Why coyotes are not basal Canis

The traditional understanding of coyote evolution is that coyotes are basal wolf-like canids. This understanding comes from the hypothesis that coyotes directly evolved from Canis lepophagus in North America alone. Coyotes look and behave a lot like jackals of the Old World, and because we know that the larger wolf-like canids evolved from jackal-like ones, we just assumed that the coyote was a primitive form.

One problem with this positioning has always bothered me. Jackals tend to have proportionally smaller brains than wolves, but coyotes have proportionally larger brains than wolves. Domestic dogs have evolved smaller brains from wolves, although wolf and dog brain size comparisons aren’t as cut and dry as people think. 

No one thinks of dogs as basal forms of Canis, so it is possible for animals in this lineage to lose brain size, just as it is possible for a primitive lineage of canids known as coyotes to evolve a larger brain.

Please note that my discussion on brain size here isn’t really a discussion about intelligence, because the literature on which form is most intelligent is quite all over the map. Domestic dogs kept in Western countries in the modern way do appear to have social cognitive abilities that virtually all other species lack, while wolves are much better at working with each other to complete tasks.

But coyotes have proportionally larger brains than either wolves or dog do, and in this lineage, larger brains are generally a derived characteristic.

However, the really important data about coyote evolution is the discovery that they shared a common ancestor with gray wolves much more recently than commonly suggested. A genome-comparison study of various North American canids found that the common ancestor of both gray wolves and coyotes lived around 50,000 years ago. Because anatomically modern gray wolves replace the Mosbach wolf in the fossil record between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago, the ancestor of both had to have been a form of gray wolf from Eurasia.

The coyote is thus a jackal that has evolved in parallel out of the gray wolf lineage, which means it is not a primitive canid at all. It likely evolved this jackal -like morphology and behavior because the form of gray wolf that it derives from was unable to compete with the dire wolf, the American lion, the short-faced bear and the machairodonts as a top-level predator. It was forced to evolve a smaller body that could be fed on carrion and small prey.

We know now that there is a big difference in what prey predators target once they exceed 20 kg. Predators that weigh more than that mass target large vertebrates, while those that are smaller than that weight target smaller prey. Although coyotes do cooperatively hunt deer, they primarily feed on rabbits and mice. So by becoming smaller, coyotes were not directly in conflict with dire wolves or the other large predators of Pleistocene North America.

Only through analyzing full genomes of coyotes and gray wolves did we realize that our assumptions about their evolution were wrong. Earlier studies that looked at mitochondrial DNA alone found that coyotes fit within a basal position of the wolf-like canid lineage. However, recent full genome comparison of various wolf-like canids that looked at the role hybridization played in their evolution found something interesting. The lineage that leads to wolves, dogs, and coyotes experienced some introgression from a ghost species that was closely related to the dhole. The authors think that the reason why coyotes turn up so basal in these mitochondrial DNA studies but appear so wolf-like when their full genomes are compared is coyotes have retained a mitochondrial line that comes from that ghost species.

So the generalist coyote is a re-invention out of the gray wolf lineage. It is not basal to the wolf-like canids. It just merely resembles the basal forms in some of their ecology, in some of their behavior, and in their odd mitochondrial inheritance.

Natural History

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RIP Aries

From the Facebook Page of Operation Military Resources:Today we honor the life and military service of MWD TEDD Aries R568, a 14-year-old Golden Retriever who served 4 tours in Afghanistan and saved countless lives as an Army bomb dog. Thankfully, his first handler Billy was able to adopt Aries in February 2014 when he found […]


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Happy Birthday, My Loves

Emmett turns three years old today. THREE. I’m not really sure how that happened, but it happened. Remember that little seven month old baby who fought for his brain and life through an epilepsy diagnosis with a terrible prognosis? He started soccer on Monday, is crushing preschool, and is one of the silliest, happiest, brightest three year olds I’ve ever met. I am so proud of him.

Essley turned five a week and a half ago, on December 28th. FIVE. We register her for kindergarten in a few weeks. Unreal! The little baby girl who made me a mama is a tiny star dancer (she is now in three dance classes a week!), loves art and cooking and swimming and soccer, and can’t wait to go to school every morning. She is genuinely the most social person I’ve ever met, but loves her one on one time with me too (which is truly my favorite thing ever). I am so proud of her.

I don’t share a lot of personal posts with the kids here, but I’m feeling sentimental today and wanted to publicly wish them happy birthdays. I know it sounds cliche, but these two are my greatest joys. They teach their daddy and me how to be our very best and how to appreciate the mundane, and they make it so easy to love them. Happy Birthday E and E! You are the two most incredible people I’ve ever known, and you fill me with so much gratitude. Here’s to the best year ever for you both!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Friday Funny: There’s No People Like Show People

Those crazy dog show people! (Almost as bad as cat ladies) Until next time, Good day, and good dog!


