Can Gray Wolves Hybridize with Coyotes?

Gray Wolf (Gary Kramer/USFWS photo)

Question: I have heard that the gray wolf that recently wandered into California has been “hanging out” with coyotes. I have also heard that wolves sometimes breed with coyotes and produce offspring that is half wolf and half coyote. Would such an offspring be protected under the endangered status of the wolf or open to hunting like a coyote? Either way, how would someone tell if the animal was 100 percent coyote or a hybrid? Thanks for any insight you can provide. (Jeff S.)

Answer:  We have been getting a number of inquiries regarding wolf-coyote hybrids after we observed and photographed the wolf known as OR7 in the company of coyotes.

According to Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Northern Region Wildlife Program Manager Karen Kovacs, genetic investigations have confirmed that wolves and coyotes have interbred elsewhere. In the Northeast, tests have confirmed that gray wolves and coyotes have interbred. However, there is no evidence to date that gray wolves reintroduced to the Rocky Mountain region have hybridized.

Also, wolves are known to kill and consume coyotes and several studies show that coyote populations decrease when wolves become reestablished in the same habitat. Remember, OR7 was documented near coyotes for only a short time. It would be speculation to suggest that OR7 was “hanging out” with them.

Coyotes in the Northeast that have wolf DNA are larger than average coyotes but clearly not as big as wolves. Coyotes on average weigh about 15-30 lbs; wolves 70-100 lbs. Coyotes are about 1.5 feet tall; wolves about 2.5 feet tall. Kovacs believes that a hunter is more likely to mistake a dog or wolf-dog hybrid for a wolf than confuse a wolf-coyote hybrid with a wolf.

Although gray wolves are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, a wolf-coyote hybrid produced by one of those wolves would not be protected under that law, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Neither is currently listed under California’s endangered species act.

If coyote hunting in California, don’t shoot if you are in doubt of your target. If the animal doesn’t look 100 percent coyote, it’s more likely to be a domestic dog than a wolf or coyote-wolf hybrid. See our webpage for differences between coyotes and wolves. The size difference is pretty dramatic.

For all of the latest information on this lone gray wolf, please visit our website at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf/.


Mantis Shrimp
Question: What are the rules and regulations on the mantis shrimp? I accidentally snagged one with a hook and line and let it go because I knew nothing about it. I didn’t even know what it was until I got home and was able to research it. (Michael H.)

Answer: There are no specific regulations for these crustaceans, but they are protected by the general sport fishing regulations for all invertebrates and crustaceans (CCR Title 14, sections 29.05 and 29.80, respectively).  Invertebrates may not be taken by hook and line. Mantis shrimp can be taken in all ocean waters open to sport fishing, and everyone 16 years of age and older is required to have a fishing license. These feisty shrimp can be taken by hand, in a shrimp and prawn trap, or less likely but still legally, in a dip net or Hawaiian style throw net north of Point Conception (California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 29.80(f), 29.80(i)). The bag limit is 35.

While these crustaceans may be legal to take by hand, please be extremely careful before trying to do so! According to DFG Environmental Scientist Jerry Kashiwada, this is an animal that should not be handled. Mantis shrimp have a front pair of appendages which look like a club, they open up like a switch blade knife and are sharp enough to cut through a neoprene dive glove. The movement is so fast, the person will not be able to react to avoid being cut.


Selling a taxidermy mount from another state
Question: I would like to get rid of a large bull elk mount that was given to me by an outfitter. I used the mount in my booth at sports shows, but I don’t do sports shows any longer. The elk was taken on a private ranch in Utah by another hunter. Is it legal to sell this mount in the state of California? (Joseph H.)

Answer: Unfortunately, even though the animal was legally taken in another state, it cannot be sold here. Game animals cannot be bought, sold, traded or bartered in our state if it is the same species that occurs here, regardless of where it was taken. Your best bet would be to contact a museum or service club to see if they might want it.


Gifting age limit
Question: If I want to gift abalone to a family member, is there a minimum age limit? (Bobby E.)

Answer: No. You are allowed to donate no more than one legal limit to anyone regardless of their age.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

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