Coyotes, Red Foxes, and Lyme Disease in Massachusetts

Are Coyotes the Cause of an Increase in Lyme Disease?

Struck by the recent interest in coyotes after the fascinating video Two Coyotes Versus One Deer  by Shawn Henry was posted on GMG, I became interested in reading various studies and reports about coyotes, wolves, and foxes in Massachusetts and the Northeast. My primary interest at the onset was of concern for the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), which has seen a tremendous decline in numbers. I wondered if the presence of coyotes (Canis latrans) was negatively impacting the Red Fox. In the past, I often saw a Red Fox in the early morning hours trotting along the shoreline at Brace Cove. I wish so much that I had filmed the last one that I saw because it was a gorgeous scene; a strikingly beautiful creature so completely unaware of my presence and so at home in its realm, investigating rock and seaweed, pausing to sniff the air, and then resuming its journey. The last time I saw a Red Fox in our neighborhood was over three years ago. As I was reading about coyotes I learned the findings of some of the most recent studies indicate that because Eastern Coyotes out-compete the Red Fox, the coyotes are the cause of an increase in Lyme disease. More on that in a moment.


The coyotes that now inhabit every region in Massachusetts are an invasive species. They are a hybrid cross species of the Western Coyote (found west of the Mississippi) and Red Wolf (Canis lupus rufus). “Researchers now believe that the Eastern Coyote is a hybridization between the Western Coyote and Red Wolf many generations ago in the upper Great Lakes region of the United States. It is theorized that as populations of the Western Coyote increased, they were forced to move east and north in search of food. As they moved into Minnesota they crossbred with Gray/Red Wolves and produced a genetically hardy animal able to sustain itself through New England winters.” (Mass Audubon)

Coyotes are not “re-populating” this region because this new species was never in our region.

Eastern Coyotes have extremely broad food habits and many factors affect the coyotes’ diet, including competition with other mammals, abundance of prey, season, and weather. In the Northeast, their diet consists of shrews, rabbits, voles, woodchucks, mice, deer, beaver, muskrat, weasels, squirrels, and carrion. And according to Mass Audubon, “They eat ground-nesting birds and their eggs, as well as reptiles and amphibians. When other prey is scarce they will eat a variety of insects including grasshoppers, beetles and cicadas. When animal matter is scarce, they will eat available fruits including apples, cherries, grapes, and strawberries.”

The rapid invasion of the alien Eastern Coyote has negatively impacted many sympatric native species, as the coyote has assumed the role of top-order predator. The coyote has fundamentally altered the existing ecosystem and various species have experienced population declines as a direct result of their role as coyote prey or from direct competition for food. “Culturally and ecologically significant species including Red Fox decline dramatically in response to increasing coyote populations. Eastern Coyote and Red Fox share many common habitat requirements and occupy overlapping niches. Through time, the larger and more resilient coyote is able to out-compete and displace resident fox populations.” (Department of Natural Resources, Maryland.)

Studies have shown repeatedly that Eastern Coyote predation on deer is minimal. Most herds can handle the coyotes. Typically coyotes have success with fawns that are 4-5 weeks old (after they have become more active and are not by the mother’s side), weakened and sickly adults, and deer separated from the herd. These targets represent approximately one or two percent of the total deer population. While coyote diet studies show consistently the use of deer for food, it does not appear that coyote limit deer population on a regional scale.

Although the population of White-tailed Deer has stabilized, Lyme disease continues to increase. In June of 2012 researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz published their findings from the study “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease.” (Taal Levi, lead author.)

The study found that once where there was an abundance of Red Foxes, there is now an abundance of Eastern Coyotes.  Even more significantly, fewer coyotes will inhabit an area once populated by more foxes. The greater number of foxes would have consumed a larger number of small tick-bearing animals, primarily White-footed Mice, Short-tailed Shrews, and Eastern Chipmunks, all of which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. It appears as though it is the Red Fox that once kept the population of these smaller rodents under control.


Even when there is a threefold rise in deer population, study after study now shows that the strongest predictors of a current year’s risk of Lyme disease are an abundance of acorns two years previously. How does that work?

Many acorns = many healthy mice and chipmunks.

