Wild Animals/Wolves

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Question
I've got three questions regarding wolves:
One, is it an urban myth that wolves mate with domesticated dogs or does it happen?
Can wolf pups be raised as pets or do they eventually turn ferocious?
Are wolves and coyotes identical or distinct species?

Answer
Dear William,

1.  One, is it an urban myth that wolves mate with domesticated dogs or does it happen?

It is possible, as they are technically the same species.  Dogs have just undergone a lot of artificial selection and look (and behave) very differently from their wolf ancestors.  For this reason, interbreeding isn't that common and is done primarily with human assistance. In the wild, it would not happen often except perhaps with a very feral dog.  

2.  Can wolf pups be raised as pets or do they eventually turn ferocious?

Wolves are not naturally vicious or ferocious.  They are actually quite shy, social, and afraid of humans if they are wild.  They can be raised to be "pets", but because they are wild, they will never behave like a dog.  A wolf will befriend a human, but it's a bit harder to train a wolf.  For more details, read "Arctic Wild" by Lois Crisler.

3.  Are wolves and coyotes identical or distinct species?

Wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) are considered distinct species, but they will interbreed occasionally.  The Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is believed to have resulted from ancient interbreeding between wolves and coyotes, and there are some who believe that the red wolf is not even a distinct species because of the occasional interbreeding between them and coyotes.

It gets complicated.

Hope that helps.

Dana

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Expertise

I'm an evolutionary biologist with a passion for animals. Ask about natural history, behavior, ecology, evolution. PLEASE NOTE:

If you have found an "orphaned" or injured wild animal or bird:
Please don't waste time asking questions on the internet, as the answers may come too late. DO NOT FEED THE ANIMAL, and DO NOT HANDLE IT unless it is in imminent danger. (Many wild "orphans" are not orphans at all!) If you are absolutely sure it is orphaned, keep it warm and quiet, and find a LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR HERE. Don't try to raise a baby yourself, or rehabilitate an injured anmal. Many a well-intentioned rescuer will do more harm than good, especially with baby birds and baby rabbits.

I.D. OF MYSTERY ANIMALS
Without geographic location, time of day and habitat, I can't help. A clear picture is always best.

I.D. OF MYSTERY ANIMAL SOUNDS
It's impossible for me to I.D. an animal call without hearing it myself.

COMPARATIVE STRENGTHS
I'm not an expert on comparative strengths of different animals (more complicated than you might think!) nor bite forces.

FIGHTING ANIMALS
I refuse to answer "Which of these two animals--X or X--would win in a fight?".

These hypothetical matchups range from impossible (Grizzly Bears and Gorillas don't even occupy the same continent.) to ridiculous (Someone asked me "Who would win a fight between a Great White Shark and a tiger?").

The vast majority of animals--even the fierce and powerful--are not as warlike as Homo sapiens, and it's childish to project our aggressiveness onto them.

Experience

I have been the fortunate caregiver to a group of Black-tailed Jackrabbits rescued from the Miami International Airport, and not releasable in this area because they are not native. I also have rehabbed and released Eastern Cottontails, and am in contact with many very experienced wildlife rescuers who regularly handle injured or orphaned rabbits and hares.

Organizations
House Rabbit Society

Publications
Exotic DVM journal

Education/Credentials
I have a Ph.D. in Biology, with main areas of expertise in evolutionary biology, genetics, botany, and ecology.

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