The Story Of Wolves In The United States

Great Plains WolfThe Story of Wolves in the United States starts with the Mexican Wolf, also known as the lobo, is a subspecies of gray wolf once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the smallest of North America's gray wolves, and is similar to the Great Plains Wolf (GPW), though it is distinguished by its smaller, narrower skull and its darker pelt, which is yellowish-gray and heavily clouded with black over the back and tail.  Its ancestors were likely the first gray wolves to enter North America after the extinction of wolves in Alaska the Yukon and northern Wyoming, as indicated by its southern range and basal physical and genetic characteristics.

Though once held in high regard in Pre-Columbian Mexico, it is the most endangered gray wolf in North America, having been extirpated in the wild during the mid-1900s through a combination of hunting, trapping, poisoning and digging pups from dens. After being listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1976, the United States and Mexico collaborated to capture all lobos remaining in the wild. This extreme measure prevented the lobos' extinction. Five wild Mexican wolves (four males and one pregnant female) were captured alive in Mexico from 1977 to 1980 and used to start a captive breeding program. From this program, captive-bred Mexican wolves were released into recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998 in order to assist the animals' re-colonization of their former historical range.

The Taxonomy And Evolution Of Wolves

Vancouver Island wolfFirst described as a distinct subspecies in 1929 by Edward Nelson and Edward Goldman, on account of its small size, narrow skull and dark pelt, genetic and morphological is a very small New World subspecies.  Its ancestors were likely the first gray wolves to cross the Bering Land Bridge into North America during the Pleistocene after the extinction of the GPW, colonizing most of the continent until pushed southwards by the newly arrived ancestors of GPW.

In 2016, a study of mitochondrial DNA sequences of both modern and ancient wolves generated a phylogenetic tree which indicated that the two most basal North American haplotypes included the Mexican wolf and the Vancouver Island wolf.

Hybridization With Coyotes And Red Wolves

Unlike eastern wolves and red wolves, the gray wolf species rarely interbreeds with coyotes in the wild. Direct hybridizations between coyotes and gray wolves was never explicitly observed. Nevertheless, in a study that analyzed the molecular genetics of the coyotes as well as samples of historical red wolves and Mexican wolves from Texas, a few coyote genetic markers have been found in the historical samples of some isolated individual Mexican wolves. Likewise, gray wolf Y-chromosomes have also been found in a few individual male Texan coyotes.  This study suggested that although the Mexican gray wolf is generally less prone to hybridizations with coyotes compared to the red wolf, there may had been exceptional genetic exchanges with the Texan coyotes among a few individual gray wolves from historical remnants before the population was completely extirpated in Texas.

bluedog-chupacabraHowever, the same study also countered that theory with an alternative possibility that it may have been the red wolves, who in turn also once overlapped with both species in the central Texas, who were involved in circuiting the gene-flows between the coyotes and gray wolves much like how the eastern wolf is suspected to have bridged gene-flows between gray wolves and coyotes in the Great Lakes region since direct hybridizations between coyotes and gray wolves is considered rare.

In tests performed on a sample from a carcass of what was initially labeled as a Chupacabras, DNA analysis conducted by Texas State University professor Michael Forstner showed that it was a coyote. However, subsequent analysis by a veterinary genetics laboratory team at the University of California, Davis concluded that, based on the sex chromosomes, the male animal was a coyote–wolf hybrid sired by a male Mexican wolf.  It has been suggested that the hybrid animal was afflicted with sarcoptic mange, which would explain its hairless and bluish appearance.