Many healthy mice and chipmunks  = many tick nymphs.

The following year when it may not be a bumper acorn crop = fewer mice.

Fewer mice and chipmunk = dogs and humans become vectors for the ticks.

While acorns don’t serve as a universal predictor because Lyme disease can be traced to forests where there are no oak trees, the data suggest that food sources and predators of small forest mammals are likely to be valuable in predicting Lyme disease risk for humans.


To summarize, multiple studies suggest that the invasive Eastern Coyote out-competes and kills the native Red Fox population, which leads to a rise in the number of small animals particularly the White-footed Mouse and Eastern Chipmunk, which in turn leads to an increase in ticks that carry Lyme disease. The impact of the Eastern Coyote on native deer population is negligible. And, as many family’s can attest, the impact of the Eastern Coyote on populations of domestic cats and small dogs has been devastating.

Typically the excuse given for unwanted encounters with wildlife is that people are encroaching on the animal’s habitat. That simply is not the case with the Eastern Coyote. The Eastern Coyote is advancing on humans–and they like what they see; no large predators, a reluctance on the part of people to hunt and trap, and an abundance of food. The environmentally and culturally destructive chain reaction caused by the Eastern Coyote invasion is taking on added urgency as the coyote strikes closer and closer to home.

It is legal in the state of Massachusetts to shoot and kill a coyote from your home. If confronted by a coyote, make as much noise as possible, if attacked, fight back aggressively.

Images courtesy Google image search.

58 thoughts on “Coyotes, Red Foxes, and Lyme Disease in Massachusetts

      1. You need to make sure you don’t counterbalance too much. Most of the data you provide is for coyotes in the midwest. What we have here on Cape Ann are more wolf than coyote. Wolfotes. The data need to be collected on wolfotes moving into an area retaking the place of the wolves that were eradicated a hundred years ago. Not from coyote data from the midwest.


        1. Analysis shows that Eastern Coyotes in Massachusetts has mostly Western Coyote DNA, not 90 percent wolf DNA; typically less than half wolf DNA.

          The data for this piece was collected primarily not from midwestern sources, but from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region including the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The data from the “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease” was drawn from midwestern and mid-Atalntic states including Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.

          Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York are experiencing the similar devastating effects of the Eastern Coyote hybrid.

          The Gray Wolf was considered extinct in Massachusetts by about 1840. There have been few sightings since their extirpation. In the fall of 2007, a young male Gray Wolf, thought to have traveled from Canada, went on a rampage on a farm in Shelburne slaughtering over a dozen sheep before he was shot and subsequently examined by the astonished local authorities. In its gut was found sheep and lamb bones and tufts of wool.


    1. Yep, Australia’s experiences with rabbits may be the best illustration that “fixing” an ecosystem that’s a) screwed up and b) has a new species is extremely difficult. In particular it illustrates that attempting to eradicate the new species is a fool’s errand. Step one here seems to be to “understand” the issue as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Only then should anybody start talking about “what to do”. Jumping the gun straight to what to do would probably result in actions that at best i) took an awful lot of time and effort and money, and ii) looked pretty silly in hindsight, and iii) just plain didn’t work, and at worst actually created a new problem even worse than the existing one.


  1. coyotes have altered their natural habits for hunting ,breeding and eating as they enter the urban habitat. The formally nocturnal hunters now look for food in the daylight , they have found , like the fox , garbage from humans a lot easier source of food than chasing other critters in the dark.


  2. “It is legal in the state of Massachusetts to shoot and kill a coyote from your home.”

    Before you pull the trigger make sure any neighbors who are within 500 feet of you are OK with you shooting firearms in the neighborhood. If you don’t you might get three months in jail. I usually count off five telephone poles before I shoot something. It’s a fur piece. You also need to be 150 feet from the road if it is paved.

    Don’t even think of trapping unless you want to pull neighborhood dogs and cats with broken legs out of the trap.


    1. I would love to know if you see the Red Fox Paul. Thank you for sharing. Lately I have seen many bunnies and mice–and chipmunks. This is the first year we have ever had chipmunks in our yard.


