Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My What Big Teeth You Have!

In response to a post  about the putative coyote jaw I found in the woods on Sunday, Sue K. sent me this link from National Geographic, which references this study from the Journal of Mammalogy about coyotes in this immediate area. 

From National Geographic:
Now, new DNA analysis of coyote poop shows for the first time that some coyotes in the state of Virginia are also part wolf. Scientists think these animals are coyote-wolf hybrids that traveled south from New England along the Appalachian Mountains.

The study also identified another coyote migration route moving through the southern states.

"You have a situation where you have these two waves of coyotes coming into the mid-Atlantic, a terminus for coyote colonization," said study leader Christine Bozarth, a former research fellow at the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Northern Virginia in particular seems to be a convergence point for coyote migrations, Bozarth said—and the animals' numbers are increasing there, especially in suburban areas where food is more plentiful...

...Scientists have not yet studied the behaviors of the Virginian hybrids to see if they're killing bigger wildlife or otherwise changing the ecosystem, Bozarth added.

But other East Coast hybrids seen alive or identified by their remains are noticeably larger, with more wolf-like skulls, jaws, and teeth, Bozarth noted.

Given this, coyote-wolf hybrids "should be able to do things like take down deer, which a little, scrappy Great Plains wily coyote would not be able to do on its own," Bozarth said.

Indeed, the research highights "just how successful and adapted these hybrids are to the eastern forests," said Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum in Albany.

For instance, Kays's research on the previously known eastern hybrids has shown that a third of their diet is dee r— a much higher proportion than in western states.
Combined with the very clear coyote scat, loaded with deer hair located nearby, I would suggest there are indeed some large coyotes roaming suburban Maryland, near the border with Northern Virginia. The coyote below is a 43-pound Maryland coyote.  Based on the jaw, above, he is not alone.

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