Teri Wilson
November 07, 2015 10:44 am

Remember Napoleon Dynamite and his ardent affection for the liger? Duh, of course you do. It was pretty much his favorite animal, “like a lion and a tiger mixed… bred for its skills in magic.”

Okay, so that’s not exactly true. Ligers are a thing, but they can’t do magic tricks. (That we know of. But hey ligers, keep working on those card tricks.) The point is that animal hybrids do exist. Think mules, zebroids and killer bees (yep, those badass bees were an accident). Sometimes these animal mashups are a product of intentional breeding by humans. (Please don’t do this. It can cause all sorts of problems, for real.) Occasionally though, Mother Nature goes a little nuts and these hybrids occur all on their own. That very thing is happening right now with wolves and coyotes in Eastern North America.

For a while now, the habitat for wolves in the wild has been threatened. Deforestation and farming have taken their toll. Paired with the effects of actual wolf hunting and persecution (ugh, we hate this), the numbers of these gorgeous, yet often misunderstood animals are on a major decline. Wolves needs mates and without the benefits of internet dating, sometimes they just can’t find one. (Note to self: Tinder for wolves. Make it happen.)

So, scientists are guessing that about a hundred years ago, lonely wolves in Ontario began mating with coyotes. While both are members of the Canis genus, they’re most definitely two distinctly different species. Normally when two different species mix, their offspring is ecologically weaker. After all, a brand new hybrid animal doesn’t have the benefits of all those years of evolution and natural selection on its side. But in the case of the coywolf (or “eastern coyote” as it’s sometimes called), this isn’t the case. The coywolf seems legit healthy. And pretty darn stealthy, too. According to the Economist, they have “larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs” than a coyote. (Thank you, wolf DNA.) And they seem to have picked up some behavioral and personality traits from the coyote side of the equation, such as a greater tolerance for noise and people (wolves are pretty bashful), that make them bolder hunters and more adaptable to a wider variety of habitats.

Dr. Chris Nagy of the Gotham Coyote Project says there are even an estimated twenty coywolves living in New York City. Coywolves have become nocturnal, which helps them move about in an urban setting without causing too much alarm. They’ve also developed enough street smarts to learn what scientists call the Highway Code, which basically means they look both ways before crossing a street.

Um, yeah. I guess these guys are here to stay. Dr. Roland Kays, Head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, certainly thinks so. He calls the rise of the coywolf an “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose.”

Welcome to the world, coywolves! Now it’s time to brush up on those magic skills, like the liger.

Just kidding.

Maybe.

Related reading:

These rescued wolf pups will light up your life

[Images via Fox Searchlight/Paramount Pictures and Twitter.]

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