  3. I live behind the marsh on cape hedge. Up until a couple of years ago I would always see a family of red fox that lived behind my house in the rocks beside the cape hedge parking lot. However they have not been seen the last couple of years. One morning a couple of years ago i actually saw two foxes mating on long beach. The den in the rocks behind the cape hedge parking lot is no longer used by the foxes. They are beautiful animals that are missed. I can still see deer and often can hear coyotes at night, but the foxes have disappeared. Thanks for this interesting article.


  4. Thank you for sharing Ellen. Please write if you see the Red Fox family. How fortunate to see the foxes mating–must have been extraordinarily interesting! I hope so much they are not completely gone from Cape Ann.


    1. Thanks Kim for all your wonderful posts. Will let you know if we spot the cape hedge foxes. However they usually show themselves by march. They are beautiful animals and I hope they return.


  5. Hi Kim………..thanks for writing that piece…very informative. I live what would be considered a populated area in the city and these eastern coyotes (not wolves) have come to my back yard on more than one occasion. They creep me out and I love animals ! Not sure what the answer is but this is an eye opener.


  6. Great post Kim! I live in East Gloucester and have an apple tree in my yard and in late fall at dusk i walked outside onto my deck and couldnt believe my eyes, 1 coyote and 2 bunnies were within 3 feet of each other eating the apples. This fall i will try to get the right equipment to video them so i can share with GMG. Thanks again for all your great posts.


    1. My friend Janet, who lives near the Bass Rocks Golf course (where we have seen many, many coyotes) reports that a coyote comes right up onto her big porch looking for her cat. Her cat is primarily an indoor cat, but likes to sun himself on the porch during the summer months.


  7. Immediately preceding your quote from the Mass Audubon site, regarding the diets of eastern coyotes, it reads “In Massachusetts THE BULK of their diet consists of deer, mice, woodchucks, voles, shrews, rabbits, beaver, muskrat, weasels, squirrels, and carrion.” (emphasis added)

    Coyotes also control the populations of rodents and other Lyme-carrying critters. If the Red Fox population is out-competed by Eastern Coyotes, and Eastern Coyotes consume rodents (etc) as the bulk of their diet, why shouldn’t we conclude that the Eastern Coyote wouldn’t also control the population of rodents, etc in the region?

    Furthermore, as the saying goes, correlation is not causation. Couldn’t an increase in Lyme disease be affected by climate change, habitat fragmentation, and other factors? Is an increase in Lyme Disease exclusive to areas with changing coyote/fox population dynamics, or is it more pervasive than that?

    Your assertion about who is encroaching whose habitat is a little misleading. As we know (and as you point out in this post) ecology is never a single cause/effect, but rather a series of events, many unintended.

    Human encroachment and extermination of original top predators in the region (wolves, mountain lions, etc) has in fact created the conditions for this new predator to step in and take its place. In fact fragmentation (via roads, powerline cuttings, rail systems), which may inhibit some animals migrations, have helped coyotes colonize more “urbanized” environments, because they take advantage of these routes for patching together habitat, the same way we hop on the highway to get from one town to the next. Coyotes are merely crashing the party we were throwing for them.

    Additionally, tagging Eastern Coyotes as “alien” in this post ignores that some (Kamler & Ballard 2002) have argued that Red Foxes may not be native to MA, but welcomed themselves to our region from the north over the last 100 years. Coyotes have moved in since the ~50s, although some early reports put them in New York in the 20s.

    For those readers who are interested in learning more on this topic, and would like a less vilified view of the Eastern Coyote, I highly encourage you to review the work of Jon Way, Ph.D. He has devoted his career to studying the Eastern Coyote in Massachusetts.


    1. Jay, you bring up valid points. The one extra kicker is that besides correlation not being causation using the current data the current data is out of date. When one uses coyote data to explain what is happening now in north eastern United States it may be comparing Apples to Oranges. These are not coyotes. They have interbred with Grey Wolves and they will continue to do that. An Ontario grey wolf can get to Cape Ann in two weeks without breaking a sweat. But the ones here already really should not be called coyotes. If they are a hybrid species of more than 50% wolf then they are wolfotes and have very different breeding and feeding habits than the 100% western coyote.

      We are dealing with an incomplete picture. The worst thing we can do though is to repeat our past mistake of trying to exterminate the wolf genome from the north east. That correlation leading to causation of a screwed up ecology because we got rid of the apex predator and so deer then mice then all sorts of things we still have not figured out went bad.

