacked Feb. 5 and May 3. The 80-pound dog on March 20 and right on the deck of its home.

Wildlife experts say it is extremely unusual for coyotes to attack large dogs.

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