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Eastern Coyote Genetics

Canis latrans Say (Coyotes) living in northeastern North America (i.e., eastern Coyotes) have been an enigma to both scientists and laypeople for many years (Parker 1995).

This wild canid started to appear in northern New England and New York in the 1930s and 1940s and currently inhabits all of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, ranging from wilderness to urban areas (Fener et al. 2005, Parker 1995). The animals are often described as a big version of the western Coyote or a small Wolf, and many northern New Englanders still call them “coy-dogs” (Way 2007), yet there remains speculation regarding its origins (Wilson et al. 2009).

While the eastern Coyote has been confirmed as the largest version of the species (Gompper 2002, Lawrence and Bossert 1969, Silver and Silver 1969, Way 2007, Way and Proietto 2005), the animal’s large body size has confused its taxonomy (i.e., the var. indicates a variation of Coyote) since it was first described by Lawrence and Bossert (1969) and Silver and Silver (1969).

Hypotheses as to why eastern Coyotes are bigger include response to enhanced food supply or larger prey (Thurber and Peterson 1991), genetic adaptation to prey, mainly Odocoileus virginianus Boddaert (White-tailed Deer) (Larivière and Crête 1993), or their being Coyote-dog hybrids (Mengel 1971).

1Eastern Coyote Research, 89 Ebenezer Road, Osterville, MA 02655. 2Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate Program, Trent University, Peterborough, ON L8S 4K1, Canada. *Corresponding author – jw9802@yahoo.com.

190 Northeastern Naturalist Vol. 17, No. 2

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