      I guess I just like rooting for the underdog. The wolf and coyote have always gotten undeserved bad press complete with Carabou Barbie aka Sarah Palin shooting them from helicopters. We should just leave them alone. Have they hurt anyone in Massachusetts in the past 100 years? That would be no. Put lightning rods on your house if you are so fearful of the unknown. That actually does some good if the 1 out of 50 million odds kind of things scare you. Being scared of wolfotes will only drastically increase the odds that someone on the Cape is going to be shot in the ass.


        1. I’m not denying those are scary incidents, but who would consider 4 attacks in 2 states (one “victim” being livestock in a pen on a farm) to be “all over Massachusetts” but someone trying to add hysteria to this story?

          How do those attacks compare to dog bites in MA and NH in the last year?

          And, I imagine if ANY wildlife found its way into the Ted Williams tunnel it would be very, very confused. Most HUMANS are confused driving around Boston.

          I enjoy hiking the woods and I have been lucky enough to witness wild coyotes in MA on a handful of occasions. Two times I had what I would consider a “direct” encounter. One time I was sitting on a rock outcropping along a power line cutting in Revere. It got to be dusk, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something. A coyote had been trotting along and came around the corner. We were both surprised to see each other, but before I could get up or move, it immediately scampered away. The second time, i was in the same area hiking along the trails under the power lines. Again it was dusk, and as I was walking up a hill, a pack of 4 coyotes coming in the other direction crested the top of the hill. They stopped, I stopped, and a second later the 4 coyotes ran of in 4 different directions. I don’t necessarily consider myself an intimidating person on sight.

          The “territorial” nature of coyotes has an unfortunate connotation. It sounds aggressive, but it is also what controls the population of coyotes. Coyotes have territories, or “home ranges” which they protect (by patrolling, scenting, etc) on a regular basis. Patrolling – or tracing the perimeter of their home range – can have a coyote travel 15 or more miles in a single night easily. This tells other coyotes to move along, this area is occupied. A coyote’s home range is roughly 10 sq mi (in or region). With our island being roughly 20sq mi, that would mean 2 family groups cozily fitting into our island home.

          My point in all of this is that 10 sightings on our island does not necessarily mean coyotes have “taken over” either. It could be the same coyote seen 10 times, especially if it’s on the move.


      1. Hi Paul –

        Thanks. I agree that the “coywolf” or “wolfote” is a tantalizing moniker, but I prefer to use coyote, because my understanding had been that the hybridization/genetic link was theoretical, at least until it started popping up in these comments (and your previous post) as having been proven.

        Here’s an interesting thing to consider on that note:

        As you may know, Red Wolves are a federally-designated endangered species — one of the first listed, I believe. The story of the Red Wolf re-introduction program in North Carolina is truly fascinating for a bunch of reasons — ecologically and politically — and worth reading up on if you’re not familiar. In the world of conservation biology, protecting the genetic lineage and diversity of rare species is critical to their survival because too-uniform a gene pool makes the whole population susceptible to the hereditary diseases, or other threats, which could wipe out everyone in one fell swoop (“Bottleneck Theory”).

        So, Red Wolves are endangered, and due to their decimated populations, suffer a restricted gene pool. However, due to prior hybridization with Western Coyotes, there is a potentially strong genetic lineage in the population of Eastern Coyotes we have living right here in the Northeast. Isn’t this possibly, probably even, very valuable genetic diversity?

        At what point does the Red Wolf part of an Eastern Coyote’s genetics become ecologically invaluable – 25%, 50%, 80%, 95%? It may not be a “pure strain” but it may be a very important link to the Red Wolf’s past. Imagine Eastern Coyotes are shown to be resistant to some disease that is ravaging the Red Wolves.

        I don’t know these answers by any means, but find it to be a very interesting topic of Conservation Ethics. I’d really like to learn more about it some time.

