ALBANY, Illinois (KWQC) – Early Monday morning, Jay Wolf thought he saw a coyote from his front porch in rural Whiteside County, Illinois.
As a wildlife lover and photographer, he grabbed his camera and snapped a few shots.
Upon seeing the quality of the pictures, “I was elated,” Wolf says.
After all, coyotes are nocturnal and rarely seen, let alone clearly photographed.
That the animal was so visible after sunrise is one clue that it may not actually be a coyote, but a cross between a coyote and dog known as a coydog.
“To me, it does not look like a common coyote,” says Iowa DNR wildlife biologist Vince Evelsizer.
Evelsizer says pure coyotes can vary in their markings, but there are standard characteristics like facial structure, ear size, paw size, and leg length that distinguish coyotes, wolves, and dogs.
The animal in the photos has features that prevent it from falling squarely in any of the three categories.
“It’s just not built quite right and not marked quite right,” Evelsizer says.
“Overall, there’s something with this animal that looks different.”
And the animal appears to be acting differently, similar to the way one might expect a tame dog to behave.
As he was taking the pictures, Wolf says the creature “was very aware I was there,” however, it does not appear alarmed and is even seen lying in a relaxed pose.
“It should be much more afraid if it is a pure, wild coyote,” Evelsizer says.
According to 101DogBreeds.com, coydogs are “very rare” because coyotes have a limited breeding season between January and March, which is before domestic dogs go into heat.
Also adding to their rarity, per SpockTheDog.com, is that puppies resulting from a coyote and dog mating “have a rather low survival rate, as the two species do not form pair bonds.”
However, coydog pups that do survive are fertile and can breed.
Because they can be hard to identify, some may believe the coydog is more common than it actually is.
The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service reports that based on photos “it is often difficult for even trained wildlife biologists to distinguish” coydogs from coyotes, and that coydogs “are not present in terribly large numbers.”
As for the animal in Wolf’s photos, Evelsizer says it is indeed difficult to identify for sure without seeing it in person.
However, “it does not appear to be a straight-up coyote,” he says.
“If I had to guess, I’d say some kind of coydog. It’s rare.”