The US Geological Survey (USGS) announced on Thursday that scientists at a Utah facility successfully produced hybrid pups from a male western gray wolf and a female western coyote. The success will contribute new information to the debate over whether the eastern wolf, a hybrid animal found only in North America, is a legitimate species. The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.
“Our findings leave the eastern wolf debate open by adding further merit to the hybrid theory rather than disproving it,” said USGS Scientist David Mech. “However, the findings are applicable to captive animals and are not necessarily true under natural conditions, so the counter-hybrid theory is not disproved either.”
USGS researchers worked with partners from the St. Louis Zoo, University of California, Davis and Wildlife Science Center to see if captive coyotes and wolves were able to produce offspring. In the 2012 and 2013 study, nine female coyotes were inseminated with sperm from eight different male wolves. Three of the coyotes became pregnant and one birthed six live and healthy pups.
Some geneticists have long denied that the eastern wolf was a result of hybridization, but is rather a smaller form of the western gray wolf. The scientific community is split between those who believe the eastern wolf should be recognized as a distinct species and those who disagree. Eastern wolves are smaller and skinnier than their western counterparts, and recent research shows the animals live in much closer proximity to coyotes than wolves do.
“Our study adds one more piece to the ongoing controversy over whether the eastern wolf is a valid species,” Mech said.