        Some fun food for thought for you…


        1. Jay, you are right that a bottleneck restricted gene pool thus making all of the progeny homozygous is a bad thing. Hybrid vigor is the biggest law of genetics time and time again. That is why these wolfotes are a completely different species of you are a systematics splitter. It seems like the old biologists looking at wolves are all lumpers wanting to call the all coyote or wolf. But the whole genome sequencing tells another story. These coyotes that went over the top of the Great Lakes and into Ontario as well as down to Cape Ann bred with grey wolves. They are being found to have 80 to 90% grey wolf haplotypes. That is a wolf, not a coyote. Or at least the wolf part goes first. I’m going with “wolfote” to describe Cape Ann’s apex predator because I like the idea of the grey wolf coming back to Cape Ann after man exterminated it from the northeast. If 90% of the grey wolf genome resides on the Cape the wolf is back. Because as we all know the animal is just the genomes way of replicating itself.

          2.8 million dog bites annually in the United States. Yeah, I would call the news article sensational. Like the great Shark attack on Cape Cod which turned out to be a beer can the dude rolled over on. Last year’s shark attack of the guy swimming out to where the seals are being fed upon by the great whites, uh, like wolfotes, just a little common sense wouldn’t hurt.


        2. Please share and site the study that shows Cape Ann coyotes are found to have 80 to 90% Grey Wolf haplotypes. “These coyotes that went over the top of the Great Lakes and into Ontario as well as down to Cape Ann bred with grey wolves. They are being found to have 80 to 90% grey wolf haplotypes.”


      1. “Bias” is interesting, considering the vicious coyote picture selected for the main post, but I would be reluctant to confuse Jon’s opinions with his research.

        His peer-reviewed publications focus on the presence, distribution, migrations and behavior of Eastern Coyotes in Massachusetts, which has been a significant contribution to our understanding of these creatures. He has also published a good deal on the intra-pack dynamics of a group of captive coyotes (that were on exhibit at the Stone Zoo, if anyone else was lucky enough to see those guys up close). These are hardly op-ed pieces.

        His popular articles and website (I have not yet read his book) are certainly pro-coyote. But I can’t blame him. Nor would I discredit his work. Most of the time the general public hears about this misunderstood creature, it’s in an over-hyped news clip like the one posted above, or the presumptive tales of someone whose cat ran off. Sadly, this talk quickly deteriorates into calls for the extermination of the animals (though, thankfully, not so much in this particular forum — I hope that can be taken as a sign of progress). Someone has to stand up for them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you again Jay for your opinion. Again, I ask you or Paul to please share and site the study that shows Cape Ann coyotes are found to have 80 to 90% Grey Wolf haplotypes. “These coyotes that went over the top of the Great Lakes and into Ontario as well as down to Cape Ann bred with grey wolves. They are being found to have 80 to 90% grey wolf haplotypes.”

          Again, I repeat, the information for this article about COYOTES, RED FOX, AND LYME DISEASE came from Mass Audubon, Maryland and New York Departments of Natural Resources, and the study: “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease”

          Bias? There isn’t a single photo in Jon’s picture gallery of a coyote slaughtering another animal. Like the photo that was posted here, and in a previous post, with the title “did you shoot my mommy”––they all look friendly, or like “the underdog.”


    2. Please read the study “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease.” Taal Levi, lead author).

      See above: The study found that once where there was an abundance of Red Foxes, there is now an abundance of Eastern Coyotes. Even more significantly, fewer coyotes will inhabit an area once populated by more foxes. The greater number of foxes would have consumed a larger number of small tick-bearing animals, primarily White-footed Mice, Short-tailed Shrews, and Eastern Chipmunks, all of which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. It appears as though it is the Red Fox that once kept the population of these smaller rodents under control.


  8. Your post about the coyotes is very interesting, although I hope that Paul is right. I don’t think killing them is a good way to go, for many reasons. In Native American lore, a coyote represents wisdom and folly and is the keeper of magic. Indians believed that coyotes remind us not to be too serious and that anything is possible. In “The Prodigal Summer,” by Barbara Kingsolver, the coyote plays an important role and is highly respected. A red fox spent some time in my yard recently. I should have taken a picture but I was too fascinated watching him/her and didn’t want to leave my window to find the camera. I live near the woods in Pigeon Cove. Also saw a silver fox about a month ago. That was amazing! Let’s find ways to manage our wildlife without taking their lives! Thanks again for sharing your research, Kim.


