How are coyotes related to other species like dogs, wolves, and foxes?

Coyotes as Canids

Coyotes are members of the Canidae family, which also includes wolves, dogs, foxes, and jackals. Animals belonging to this family are referred to as canids. Only dogs, coyotes, and foxes are now found in Georgia.

Interbreeding Among Canids

 While coyotes are closely related to wolves and dogs, they are different animals and generally do not interbreed with these other species. Within the coyote’s historical western range where they coevolved with much larger gray wolves, there is no interbreeding and wolves will chase away and/or kill any coyotes caught trying to scavenge for food.

As coyotes migrated east, they encountered smaller and fewer gray wolves and some hybridization did occur. This mixing of genes is thought partially to explain why eastern coyotes tend to be larger than western coyotes. Scientists have recently documented wolf-coyote hybrids, known as coywolves, in Ontario’s Algonquin Park region through DNA analysis.

A similar scenario probably happened in the Southeast as migrating coyotes encountered dwindling red wolf populations, leading to some interbreeding. Red wolves were driven to near extinction by the late 1970s and they are now found only in coastal North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as part of a reintroduction effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Interbreeding between red wolves and coyotes does occur in this area, but this is the only place where the two species come into contact with one another.

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, which means that they can potentially kill or be killed by coyotes. Nevertheless, when dogs and coyotes are similar in size, interbreeding is possible, but dogs are not necessarily on the same annual reproductive cycles as coyotes and male dogs do not instinctively participate in the rearing of offspring. Therefore, coyote-dog hybrids are rare and generally unsuccessful in the wild.

Click here to view a PBS Nature video

on the coyote’s eastward migration and

hybridization with eastern wolves.

Coyote Cousins

The coyote is most closely related to wolves (Canis lupus and Canis rufus) and dogs (Canis familiaris).  Selective breeding by humans explains why there are so many different types of dogs, but all modern dogs belong to the same species (familiaris). Some dogs look very much like wolves or coyotes (German shepherds), while others are very different in appearance. Carolina yellow dogs are thought to be one of the oldest dog breeds in North America, arriving with the earliest Native Americans.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Red Wolf

Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

German Shepherd

German Shepherd (Canis familiaris)

Coyotes are now found throughout North America, expanding as wolf populations were drastically reduced over the past 100 years.  Gray wolves are found in the northern Rocky Mountains and sporadically throughout the Great Lakes regions and on into eastern Canada.  Red wolves are confined to a small recovery population along coastal North Carolina where conservation efforts are underway.

Foxes are smaller and more distantly related to these other canids.  Both gray and red foxes are common across North America.

Dog

Carolina Yellow Dog (Canis familiaris)

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

Red Fox

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

© 2015 Atlanta Coyote Project