With its roundish ears and blunt snout, that menacing animal in the photo is a coyote, right? Wrong. Wolf.

Thousands of Oregonians who couldn't tell the difference between the two canids last week can do so today, thanks to a new interactive quiz that is turning gray wolf identification into the chic cyber parlor game of fall.

 

Posted earlier this week, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's online quiz is designed to help people identify what canid they see in the woods or fields, skills that help biologists track these animals and keep hunters from breaking wildlife laws.

"It is likely that many wolf reports are actually coyotes or dogs," says Roblyn Brown, the ODFW's acting wolf program coordinator.

"Considering the number of photographs we get of coyotes, malamutes, huskies and other dogs versus the number of wolf pictures, I suspect the percentage of mistaken identity is high," Brown says.

The "Coyote Wolf Identification Quiz" can be found at www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/.

After first reading a little online tutorial, 16,791 had taken the online quiz by midday Friday and they collectively are averaging a 91 percent success rate.

"We have been real excited about how many people are scoring really high on the quiz, though identifying an animal in real life is much harder when the view is brief and at a distance," Brown says.

To the untrained eye, gray wolves can look very similar to coyotes or dogs, but field identification can be quite simple.

Coyotes sport taller, pointier ears as well as a pointed face and muzzle. Gray wolves have shorter, roundish ears and a more blocky face and muzzle.

And don't let the name fool you. Many gray wolves actually sport black coats.

Knowing the difference can be important. Biologists tracking the wolf population as it spreads across Oregon need to confirm civilian reports to more efficiently log the wolves' locations and monitor their habits. It could also lead to capturing one and fitting it with a GPS collar so biologists can track its movements.

That kind of scientific bling is what allowed the world to follow famed wolf OR-7's travels from northeast Oregon to Southern Oregon to Northern California and back to eastern Jackson County earlier this decade.

For coyote hunters, misidentification can be expensive. Just ask Brennon Witty of Baker City.

Witty shot and killed a radio-collared wolf in October 2015 while coyote hunting in Grant County.

He immediately reported the incident and later pleaded guilty to illegally taking a threatened or endangered species.

Witty was fined $1,000, ordered to pay the ODFW $1,000 in restitution and had to forfeit the rifle used in the shooting.

Gray wolves in northeast Oregon are protected under the state Endangered Species Act and under the federal Endangered Species Act throughout the rest of the state. Both acts ban the killing or harming of wolves.

The first confirmed wolf wandered into Oregon from Idaho in 1999. Oregon now sports a known wolf population of 112 animals, up two from 2016, according to last spring's ODFW wolf report.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.