Although it has been suggested that the red wolf originated as a fertile cross between gray wolves and coyotes, the red wolf may have existed in North America before both the gray wolf and the coyote. Fossils up to 750,000 years old indicate that the red wolf may be a close relative to a primitive ancestor of the North American canids.
The red wolf is similar to but smaller than the gray wolf and is intermediate in many characteristics between gray wolves and coyotes. It often interbreeds with the coyote, and because of this, it is believed that the red wolf may eventually become extinct by hybridization, rather than by man. It ranges in size from 15" to 16" shoulder height, 55-65" in length, and can weigh anywhere from 40 to 90 pounds. Its colors range from cinnamon red to almost black, with tan markings above the eyes. It feeds mainly on birds, rabbits, and other small rodents, but will also hunt deer and other large prey if available.
The red wolf's historic range covered the southeastern portion of the United States, reaching as far west as Texas and north to Illinois. Their preferred habitat was warm, moist, and densely vegetated, although they were also present in pine forests, bottom land hardwood forests, coastal prairies, and marshes.Destruction of forests and coastal marsh habitat, as well as widespread persecution and predator control activities, brought them close to extinction. All of this in addition to hybridization. In 1980, they were declared biologically extinct in the wild. In the wild, red wolves normally establish life-long mates, and their packs usually consist of an adult pair and the young. They reach breeding maturity in their second or third year. Breeding seasons can vary from March to May. Den sites include stream banks, enlarged burrows of other animals, hollow trees, and sandy knolls in coastal areas.