It all began the first time I heard them calling back and forth to each other in the northern Michigan night: first a yip, then another slightly away from the first, then a third to the rear, until I realized that it was a whole pack, signalling their positions as they stalked wild turkey.
They seemed exotic when they howled from a hillock, though more menacing when they padded down our gravel road on the scent of a Yorkshire Terrier.
Then they turned up downstate. One frosty morning I was carrying a mouse in a bucket to set loose for a better life, when I realized I was not alone. There was a coyote padding along behind me, intent upon my bucket. I knew that coyotes don’t attack human adults but I decided he might make an exception to this little old lady so tantalizingly redolent of mouse; I took the coward’s way out, dumping my mouse to suffer nature’s less beneficent aspect before hastening guiltily away.
Coyote, nonetheless, seemed pleasant suburban neighbors, like the rabbits and squirrels and chipmunks and possums that lighten my days. Then, one morning, a distinctly non-cute coyote trotted up my driveway on the trail of my neighbor’s indiscreetly yelping Chihuahuas.
It was taller and longer than any coyote I had ever seen, with a fluffy grey tail and healthy coat of fur. I realized it was a Coywolf, a new species created by the mating of wolves and coyotes in Canada that had recently arrived in Northern Michigan and now, it seemed, were taking their place among us in the Detroit suburbs.
In “The Ever Wily Coyote” naturalist Cathy Wesley describes the Eastern Coyote, larger than its western cousin, as a Coywolf. When I queried her about this identification she replied that
“the Eastern Coyote is actually a type of Coywolf, because it is the Western Coyote mixed with the grey wolf. . . Some people actually want to separate the Eastern Coyotes into its own species and call it Coywolf.” Heron Tracks Volume 9 Number 4 Feb 2017.
I admire the way that nature morphs and varies. In this sad time of diminishing species, the coyote/coywolf story is a heartening display of adaption for evolutionary advantage.