Wildlife experts say they are one step closer to determining exactly what type of animal was found in Kennebunk Monday night — a wolf, coyote or dog.
The story has kept people talking for days, with some speculating that the mystery animal was either a coy dog — a coyote-dog combination — or a wolf/dog hybrid. Others worried it could have been someone’s pet.
The mystery first started when the white animal staggered out of the woods around 7 Monday night behind a Balsam Lane home, crawled under the back porch and died.
One of the residents and two friends spotted the animal and photographed it alive as it walked through the yard. They called police to remove the body, an all-white female. But the local game officials would not come to remove the body. Strange. If the animal was rabid, the infection is not transmissible long after death. A wildlife biologist, Scott Lindsay, tracked down the body and retrieved it.
While speculation on the animal has ranged from wolf to coyote to dog, Lindsay said he’s trying to decide between coyote and dog, but hasn’t been able to just yet.
“Some features on it did appear more dog-like,” Lindsay said. “But up close, one feature that’s typical of a wild canid is that the teeth are totally clean, no tartar at all.”
He is planning to do further measurements and examination on the animal. White coyotes are rare but do exist and we sort of know how that happened. Read this piece by Carl Zimmer on how Newfoundland coyotes turned white thanks to genetics.
Back in Newfoundland, Marshall and her colleagues speculate that their snowy coyotes may also be the product of both genetic drift and natural selection. If a golden retriever did indeed consort with a coyote in 2001, it did so at a time when there were still very few coyotes on Newfoundland. That would have meant that from the start, coyotes with the Mc1r variant made up a relatively large percentage of the coyote population. When the population exploded, the white variant might have exploded too. Nevertheless, the pattern of mutations in the white-fur gene hint that natural selection has been acting on the white coyotes as well. Newfoundland is hardly a snowy wasteland, nor do coyotes hunt for salmon, so it’s not clear what could drive the natural selection of white coyotes.
Marshall and her colleagues will need to take a closer look at the DNA of snow coyotes to get some more clues. And we’ll have to wait to see if snow coyotes vanish as inexplicably as they appeared–or if they become a familiar sight in the easternmost home of the coyotes.
UPDATE: (26-Mar-2013) Based on the examination, the wildlife biologist concludes it is indeed a rare white coyote.