Posts Tagged ‘red wolf’

Killing Coyotes is Futile

June 1, 2013

The title of an article published in a recent issue of Georgia Outdoor News was “Save a Fawn, Kill a Coyote.”  This is the first line of that article–“Killing coyotes is fun.”  I just have to comment on this sadistic stupidity.

Ranchers have been trying to exterminate coyotes in the western states for 150 years.  Trapping, shooting, and poisoning have all failed.  Instead, coyote populations have increased, and they’ve recolonized the eastern states where they had been absent for about 10,000 years.  Wildlife management scientists understand why hunting coyotes has little impact on their long term numbers.  F.F. Knowles studied coyotes in Texas during the early 1970’s.  He found that in south Texas, where coyotes are abundant and under little hunting pressure, female coyotes produce an average litter size of 4.3, while in north Texas, where coyotes are extensively hunted, female coyotes produce an average litter size of 6.9.

Coyotes under human hunting pressure produce larger litters.  This mother has at least 9 pups.

Coyotes that are under human hunting pressure produce larger litters.  So when these stupid hunters kill a coyote, they are helping to increase the coyote population in the long term, thereby increasing fawn mortality.  They are not saving fawns as the title to the GON article falsely claims.  Another study examined the differences between populations of hunted and not hunted coyotes in Montana.  This study also found that female coyotes of the hunted population produced larger litters.  Moreover, pups from the hunted populations had a higher survival rate than pups from non hunted populations because the number of rodents and rabbits had increased from the previous year after some coyotes had been removed from the environment.  Coyote populations did temporarily dip immediately after they were hunted but completely rebounded to their former abundance in about 9 months.  Coyotes eat an average of 5 rodents a day.  Populations of mice, rats, and rabbits naturally increased until coyote numbers bounced back.  One can obviously assume from these studies that hunting coyotes serves no practical purpose for wildlife management.  Hunters should just be honest with themselves and admit they want to shoot coyotes for the hell of it because they like to kill animals, not because they are saving the deer herd.  (Note: I do believe there’s nothing wrong with farmers killing coyotes they catch in the act of attacking their livestock.)

I think anybody who kills coyotes for fun is a sadistic sociopath.  It’s like shooting your neighbor’s dog.  I’m not against hunting for food, but many hunters don’t shoot animals for food, they kill animals because they like to hurt living things.  These guys are the same kind of people who made good concentration camp guards during the holocaust.  They’re the same kind of people who participated in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.  And they live amongst us.

I used to post on the Georgia Outdoor News message board, but 1 of the moderators threatened to ban me every time I expressed my opinion.  Rednecks don’t have much tolerance for people with different opinions than their own.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist rubbing it in after the last election.  They all think Obama is some kind of socialist anti-christ.  I think Obama and the democrats are marginally better than the republicans, but they are both bad for the environment–the 1 issue I really care about.  I posted a topic on their political forums entitled “Hicks and Haters Lost the Election.”  The moderator banned me again (I’ve come back under different aliases).  I also got banned from SEC Rant for using the word, hick.  Hicks really don’t like to be called hicks.

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I believe the species of wolf that lived in southeastern North America until the 19th century is extinct.  Genetic studies suggest the red wolves that wildlife biologists re-introduced are coywolves–hybrid coyote (Canis latrans) and gray wolf (Canis lupus) mixes.  We will never know if there was a distinct southeastern species of wolf unless scientists examine the DNA of the fossil specimen found in Fern Cave (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/the-truth-about-the-red-wolfs-status-as-a-species/ ).  Dire wolves were the dominant canid across the south during the Rancho La Brean land mammal age of the late Pleistocene, but coyotes did occur in the region then, occupying a scavenging, rodent-killing niche.  I hypothesize that when dire wolves became extinct, southeastern coyotes evolved into a larger canid that lived across the southeast until man wiped them out.  Whether they deserved full species status is debatable.

