Maine is full of interesting critters. Some of the most interesting are those that make us blink once or twice and say, “What the heck was that?”
Many years ago, while driving in northern Maine at night, I saw the flash of a two-tone animal as it bolted in front of my car. The front half was dark. The back half was lighter. And from that day on, I joked that I’d seen the world’s first sheep-bear (since calling my animal a “share” seemed to make more sense than calling it a “beep.”
Years later, a saw a photo of an animal that looked just like my sheep-bear while checking out a book. Turns out, my mystery beast was just a young moose that was in the process of losing its winter coat.
Over the past several months, readers have submitted all kinds of cool photos, and I’ve shared one or two of my own. Among those, the original mystery beast of Otis and the all-time reader-favorite, the Wayne werewolf.
Like my sheep-bear, it turned out that the Wayne werewolf was actually a deer, caught in shadows, chasing another deer.
Still, readers keep pointing out that Maine’s a big state, and there’s plenty of ground for all kinds of odd animals to hide. In the same vein, you don’t have to ask many Mainers if they’ve ever seen a mountain lion before you find one who’ll swear that they have (even though the species has long been thought to have vanished from the state).
All of which is a fairly long-winded preface to this: Recently a reader sent an email that detailed nighttime visits of an animal that howled outside her door.
Many of us hear howls and assume “coyote.” But this reader, Kristina Lewis of Blue Hill, said her mystery beast didn’t sound like any coyote that she’d heard … so she took action.
Here’s what Lewis had to say:
“I am really curious and want you to look at three pictures to help me,” Lewis wrote. “Recently in the night I’ve been hearing this incredible howl in the night that, when compared to a wolf and coyote howl, is identical to a wolf.”
I’ve finally caught the animal on my night cameras in my yard and now I am curious what it is. When compared to a wolf and coyote the ears and nose both say ‘wolf,'” she wrote. “I’ve set up the cameras for better shots but this is what I have so far.”
Now, I’m no expert on the age-old wolf vs. coyote debate, but I do know a guy who is. I sent the photos to Wally Jakubas, the wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who often fields questions like this.
Specifically, I asked Jakubas two questions: First, can a person tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote based on their vocalizations? And second, what do you see in the photos that I sent?
“There is quite a difference between wolf and coyote howling Coyotes yip during their howls and have a higher-pitched howl. A wolf howl is more mournful sounding and deeper than a coyote’s howl,” Jakubas said. “The muzzle on the animal in the first photo appears to be more coyote-like than wolf-like.”
There you have it. So now (again), I ask you: What do you see?