  9. Comment submitted by Renate near Wingarsheek ~

    I am a daily reader of the GMG blog and am always looking forward to your contributions. I am especially thankful for your educational pieces within the blog and the comment sections. We have never met, but I hope to run into you at one of the many events that you attend.

    I am writing to you today to tell you that I also noticed the absence of foxes in the past two years. We live out near Wingaersheek Beach and we used to see the foxes crossing the big meadow, that is used for parking in the summer and we even had a fox walk up our driveway, with a dead bunny in his mouth, to go behind our neighbors property, where she had young ones waiting for food, I am sure. I woke up a couple of nights ago to the screaming of coyotes (it is probably mating season), not a pleasant sound. A couple of years ago, we had a coyote leave her young ones behind our house to go hunting for food and I was able to take a couple of pictures. I am attaching one for you to see if these were in fact young coyotes. Some people think they are foxes, but I think they are too big in the legs. What do you think?

    I also wanted to write to you to find out about the milkweed plants. We would be interested in planting them. We already have a couple of plants that found their way to us on their own, but we have a rain garden, that would be the perfect spot. It is already attracting butterflies due to the butterfly bush and the other drought resistant plants there. I am attaching two pictures of butterflies, that I took last summer.

    We are trying to be as sustainable as we can be and our garden is a testament to our efforts. We put together a self-guided tour of our garden and already had a lot of people taking it in the last two summers. I am attaching a copy for your information and you are welcome to stop by if you are interested in a tour.

    I hope you will continue to contribute to the GMG blog and educate the public about these important issues.

    Thank you!


    1. Please post the photos. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s curious.

      Consistent with all of the warnings/suggestions (from MA DFW, Mass Audubon, etc) for living amicably with coyotes, I would HIGHLY recommend that if a property owner suspects coyotes have denned with young pups near their house, that they contact Mass Fish & Wildlife to have them removed/transplanted. Regardless of your stance on coyotes, that seems like the definition of a conflict waiting to happen.


        1. Thank you again Jay for your opinion. Again, I ask you or Paul to please share and site the study that shows Cape Ann coyotes are found to have 80 to 90% Grey Wolf haplotypes. “These coyotes that went over the top of the Great Lakes and into Ontario as well as down to Cape Ann bred with grey wolves. They are being found to have 80 to 90% grey wolf haplotypes.”

          Again, I repeat, the information for this article about COYOTES, RED FOX, AND LYME DISEASE came from Mass Audubon, Maryland and New York Departments of Natural Resources, and the study: “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease”

          Bias? There isn’t a single photo in Jon’s picture gallery of a coyote slaughtering another animal. Like the photo that was posted here, and in a previous post, with the title “did you shoot my mommy”––they all look friendly, or like “the underdog.”


  10. Being a friday night only a cursory search:

    this is old data but relevant:

    The three closely related species of North American Canis (western Coyote, Eastern Wolf, and Gray Wolf) do not conform to the biological species
    concept (Mayr 1942) because they are not reproductively isolated and gene
    fl ow occurs between them (Kyle et al. 2006). Although there is no evidence
    for direct hybridization between Gray Wolves and western Coyotes, the Eastern Wolf mediates gene fl ow between these two species. This relationship is especially apparent in southeastern Ontario where the term “Canis soup”
    was coined to refl ect the mix of eastern Coyotes, Eastern Wolves, Gray
    Wolves and their hybrids (see Grewal et al. 2004, Sears et al. 2003, Wilson
    et al. 2009). Microsatellite genotype data presented here provide evidence
    that the Massachusetts northeastern canids cluster genetically with other
    eastern Coyote populations and separately from western Coyotes, Eastern
    Wolves, and Gray Wolves. Because of their morphological and genetic distinctiveness, including from the nearest subspecies of western Coyote, C. l.
    thamnos Jackson, found in the midwest United States (Berg and Chesness
    1978, Parker 1995, Way 2007), we suggest that the eastern Coyote be called
    the “Eastern Coywolf” or just “Coywolf” (C. latrans x lycaon). This term
    better refl ects the genetic composition of this highly successful canid.

    old data from 2009 showing significant old using mitochondrial data


    But really the percentage is academic. Are they 20% and thus not wolves. Or are they 51% and thus for sure wolves. Evolution and selection does not work that way. If they are moving into a niche where wolves were exterminated selection pressures will select all of the traits corresponding with the animal most favorable to that niche. The wolf that was exterminated. Darwin’s revenge.


