I am a coyote lover. No two ways about it. I have always been interested in wolves and dogs, but in the past couple of years, I’ve had encounters with Eastern coyotes. And they are every bit as fascinating. Western man has thrown every single weapon he could contrive at them, and all they have done is spread all over the continent.
So it was with great joy when I got a chance to read Dan Flores’s Coyote America. I had heard the author interviewed on Steven Rinella’s podcast a while back, and I was really fascinated about what he had to say about Pleistocene megafauna on the North American Great Plains.
I also knew he was writing a book on coyotes, and I wanted get his take on them.
I’ve just started reading the book. I really enjoy his discussion about Native American traditions with coyotes. I am a damned, no-good Easterner, so I know very little about those traditions.
But I do have a quibble. It’s a friendly quibble. In one part of the book he describes coyotes as being as genetically distinct from wolves as humans are from orangutans and that the two species split from a common ancestor some 3.2 million years ago. He uses a lot of the paleontological data from Xiaoming Wang, who is a great canid paleontologist, who posits that coyotes evolved from directly from Canis lepophagus and that they are wholly a North American lineage.
Now, this is paleontology, and it’s not exactly the best way to determine evolution relationships between very closely related canid species. The reason why is that canids have a tendency toward parallel evolution. For example, the bush dog of South America has dentition that is very much like the African wild dog and the dhole, and at one time, it was suggested that the bush dog was actually a species of dwarf dhole. We now know from genetic studies that it is actually a close relative the of the maned wolf, and it is well-nested in the South American canid clade.
It is definitely true that coyotes resemble African golden jackals, but similarities in appearance have led to error here. Molecular geneticist have recently found that African golden jackal is actually much more closely related to coyotes and wolves than it is to the Eurasian golden jackal. That means that two animals we thought were the same species actually turned out to be two.
And when it comes to the relationship between coyotes and wolves, molecular geneticists had long assumed that the two species split around 1 million years ago. In countless dog domestication articles, the molecular clock has been calibrated around a 1-million-year-old split between wolves and coyotes. I have always thought that was weird, because the paleontology studies suggested a much older divergence.
Well, a recent comparison of wolf and coyote genomes from across North America revealed that the actual separation time was something more like 50,000 years ago. That means the animals we’re calling coyotes now aren’t the same thing as those million-year-old fossils. Those animals are of evolutionary dead-ends that just happened to have a very similar morphology to a coyote in much the same way that African and Eurasian jackals do. Of course, we cannot get genetic data from such old fossils, but it could be that some of these dead-end canids might be more closely related to black-backed and side-striped jackals, which really did diverge from the rest of Canis a really long time ago. They are more divergent from the rest of Canis than the African wild dog and dhole are, and the dhole and African wild dog have their own genera.
If coyotes and wolves diverged only 50,000 years ago, then this raises an interesting taxonomic question. All extant wolf lineages diverged in the past 44,400-45,900 years, as a recent study comparing wolf genomes revealed. These means the genetic difference between a wolf and a coyote is not much more than the greatest genetic variance between wolves. (Generation time are roughly similar in both wolves and coyotes).
This means that the creatures we’re calling coyotes now actually derived from the Eurasian wolf. The reason this animal looks so much like a jackal isn’t because it represents a primitive North American Canis lineage, but because the larger, pack hunting wolf from Eurasia couldn’t live very well at middle latitudes in North America. At the time, dire wolves were occupying this niche. There were also dholes coming into North America, which means that the pack-hunting wolf of Eurasia really had some strong competition. That means that these wolves evolved more toward the generalist jackal body-type and ecological niche. They did so in parallel to the Eurasian and African jackals.
This is very similar to what happened to the first radiation of Eurasian lynx into North America. Eurasian lynx are pretty large, weighing as much as 70 pounds, but they found the mid-sized cat niche already locked up in North America. So they evolved into the smaller bobcat. It just happened millions of years before the wolves that became coyotes came into the continent.
The fact that wolves and coyotes are this closely related and have exchanged genes so much across the continent raises some important questions about what a coyote is. The comparative genome study on wolves and coyotes showed that the animals called the Eastern wolf and the red wolf, which Flores considers valid species in the book, are actually hybrids between wolves and coyotes. I’ve long been a skeptic of the red and Eastern wolf paradigm, but this study actually makes me question coyotes.
One could actually argue that coyotes are a subspecies of wolf. This is a controversial thing to say, but it was once controversial to say that dogs and wolves were the same species– and now there is growing acceptance (at least among scientists) of this fact.
It is certainly true that all wolves, jackals, African wild dogs, and dholes do descend from a coyote-like North American ancestor. But to assume that coyotes are directly derived from this ancestor is a major error, and one that has been falsified in the molecular studies.
If my interpretation of the genetic studies is correct, the coyote should be called the “thriving wolf.” Unlike the bigger ones, it was able to survive all that we threw at it. The more we persecuted it, the greater its numbers became, as did the vastness of its range. It is an adaptable, resourceful survivor, and that makes it the perfect “American avatar” to use Flores’s construction.
So that is what a coyote is. It is the wolf that thrives.
I never have taken a liking to the term ‘beast’ or what I sense is its social nuance. Its implication is negative and connotations derogatory. To me it means true to ones nature; it is base, fundamental and instinctive. From my research the etymology of the word remains unclear however, the root of ‘animal’ is Latin meaning breath or spirit. I suppose the distinction between the two words ‘beast’ and ‘animal’ is essence versus being but I’ll leave that one up to the scholarly sorts who have a ton of disposable time.
