Tuesday, June 23, 2009

21 June 2009

The Summer Solstice brings no special event. I sit and wait. Nothing. It's just me and the bloodsucking insects. The birds are cheerful, at least. A Wood thrush sings somewhere off in the distance, and a Catbird directly behind me. The weasels must be sleeping in.
I wonder about coyote pup development. There are some differences between Eastern and Western coyote puppies--possibly attributed to their differing genetics. In 2000, a study was completed based on the DNA analysis of Eastern coyotes from several areas: New York, Ontario, and Maine. All of the samples came up with markers present only in one other species: the Eastern Wolf. How far south these genes go is not known. I do wish we had collected samples from our study population.
But where did these wolf genes come from? When coyotes were colonizing the Eastern states over the past 100 years, they first passed North of the Great Lakes region into Canada and then moved South into the Northeastern states. Along the way, they mated with the Algonquin wolf, and produced viable offspring. This all gets pretty complicated for a blog, but I can explain more if you ever visit me in person. What it comes down to is that coyotes do not mate with 
Gray wolves--as those genes are not present in the coyote DNA analysis, and the Eastern wolf encompasses two populations: the Algonquin and the Red. But this has yet to be rectified by the scientific community. There are arguments on both sides--the opposite against the Red wolf being designated as a species at all, while the other calls for a re-writing of Canid history in North America, as well as adjusting scientific names--which takes a very long time.
Now even someone with a non-scientific background would realize that wolf genes may have an impact on the coyote's behavior and physiology. It turns out there are a few known characteristics: Eastern coyote pups have longer legs, are more social and less aggressive with their littermates, and are larger than their Western cousins. In New York, researchers found that there was a dietary difference as well: coyotes are eating beaver, just like the Algonquin wolves do in Ontario.
So, I sit and wonder what the pups are doing. I also think of my own puppies at home: now 10 months and 4 months. Surely, coyote puppy behavior isn't that different than the play of our family pets.

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