Coyote near Atlanta, Georgia.  Looks like a wolf to me.

Red wolf.  Looks like a coyote to me.

I see coyotes quite often in Richmond County, Georgia–both live and road-killed specimens.  Coyotes patrol state highways looking for other road-killed animal to eat and often become victims of motor vehicles as well.  I’ve seen a large reddish coyote that resembles the red wolf in the above photo.  On one occasion a coyote trotted across the vacant lot on the opposite side of the street from my house and exhibited the pouncing behavior they use to catch mice.

References:

Gese

“Demographic and Spatial Responses of Coyotes to Changes in Food and Exploitation”

Wildlife Damage Management Conference 1-1-2005

Knowlton, F.F.

“Preliminary Interpetations of Coyote Population Mechanics with some Management Implications”

Journal of Wildlife Management 36 1972

The Truth About the Red Wolf’s Status as a Species

May 9, 2012

There are a lot of hostile jerks on the internet who are quick to insult the intelligence of people they disagree with. Not long ago, I encountered one of these shmucks.  Scottie Westfall writes the Retrieverman blog which is an interesting one focusing on dog breeding, evolution, and genetics.  He’s convinced recent genetics studies support his long held belief that the red wolf (Canis rufus) is nothing more than a hybrid between the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the coyote (Canis latrans).  I commented on his blog, suggesting how the natural history of this hybridization could have occurred beginning in the Pleistocene.  My comment was consistent with the findings of the study he cited.  I wasn’t disagreeing with his premise.

 A Shmuck on the internet.

His response to my comment revealed blind hostility.  He wrote that my “inability to understand the study and my parrotting of data it falsified was telling.”  This would be a cleverly worded retort, if I had been in conflict with his opinion.  But I wasn’t.  It was obvious he didn’t understand what I wrote because I wasn’t even disagreeing with his conclusion.  And his response implied that I was some how evil or an idiot simply because we supposedly disagreed about some obscure scientific controversy.  On this same response thread he’s carrying on a long debate (92 responses and counting) with an ardent anti-hunter in which his tactic is to call her an “idiot.”  What’s that say about his mentality and personality?

Now, I’ve had time to read the literature in depth, and I’ve discovered the genetic studies are contradictory.  Evolution is seldom black and white.  Usually, there is quite a bit of gray area, and the status of the red wolf as a species is certainly an example of the uncertainty involved in determining when speciation has occurred.  Scottie Westfall’s blog gives only one side of the issue–the genetic studies that support his opinion.  I commented on his blog with a link to a study that contradicted the genetic studies he touts as conclusively supporting his position, but he removed my comment and apparently he’s decided to block all of my comments from now on.  Because his blog tops google searches, I feel it’s necessary to offer both sides of this issue, so those researching this controversy can gain a better unbiased understanding.

Red Wolf (Canis rufus? Canis lycaon? Canis latrans x Canis lupus? Canis rufus x Canis latrans? Canis lupus rufus?)

This 80 pound canine was recently shot inside this hog trap somewhere in Georgia.  It’s black and had a white spot on its breast.  Another trailcam photo posted at the Georgia Outdoor News forum also photographed a black coyote with a white spot on its breast.  Early colonists and explorers in the southeast noted that black wolves with white spots on their breasts were the common color variation of wolves in Georgia and Florida.  I’ve also seen large reddish colored coyotes in south Richmond County Georgia.  Supposedly, wolves were extirpated from Georgia and Florida by 1917.  Did a population survive?  Is it breeding with the recent influx of western coyotes or was the southeastern wolf simply a big subspecies of coyote?  DNA tests are contradictory.

All scientists agree that the remaining population of red wolves, now confined to the Alligator Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, have at least some coyote blood.  The final population of red wolves captured along the Lousiana/ Texas border had been reduced to such low numbers that they’d been breeding with the more abundant coyotes.  Scientists chose those individuals with the physical characteristics most consistent with those of the red wolf and successfully bred them in captivity before releasing them in the North Carolina wildlife refuge which then was far away from the expanding coyote population but now suffers a coyote invasion.  Biologists are attempting to trap and remove coyotes to prevent them from again breeding with red wolves, but I doubt they’ll be successful.