  11. I’ve been following the discussion about coyotes, red foxes, and Lyme disease. I commend Kim for her thoughtfully researched and well reasoned positions. There seems to be an undercurrent of romanticism surrounding the coyotes that are newly arrived on Cape Ann, as if they represent some sort of mythical fulfillment of legend; and to characterize them as “underdogs” seems almost laughable given the rapidity with which they have asserted themselves – at the expense of red foxes, domestic housecats, and other small mammals – into our Cape Ann ecosystem. I hope that your voice of reason, backed by the solid science that you offer, will continue to be heard above the din.


    1. I should not have called the wolfote the underdog because they are going to do what they should do, fill the grey wolf niche whether we like it or not.(We should like it because our wildlife that surrounds us becomes more in tune and not out of sorts.) You remove an apex predator like the wolf and she is going to find her way back come hell or high water. Shooting them did zero good then and it will do zero good now. I really don’t consider the wolfote as the underdog just underappreciated as to their fit into the ecosystem.


  12. Check the peer reviewed only:

    Why I think coy wolfs or wolfotes are cool:

    the debate grows:

    Frig all my 85 and 90% wolf numbers were from papers I was reading behind firewalls. This is from recent genomic studies. Virtually all of the previous work which give no percent are from mitochondrial stuff. Not nearly as good.
    The first citation might have it though. Being a Friday night I’m citation minus right now.


  13. Thank you for providing above articles Paul. I have read several of Jon’s papers and I look forward to reading all. Perhaps when you are at work on Monday you can get behind the firewalls and provide us with the specific data and studies that show Cape Ann coyotes are 85-90% wolf. That is really breaking news and I am sure we would all love to read the data and the study from where it was collected.

    Question: If what we are calling coyotes on Cape Ann are 85-90% wolf, then why aren’t they called a wolf?

    According to the Eagle Tribune article provided there is no such thing as a coywolf or coydog:(

    “…according to the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, there is no such thing as a coywolf, or a coydog, for that matter.

    “They are all eastern coyotes,” said Marion Larson, information and education chief for the division. “Coywolf is not the proper term. It is a coyote, no different than any of the other coyotes in Massachusetts.”

    She was also emailed photos of the animal seen in North Andover, further confirming her suspicion that it was, indeed, a coyote, albeit one with “luxuriant coat,” typical of the winter fur on many animals this time of year in New England.

    Many people are used to seeing coyotes with gray, scraggly hair. That may be what they look like in the summer, but in the winter, their coats take on a fuller look, making them resemble wolves, she said.

    She admitted, however, there is a little wolf DNA in eastern coyotes.

    “There’s a lot of back and forth about genetics,” she said, “but it’s more of an academic argument at this point.”

    For the most part, red wolves were eradicated from New England by the mid-1800s. But, Larson said, a gray wolf was shot by a farmer in 2007 in Sherburne, where it had attacked some livestock. A federal offense to shoot wolves, a protected species, the farmer in this case was not charged because he was protecting his sheep, Larson said.

    While in most cases it is illegal to shoot wolves, it is not against the law for licensed hunters to kill coyotes. Coyote season runs from October to March 8.”


    1. I found a reference to he paper that was not behind a paywall. It also mentions that the eastern coyote eats a lot of deer, unlike the western which most studies of coyotes focus on.

      The diet of eastern coyotes includes white-tailed deer, while western coyotes feed mostly on rabbits and small game. The coyote in the Fish and Wildlife conference room had four pounds of deer meat in his belly when he died. But, aside from diet, part of the reason for the eastern coyotes’ larger size may be hybridization with wolves.

      The Fish and Wildlife specimen and Rocky Larocque’s animal certainly have wolf genes. More tellingly, a study by Wilson and Jakubas shows that of 100 coyotes collected in Maine, 22 had half or more wolf ancestry – and one was 89 percent wolf. Over half of the specimens had eastern coyote ancestry, but only 4 percent were mostly descended from western coyotes (Canis latrans).


