A potential new species—a coyote souped up with wolf and dog DNA that some are calling the "coywolf"—is spreading throughout eastern North America in a phenomenon the Economist says is "astonishing." Scientists believe coywolves got their start a century or two ago when struggling wolf populations in Canada started breeding with dogs and coyotes. The Economist reports this kind of interbreeding usually produces offspring that fail to thrive. But the mix of wolf, dog, and coyote DNA proved to be an exception. Bigger, stronger, and faster than the typical coyote, the coywolf is comfortable hunting in forests like a wolf as well as in open areas like a coyote. One scientist who studied 437 coywolves found they contain 65% coyote DNA, 25% wolf DNA, and 10% dog DNA.
It's that dog DNA that is helping the coywolf thrive, even in urban areas like New York and Boston, the Economist reports. Some scientists believe the dog DNA makes coywolves more tolerant of humans and noises. They eat both produce and pets, look before crossing the street, and have even become nocturnal to adapt to urban living. Their unique mix of genetics is allowing them to succeed where both wolves and coyotes have failed. "[It's an] amazing contemporary evolution story that's happening right underneath our nose," says one researcher, who estimates there are millions of coywolves in North America by this point. But there is still debate about whether they are their own species. "They are eastern coyotes," one coyote expert, who doesn't like the term coywolf, told the Detroit Free Press earlier this year. "They aren't really different from other coyotes." (This new type of rat has odd pubic hair.)