About 20 years ago, R.K. Wayne of UCLA noticed an absence of genetic markers in red wolves distinct from those of coyote or gray wolf.  He proposed that the red wolf was simply a coyote/gray wolf hybrid.  A few years later, he examined DNA from 6 skins of red wolves killed in Arkansas circa 1900, and the evidence supported his proposal.  A few other studies supported his contention, but other scientists were skeptical.  They were suspicious of Dr. Wayne’s choice of specimens.  They originated from Arkansas which bordered the historical range of the gray wolf and the red wolf.  The specimens may in fact be from gray wolves, not red wolves.

In 2000 Dr. Paul Wilson, a Canadian scientist, led a study of eastern Canadian wolf and red wolf DNA.  He found none of the eastern Canadian wolf or red wolf DNA from specimens prior to the 1960’s contained gray wolf mtDNA sequences.  Moreover, there was a high degree of genetic affinity between eastern Canadian wolf (Canis lycaon) and red wolf mtDNA.  He considered them the same species.  In both wolves he found mtDNA control sequences more closely related to coyotes that are not found in gray wolves.  However, both eastern wolves had specific unique haplotypes not found in western coyotes.  So his study did find specific genetic markers unique to red wolves that were not found in gray wolves or coyotes–something Dr. Wayne didn’t find in his study proposing that red wolves were coyote/gray wolf hybrids.  Below is his proposed evolutionary tree which is consistent with the fossil record.

Dr. Wilson found a genetic divergence between gray wolves and eastern wolves of 8% which he calculated to mean they diverged from a common ancestor 1-2 million years ago.  The genetic divergence between coyotes and eastern wolves is only 1-2% which he calculated to mean they diverged from a common ancestor 150,000-300,000 years ago.  Coyotes have recently (within the last 100 years) come into contact with eastern wolves and have hybridized.

Last year, scientists led by Bridgett Von Holdt used existing genetic data to create a genome wide analysis of worldwide canine DNA.  The findings in this study directly contradict the findings in Dr. Wilson’s study, though it should be noted this study used the same contested samples of red wolf specimens that Dr. Wayne used.  Dr. Von Holdt found no close affinity between eastern Canadian wolves and red wolves.  They determined the current population of red wolves were 75%-80% coyote with the balance being gray wolf.

So which study is correct?  Who knows?  I would like to see a study of DNA from red wolf specimens originating from 17th or 18th century Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.  Evidence from such a study might resolve the controversy.  I’m not sure a study such as I propose can be conducted.  There may just be a shortage of readily available museum specimens.  But I know of one.  I recall a red wolf specimen with fur was discovered in Fern Cave, Alabama in 1970 along with much older remains of the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus).  I don’t know who possesses this specimen but it should be genetically analyzed.

I believe red wolves evolved from coyotes following the extinction of dire wolves.  Coyotes were present in the Pleistocene southeast but eventually became absent.  I formerly thought red wolves drove coyotes out of the region, but now I think eastern coyotes grew bigger to exploit a deer-hunting niche left vacant when dire wolves became extinct.  Whether or not they’re a distinct species, a large subspecies of coyote, or a coyote/gray wolf hybrid is debatable?

References:

Wayne, R.K.

“Molecular Evolution of the Dog Family”

Trends in Genetics 1993

Wilson, Paul; et. al.

“DNA Profiles of Eastern Canadian Wolf and Red Wolf Provide Evidence for a Common Evolutionary History Independent of the Gray Wolf”

Canadian Journal of Zoology 78 2000

Von Holdt, Bridgett; et. al.

“A Genome Wide Perspective on the Evolutionary History of Engimatic Wolf-like Canids”

Genome Research 2011