      1. Yes, the ONE coyote specimen referenced above, from a post written in 2005, was shot in Glover, Vermont in 1998 and had four pounds of deer in its belly. The diet of an animal species is not determined by one specimen.

        The study by Wilson and Jakubus is also referenced on wiki “A study showed that of 100 coyotes collected in Maine, 22 had half or more grey wolf ancestry, and one was 89 percent grey wolf. A theory has been proposed that the large eastern “coyotes” in Canada are actually hybrids of the smaller western coyotes and grey wolves that met and mated decades ago as the coyotes moved toward New England from their earlier western ranges.”

        Based on this 2005 study not from Cape Ann, but from Maine, we could then assume that the other 77 coyotes had less than half Gray Wolf ancestry. It would be interesting to see the complete results of the study. And also interesting to see the study referenced, where the coyotes of Cape Ann are 85-90% wolf.

        The thrust of my article “Coyotes, Red Foxes, and Lyme Disease in Massachusetts” is about the correlation between the declining numbers of Red Fox, thought to be a result of the new role of the coyote as top-predator in our region, and the resulting rise in Lyme disease. I stand by my post 100 percent. Thank you all for your comments and insights. The comment section of this article is closed to further commentary. I look forward to reading future posts by GMG contributors and readers about coyote DNA and any related topics.


    1. I am so, so sorry to hear this. Our pets become such a beautiful and joyful part of our lives–true family members, and it is very tragic when they are taken away so unexpectedly. I hope your friend is okay.


  14. I live on cape cod. We have a lot of wild turkeys and a lot of fox.the fox are not afraid of people unless you make alot of noise. The walk right down the middle of our street . Last year they saw our dog and just walked up the drive way it did not see m husband who made a lot of noise and it took off. On. Tuesday it tried o get some young turkeys in our yard the. Adult turkeys were fighting it off. My husband drove u the drive way and the fox looked at the car and took off. Boy was he surprised. We no longer have white cotton tail. But I tell my grand daughter that the wild animals were here long before all the houses were built. They are beautiful t watch as long as your inside the house.


  15. Thank you Kim for this article and Paul perhapse consider what she is saying. No article can cover everything. Sadly the few coyote in our woods has killed all the deer, squirrels, fox, racoon, and now taken my precious house cats that were just sitting on my yard. I think we only have four birds left. I live in georgia and just talked to a man who said they have killed everything near his home in Alabama. Sad very sad. I love all animals but this is not a balance. Something has to done at least where I live before the small children are next.


    1. Thank you for writing Julia. I am so, so sorry to hear about your precious kitties. Our cats and dogs are so dear to us and my heart goes out to you.

      In our seaside community cats also serve an important role in helping to keep the rat and mouse populations at manageable levels.

      The Western coyote that has invaded the east is the new top predator, to the detriment of all other smaller mammals. What are the hunting laws in Georgia and Alabama? Fortunately, it is legal to hunt coyotes in Massachusetts from October to May.
      Someone in our neighborhood has been hunting coyotes, and anecdotally speaking, it has helped tremendously to keep the population down. Seemingly, more have not moved in to take their place. We’ve had a few more rabbits and chipmunks lately but with the coyote population better under control, hopefully the Red Fox will move back into our neighborhood.

      Paul, you are dismissing Julia’s experience and telling her not to extrapolate from anecdotal experiences, and then proceed to provide your own anecdotal experience along with the deafening silence conclusion.


      1. On Cape Cod since coyote moved in fox have all but disappeared. Couple of foxes left hunt in late morning not night, appear thinner, more nervous. This morning two large coyote shaped animals with fox colored fur chased turkey onto front porch; turkey escaped, flapping heavily onto roof. Large animals had coyote ears, short muzzle like fox, red/buff fur, bushy tail, big coyote paws. Obviously not fox/coyote hybrid since they cannot cross breed. Maybe coyote cross with red/yellow colored dog? Any ideas? Also, since coyote established population, sharp decline in red squirrel and chipmunk, big increase in grey squirrel. Any correlations or are greys recovering as oaks recover balance with pines after heavy logging/over grazing in prior centuries?


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