To me and for now, they are synonymous. I am reminded of a story I once read of a boy who, all alone and lost in the woods, becomes a beast to protect himself from the perils of the night and fight his way to safety. But upon emerging from the forest unscathed the boy learns that he cannot unbecome.
So what’s the point of all of this? What’s the purpose? Somewhere along my journey I stopped asking the fundamental questions that preoccupied my youth. Like tears in rain they became lost in life’s torrent of distractions, inanities and wasteful activities.
Renwick has helped me find who I am again and to truly know it for the first time. I am a beast of a man.
What’s next – it’s damn time I learn how to train it.
This is from a documentary about brown hyenas on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, but the black-backed jackals stole the scene here!
They are like piranhas in canid form!
The San Diego Humane Society has been serving the San Diego County community since 1880 and has campuses in San Diego, Escondido, and Oceanside. They provide vital services to animals and people by sheltering and adopting animals, providing positive reinforcement training classes, investigating animal cruelty and neglect, presenting education programs for youth and adults, and much more.
Here’s what The San Diego Humane Society had to say about a recent Halo Pets donation:
“The food donation has helped keep hundreds of families together by providing nutritious food for our clients’ pets. The In-Home Service currently provides food and support services to 520 people and 657 pets and the Pantry Service helps more than 2,000 people and 3,000 animals by providing supplemental bags of pet food during times of need. It has made it possible for PAWS San Diego to keep these deserving pet families together in the face of hardship.
In-Home Service client Betty and her cat, Harley, are just two of the lives that have been directly impacted by your generous food donation. Betty says that because she is an “old lady,” and her cat Harley is an “old man,” they keep each other company and that life is worth living because Harley is in it. Their story is a true testament to the human-animal bond and the many ways that pets make our lives better – something that is especially profound for the vulnerable people and pets that we help.
Joe moved to San Diego from San Francisco, where he worked full time as a web designer. He was recently diagnosed with a degenerative disease that has rendered him unable to work. He now lives on a very fixed income and relies on food stamps, yet his infectious personality still shines through. Joe says that his dog, Venus, is his reason for waking up in the morning, especially on those tough days. Joe was very relieved to learn about the PAWS Pantry Service, through which he and Venus receive supplemental pet food once per month. Joe says the support is a huge help and he is happy to have his best friend by his side.”
Thank you San Diego Humane Society for making a WHOLE lot difference for pets in your community.
When you choose Halo pet food, made from natural, whole food ingredients, your pet won’t be the only one with a radiant coat, clear eyes and renewed energy. Halo feeds it forward, donating over 1.5 million bowls annually. As always, Halo will donate a bowl to a shelter every time YOU buy. Thank you for helping #HaloFeeditForward.
Hrithik Roshan Diet Chart Hrithik Roshan who does not crave to own a body like his, it has got all one desires of, the body is well carved, polished and extremely attractive and healthy inside but it’s also demands great maintenance. Hrithik’s personal life has not been under wraps, everyone knows the challenges he faced […]
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So excellent. I'm very happy for the whole family.
I've been privileged to introduce two different Amstaffs to the wonderful world of cats. Both adored the cat and were very gentle their whole lives. Takes time and patience.
love this post!
BAD RAP Blog
Since dogs have sweat glands in their toes, the moisture there can form into balls of ice when they abruptly leave a warm indoor environment and go into very cold temperatures. These ice balls can be so uncomfortable that a dog will hop or limp, and they can even bruise or cut the foot pad.
Some dogs have hair growing between their toes or the pads at the bottom of their feet, which causes trouble in ice and snow. Get a small, round-tipped pair of dog-hair scissors from a pet supply company. They resemble the ones men use to snip their nose hairs, but they are tougher, for thick dog hair. Snip the hair growths from between the pads so that ice and snow can’t build up.
Avoid damage to your dog’s footpads the way sled-dog trainers do. Apply a layer of protection to the bottom of your dog’s feet by spreading a thin layer of petroleum jelly or aloe gel on the dog’s footpads before you head out into the bitter cold. You can even spray Pam or one of the generic vegetable-oil cooking sprays underneath her feet right before you go out. Even if your dog licks her feet later, these products will cause no harm. [It’s probably best to do it just outside the door, or your floors might get messy!]
Blow Hot Air
Relieve ice-covered feet with a hairdryer set on the lowest warm setting. Hold the blower at least six inches away from the dog’s foot. Dry off the melted ice, rinse the feet in warm water to rinse off any salt or chemical contamination, and gently rub the paws to get the circulation going.
Call for Booties
Dogs in any wintry city would probably benefit from wearing dog boots. Be sure to get a quality pair that fits snugly. But don’t secure them too tightly, or you will cut off circulation, which could result in frostbitten toes that require emergency medical intervention.
Booties can be great if your dog has really delicate feet, if your weather is cold enough, or if you live in an area where salt is used to melt the ice and snow. Other ice-melting chemicals like magnesium and calcium chloride can also irritate a dog’s feet, as well as cause an upset stomach when she licks her feet after the walk.
You should go into a pet store to try on different styles of booties and see if your dog will be willing to walk in them, even once you fit a good anatomical fit. Some dogs remain rooted to the spot as if their feet are encased in cement booties – so see if you can’t encourage them to take a few (at first weird!) steps by offering a tasty morsel for each step take (you’ll find Halo Liv-a-Little dried protein treats and many other fine tasty nibbles on another shelf in most stores).
Do You Live In Arizona, California Or Florida?
This advice will be a reminder of why you’re so happy to have a warm zip code!
Tracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.
Tracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.
Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.