Four hundred years ago, the forests of the Southeast came alive every night with the howls of red wolves. These beautiful creatures often carried the melanistic gene, which gave them jet-black fur. Researchers believe this was because it provided an advantage when hunting in dark, densely wooded areas during the night.
Mass deforestation, hunting, and trapping drove the red wolf to near-extinction. But, beginning in the 1950s, coyotes spread east, filling the gaps that their vanishing cousins had left in our hurting ecosystem. Today, coyotes are common throughout the Southeast, and red wolves are effectively extinct in the wild. But we can still see the legacy of the red wolf in our wild coyote populations. Due to genetic influence from the red wolf, coyotes in the Southeast are not only more likely to be black, but also to be larger and to hunt in packs.