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Need A Pawtner to Help with Your New Year’s Resolution?


It won’t surprise you to hear that “Getting more exercise” is among the most popular New Year’s resolutions. It also won’t surprise you to hear that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February.

But don’t be discouraged! People who exercise with their dog buck that trend. And while your pup may not be allowed in the gym, she may be the perfect outdoor walking or jogging partner. Just be sure she’s ready for the workout—especially if you live in a place where it’s cold this time of year.

Check with the vet.
Just how you should consult your doctor before you jump into a new exercise routine, consult your vet about your dog. Ask for advice—based on your dog’s age, breed, or health—to keep your dog safe. Even if she’s cleared, keep an eye on her during walks and runs for signs of exhaustion, like heavy panting, trouble breathing, serious lagging behind or disorientation.

Ease into it.
Again, just like us, dogs shouldn’t go from couch potato to distance runner right away. Start at a slower pace on shorter routes and stay close enough to home that you can cut out easily if you need to. Always have water on hand, even on short strolls.

Be mindful of the weather.
Each dog is different, based on breed, background, and, frankly, their preference. Just know they can’t retain heat the way we do. A coat may help, but be sure it fits well, and still watch your dog for cues that indicate she’s too cold. Plus, snow and ice can be hard on dogs’ paws. Be sure to clean them well after each excursion to remove all salt from between their pads.

As your resolution becomes routine, make sure your dog is getting enough healthy calories to make up for what she’s burning. If you’re not sure about amounts, consult your vet.

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Happy Holidays + Taking a Break

Happy Holidays from Bubby and Bean!

Happy winter Solstice! Merry almost Christmas! I almost can’t believe I’m typing that. Is Christmas really only four days away? I know it’s super cliche to talk about how quickly time passes but truly, this season has gone by in a blink. It’s been the busiest season of work for me ever (so grateful for this!), we just returned from our trip to Mexico for Robbie’s work Sunday night, we had two school holiday parties yesterday, Essley’s winter dance recital is tonight and her birthday party is Sunday, then family arrives to stay with us, and the following day is Christmas Eve! This is the first year both of my kids are old enough to really get Christmas, and the excitement level is through the roof! The day after Christmas, Robbie leaves town for work, I join him on the 30th in Atlanta, and we fly back together on January 1st (my birthday), which is quickly followed by Emmett’s birthday, then a long (boooo!) winter tour for him with the band.

Honestly, I love being busy, and get sad when things slow down. But I also want to take a breath and enjoy the last few days of the season before it’s gone. So I will be taking my annual break from the blog to spend time with my family and catch up on non-work things, starting today. I’ll likely still be somewhat active on Instagram, but we won’t be back with any new posts here on the blog until after the New Year.

However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate!), I wish you the happiest of holidays and a New Year full of joy, love, and peace.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Download a 2019 Pet Holiday Calendar–and Enter to Win a Wegman or Lil Bub Calendar!

Can you believe that 2019 is just around the corner? Download our 2019 Pet Holiday Calendar! A few weeks ago we updated our Pet Holidays Calendar with 2019 dates–and we just made it available…



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DogTipper

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Clive on the Couch

Clive loves to be on the couch and get some love.

Natural History

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The (Therapeutic) Power of Dogs


The mere act of owning a pet means we have at least one someone in our life we have to think about and take care of besides ourself. That alone requires at least a little effort on our part, and supports our mental and physical health—like petting, walking, feeding our dog. But researchers across the country have found many more reasons why living with a dog may be quite good for us.

• Kids with family history of allergies and asthma who, from birth, grow up with a dog, are less likely to develop eczema and asthma.

• Kids who grow up caring for dogs have higher levels of empathy and self esteem. And kids who practice reading to a dog improved their reading skills 12% compared to kids who didn’t read to a dog (and showed no improvement).

• Teens in households with dogs are more physically active than those who aren’t.

• People who walk their dog regularly have one third the risk of getting diabetes.

• People who walk with a dog walk faster than with a human buddy or alone. They walk farther too, and they’re more likely to stick to their fitness plans.

• The physical activity we do with our dogs also helps keep stress levels down. Plus, just petting a dog can lower our stress. Dogs help reduce agitation and anxiety in people with dementia.

• The act of petting a dog reduces blood pressure. Of people who experienced heart attacks, those who owned dogs had a better one-year survival rate.

• People recovering from surgery who regularly petted dogs needed 50% less pain medication.

• Elderly dog owners need 20% less medical care than those who don’t own dogs.

So for all they do for us, the least we can do is feed them with unconditional love, and toss in an occasional treat to make sure they always know who’s a good dog.

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2019 Washington Capitals Pet Calendar Helps Dogs in Need

  Not only did the Washington Capitals win the coveted Stanley Cup in 2018, the professional ice hockey team also won the admiration of dog lovers as the players once again championed the cause…



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DogTipper

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