Answer Man: Coyotes breeding with wolves? Can furloughed feds get unemployment?

John Boyle
The Citizen-Times
While not native to North Carolina, coyotes are prevalent here now after moving in decades ago from other states.

Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:

Question: I have a trail camera at my home recording wildlife that roams through the property. It has recorded a pack of at least five large coyotes. I have heard rumors that in some parts of the country, coyotes are interbreeding with wolves. Do our local experts know if this is happening in our area?

My answer: That's nothing. On my game camera I captured a coyote strapping himself to a fairly large rocket made by the Acme Co.

Real answer: The short answer to the interbreeding question is "no," according to Mike Carraway, a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. He offered a simple explanation.

"We don’t have any wolves in the area," Carraway said.

SEE ALSO: Endangered red wolves make new home at WNC Nature Center in Asheville

We used to, but as was the case in most of America, wolves were hunted to near or complete elimination, according to the NC WRC website.

Coyotes are smaller and shorter than gray and red wolves, but they are very skillful hunters.

"Along with its larger cousin, the gray or timber wolf, the red wolf was extensively killed throughout its range in North America for many years, primarily to protect livestock," the website states. "Europeans settling in the New World brought with them an ingrained fear of wolves. But wolves as predators help maintain the overall health of the populations of prey species they feed upon."

Gray wolves do not live in the wild in North Carolina. This captive gray wolf lived at the WNC Nature Center.

SEE ALSO: Answer Man: Will a coyote eat my cat? Hop my fence? Eat cantaloupe?

The site notes "the red wolf once ranged throughout parts of the Southeast. By the 20th century, habitat destruction, hybridization with coyotes, and predator control programs had resulted in the extermination of the red wolf from much of its range. The species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980."

SEE ALSO: Wolf pups make debut at Asheville's WNC Nature Center

The Western North Carolina Nature Center on its website notes that gray wolves, larger than red wolves, "once roamed throughout much of this country, including the southern Appalachians, but have now been eliminated from most of their former range. The closest remaining population of gray wolves to our area is in upper Michigan."

The Citizen Times reported in December that the WNC Nature Center brought in a pair of red wolves, part of the Species Survival Plan program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The hope is the wolves will mate and produce pups that can be released into the wild.

Red wolves are nearly extinct in America. This one lived in captivity at the WNC Nature Center.

The red wolf has a small wild population in Eastern North Carolina, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced in the 1980s.

Here in WNC, we do have plenty of coyotes, which like wolves are part of the wild dog family.

"It may be that all coyotes have a little bit of wolf DNA in them, but there are no wolves in our area for them to breed with," Carraway said, adding that coyotes can be somewhat variable in their appearance. "Coyotes can breed with dogs, and you can have different color in the phases of coyotes."

The WRC site states that coyotes are "typically dark gray but can range from blonde, red, and even black. Size is also variable, but averages about 2 feet tall at the shoulder and 4 feet in length. Adults are about the size of a medium-sized dog and weigh between 20 and 45 pounds."

Another interesting fact: "The coyote is native only in North America and, of all wild canine species, the coyote has the widest range in this country. This predator is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent," according to the WRC.

Here in North Carolina, coyotes "look similar to red wolves, but coyotes are smaller, have pointed and erect ears, and long slender snouts. The tail is long, bushy and black-tipped and is usually carried pointing down," the WRC states.

Wolves are considerably larger, with large male gray wolves being "as tall as 3 feet at the shoulder and weigh more than 100 pounds," according to the Nature Center. Red wolves average between 55 and 80 pounds.

As coyotes are not native to our area, the hunting season is year-round on them, Carraway said.

On another note, Carraway is retiring Friday, after a four decade career. I'd like to personally thank him for always being a true professional, as well as incredibly knowledgeable about wildlife. Enjoy that retirement, Mike!

Question: Because the furloughed federal workers have been out of work for a month now, don't they qualify for unemployment?

My answer: I don't know about that, but they certainly better watch out for falling anvils, what with all these coyotes around.

Real answer: "Federal workers who have been furloughed can file for unemployment like any other individual," said Larry J. Parker, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, part of the state Department of Commerce. "The requirements are the same. They must look for work, and if someone who is furloughed eventually receives back pay, they will have to repay the state for unemployment payments."

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or jboyle@citizentimes.com