Clearly coyotes are a topic of interest locally! We just hosted one of our most successful “Eat, Drink, and Learn” events here at Irvine Nature Center and the topic was none other than this relatively new local predator. I was reminded of this when listening to Tom Pelton’s weekly “The Environment in Focus” segment yesterday on WYPR addressing the very same topic. Click here for the podcast. What I garnered from the lecture at Irvine combined with Tom’s good insight served to confirm what I had learned while visiting the W!ld Center in Tupper Lake, NY (click here to read my earlier blog post about my family’s visit to that wonderful nature center). When coyotes first showed up in the woods of Northern New York, biologists speculated that they had crossbred with dogs, our beloved Canis Familiaris. But what they found was unexpected.
Around 1893 the last wolf was killed in the Adirondacks. Since then there have been periodic and mostly unsubstantiated reports of the species in the six million acre state park, but biologists dispute these sightings. However, when able to analyze DNA samples from coyotes who had recently migrated into the park, the scientists finally had their proof of the wolf’s return to the northeast; wolf DNA had mixed into the coyote DNA. So the wolf had returned, just in the coyote’s clothing. It appears that this hybrid is larger than the western coyote, enabling it to prey upon small white tailed deer, while also exhibiting a better ability to live alongside humans which the wolf clearly lacks. So it is most likely that the coyotes piquing our interest in Maryland have descended from the hybrids roaming the northeastern forests thus explaining their larger size and ability to cohabitate with us. Amazing.
For us here in Maryland, it means that we can expect to hear and potentially see this new predator in both rural and suburban settings, much like the land around us here at Irvine in the Caves Valley. It also means the potential for displacement of other canids like the fox. Just to our north in Pennsylvania, people are seeing fewer and fewer fox and more and more coyote. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open next time you are here at Irvine and you may just be lucky enough to encounter one of these highly adaptable creatures!