Researchers believe the differences in size and coloration between the three varieties depend entirely on how much coyote DNA ended up in each — more in the smaller, more brownish red wolf, less in the Eastern wolf, and precious little in the gray wolf.
The Washington Post has an excellent summary of the study, along with an animation that explores the animals’ family trees.
One wonders, though, if the findings will tamp down the wolf-coyote controversy once and for all. Activists for red wolf restoration, for example, have historically been skeptical whether hybridization occurred. A lot of money has been poured into red-wolf research and restoration already, and those who have made their livings at it probably aren’t eager to give up on a cause to which they have devoted so much energy.