A "coywolf" Photo: forestwander.com via nj,com
If you have heard that New Jersey has coywolves living here, it's true. But the name coywolf is a new one tagged onto the hybrid animal that is the eastern coyote. The species is not a "coy" (as in shy) wolf, but a hybrid that is mostly coyote. Researchers say they exist in the millions throughout the Northeast, including in NJ.
This cross between a coyote and a wolf used to be considered an eastern coyote, but recent research shows the hybrid name is a more accurate descriptor. Eastern wolves interbred with western coyotes when deforestation and hunting threatened their population. Though coyotes in any form were once unknown in our state, they have spread statewide in the past decade. Their DNA is 65% coyote, 10% dog and 25% wolf, the Economist reported.
The coywolf is about twice the size of a coyote, with larger jaws and bigger muscles that allow it to kill larger prey, such as deer. But coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food, rodents and other small mammals including squirrels and pets.
As with other coyotes, the coywolf has adapted very well to suburban and urban environments. (It is estimated that at least 20 live in New York City.) Urban/suburban habitats offer easy access to trash and easy hunting in areas without underbrush and cover (such as parks, trails and lawns) so that the coywolf needs only half the territory it would require in the countryside. Railway corridors make travel fast and easy. They tend to be more nocturnal in populated areas.
There is some debate in the science community as to whether the coywolf actually has evolved into a distinct species, but the name has traction. NJ.com has called them "New Jersey's apex predator" and they were tagged as the new "superpredators" by Field and Stream magazine.