They might be the smaller cousin of the wolf, but a new study suggests the Eastern Coyote — or coyote — can be equally ferocious.
The research, published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, documented multiple instances of small packs of coyotes killing full-grown moose.
No other carnivore has been able to expand its range in modern times as far as the Eastern Coyote.
Over the past century, the animal has spread from the U.S. midwest to most of eastern North America, reaching the island of Newfoundland in the 1980s.
Biologists believe along the way, the coyote has grown in size relative to the western subspecies, by interbreeding with wolves.
New research confirms coyotes hunt larger prey
Wildlife biologist John Benson led the study, which tracked coyotes in Algonquin Park in Ontario for a full year.
"It certainly seems they were able to kill adult moose," said Benson.
Biologists have known the animals feed mostly on rabbits, rodents and occasionally deer — but this new research confirms they can hunt much larger prey.
"It's sort of an interesting change in what we know about predator-prey dynamics between two very common species in northern North America."
Benson was able to verify at least four adult moose kills by small packs of coyotes, or hybrid wolf-coyotes, ranging in number from just two to five.
He said each time the coyotes used the environment to gain advantage over their large prey.
"Things like snow conditions that allowed the coyotes to travel quickly on top of the snow, while the moose got bogged down. Also things like steep slopes, they seem to be using to their advantage."
One case of coyotes killing a human in Canada
Joe Fleming has hunted for coyotes ever since they first appeared in Newfoundland. He shot and killed what he thought was a coyote on the Bonavista Peninsula in March 2012. DNA tests proved that the animal was, in fact, a wolf.
To date, there has been only one confirmed case of coyotes killing an adult human in Canada.
"It doesn't surprise me. A coyote, I guess, is aggressive towards an animal it can make a meal out of," said Fleming.
While the study doesn't warn of any major new threat to moose or people, wildlife authorities in the province say coyotes have hunted pets.
"I've had some bark back at me. They barked and growled, and I had one chase my English setter hunting dog," Fleming said.
The authors of the study are hoping their work spurs on more research into how the coyote is altering the ecological balance in North America forests.