Stanley Woods Brush Wolf: Coyote Controversy

The Brush Wolf
Coyote Controversy

  • Slides: Prof. Woods and his colleagues track the brush wolf, deep into Stanley Park.
  • Facts: Curious details about the "little wolf" of the prairies…
  • Short Stories: Includes an exclusive story by Prof. Woods!
  • News: Press clippings about urban coyotes in Canada.

There is some speculation as to the real ancestry or species of the Stanley Woods Brush Wolf. Spotted irregularly, some people say it's a wolf (Canis lupus), many are convinced they saw a coyote (Canis latrans) and a few sceptics say its nothing more than a dog (Canis familiaris).

Prof. Woods and his colleagues, Bill Powers and Phil Flash, cameras in hand, have tracked the brush wolf, deep into the forests of Stanley Park to see if we can determine the species of the Stanley Woods Brush Wolf once and for all.

There are eight species of the genus Canis. Three are jackals of Europe, Africa and Asia, and there is the Ethiopian Wolf (C. simensis). The Grey Wolf (C. lupus) is the largest species with representatives found in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Middle East, India and Asia (Timber Wolf, Arctic Wolf, Asian Desert Wolf, Iberian Wolf, …).

Other canines native to North America include the Coyote (C. latrans) and the critically endangered Red Wolf (C. rufus). The Red Wolf has been the subject of a reintroduction program in the U.S. that began in 1973, when there were only 17 individuals identified during a six-year capture program in Texas and Louisiana.

The Red Wolf has been a hot topic among taxonomists (the people who name things). The argument is about whether the Red Wolf is a true species, or whether it is just the result of coyotes and grey wolves cross-breeding. (Canis is somewhat unique in that the different species within it can interbreed, and produce fertile hybrid offspring, unlike, say, the genus Equus. Hybrids of horses and donkeys or zebras cannot bear young.) The debate could determine the fate of the Red Wolf, because only true species are protected in the U.S. by the Endangered Species Act.

The Coyote (C. latrans, also known as the "brush wolf" or "prairie wolf") is common throughout North America. From British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, the brush wolf ranges all the way south to Panama. It is thought that coyotes were originally limited to the American southwest but have proved to be very adaptable and have spread east into more-populated and even urban areas. Coyotes are said to even be living in New York City. Pronounced "KY-oat" and "ky-OAT-ee," the name "coyote" comes from a Nahuatl word, "coyotl" as it was called by the Aztecs.

Coyotes vary significantly in size, ranging from 20 lbs. in deserts to 50 lbs. in mountainous regions. Coyotes have several features that make them easily recognizable. Most significant of these is the coyote's bushy, black-tipped tail, nearly half the body length and carried low while running, unlike that of other dogs. Coyotes have large pointed ears, a sharp, pointy muzzle, slender legs and are buff or grey in colour grizzled with black-tipped guard hairs.

The Brush Wolf (Coyote) Canis latrans

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Created: March 31, 2002
Last modified: April 8, 2002

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