An Indianapolis man believes he has seen a coyote-wolf hybrid, known as a coywolf, but a state biologist says the sighting was more likely just a regular coyote.
Indiana Wildlife Management owner Scott Harter told television station RTV6 he saw a coywolf recently in the Heartland Crossing area. Harter, who lives in southern Hamilton County, said his first encounter with a coywolf was two years ago on the northwest side of Indianapolis. All he has left of the animal he killed is some fur, which he is looking for in order to have it tested, he said.
“When I first came across this animal, I thought there was something wrong with it,” he said, speaking by phone recently. The animal had a larger body, thicker fur and longer legs than a coyote, he said. “I’m not a Bigfoot chaser and I’m not a Loch Ness monster chaser, but I do know what attacked me on the north side of Indianapolis.”
Besides owning the Indianapolis wildlife management company, Harter teaches trapping classes for Purdue Extension and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Harter said he has trapped “tons of them” in the Indianapolis area. The next one he traps will have tissue samples sent to an independent laboratory. It’s something Harter hopes happens soon so he can prove there are wolf hybrids in the Hoosier state.
“We still catch coyotes, too,” Harter said, adding that he believes Indiana is home to coyotes, coydogs and coywolves.
That’s not the view of Geriann Albers, fur biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Albers believes that coyotes roam both rural and urban areas of Indiana.
There are coyotes with some wolf DNA that can now be found in Canada and some Northeastern states, but Indiana is not one of those locations, she said.
“We just have straight-up coyotes,” Albers said, adding that the coyotes in Indiana and other Midwestern and Eastern states are larger than Western coyotes.
There are two theories on why Eastern coyotes, as they are called, are larger. One is that Eastern coyotes do have a small amount of wolf or dog DNA that makes them larger. The second is that the availability of prey in Eastern states is better and, therefore, coyotes’ bodies have increased in size. Western coyotes average about 20 pounds, but Eastern coyotes average more toward 30 pounds, she said.
“Coyotes do really well in urban environments,” Albers said. “Most of their diets are mice and squirrels. But urban environments provide a richer diet for them. ... (People) provide them a lot of food, and they do well where people are.”
Coyotes can weigh up to 50 pounds and measure 40-50 inches from nose to tail tip. In the winter, when it’s cold and their fur is fluffed up, the animals can appear even larger.
“You can’t just go with appearance,” Albers said. “There’s a lot of variation with coyotes. You can’t tell if it’s a (coywolf) without genetic testing.”
Information from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources states that there are records of coyotes in the state that go back to 1816. At that time, most coyotes were found in the prairie regions of the state. But since the 1980s, coyote populations have expanded, and they can now be found in all areas of the state, including cities.
One reason there are more reports about coyotes is that they are now found in most residential areas. With the larger number of trail cameras, there are also more photographs showing coyotes, Albers said. “We have more people seeing things that have been out there for a while.”
At one time, there were both red and gray wolves in Indiana. But wolves were eliminated from the state by 1908.
In recent years, the only wolf that has been recorded in Indiana was one that was found dead in east-central Indiana in 2003. The young male wolf had traveled from a pack in Wisconsin, Albers said.
Although there is a wolf park educational and research facility in Indiana, Albers said it is highly unlikely that a wolf would escape and breed with a coyote. Another possibility would be a person who illegally owned a wolf that got loose and bred with coyotes.
But, Albers said, that is also highly unlikely, because coyotes do not breed with other species if there are other coyotes in the area.
More about coyotes
Coyotes can be found throughout Indiana. Coyotes closely resemble German shepherd dogs in height and shape, but unlike a shepherd, a coyote carries its tail lower than its back instead of curved upward. Coyotes also weigh less than German shepherds.
Coyotes average about 25 pounds but can weigh 20-50 pounds. They can measure 40-50 inches from nose to tail tip.
Coyotes can be active day or night, but are typically most active at dawn and dusk.
Coyotes primarily feed on small mammals, rabbits and squirrels, but will eat many things, including dog or cat food left out near a house. They will also scavenge exposed garbage, and may kill people’s cats and small dogs. Coyotes will also eat fruit, insects, livestock, deer and poultry.