ScienceShot: What Do You Get When You Cross a Wolf With a Coyote?

L. D. Mech et al., PLoS ONE 9 (25 February 2014)

ScienceShot: What Do You Get When You Cross a Wolf With a Coyote?

Thanks to some deft handiwork, biologists have shown that wolves from the western United States can successfully hybridize with coyotes. The finding is relevant to, but doesn’t settle, the debate about whether wolves in the eastern United States are a separate species—a question with significant implications for legal protection of wolves. It’s known that wolves in the eastern United States can mate with coyotes—which could explain the presence of coyotelike mitochondrial DNA in the eastern wolves—but hybrids haven’t been observed in the west. So researchers collected semen from captive western wolves and artificially inseminated nine coyotes. In 2012, one female became pregnant but the fetus died. Another female ate her pups. But a third female had six healthy hybrid pups (three pictured), the team reports this week in PLOS ONE. To some researchers, this is further evidence that gray wolves are the same species across the United States. However, just because western wolves can produce viable offspring doesn’t mean they ever have in the wild.

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