Coyote (Canis latrans)
Coyote Geography Range
The ubiquitous coyote is found throughout North America from eastern Alaska to New England and south through Mexico to Panama. It originally ranged primarily in the northwest corner of the U.S., but it has adapted readily to the changes caused by human occupation and, in the past 200 years, has been steadily extending its range. Sightings now commonly occur in Florida, New England and eastern Canada.
Description of the Coyote
The coyote is a member of the dog family. In size and shape the coyote is like a medium-sized collie dog, but its tail is round and bushy and is carried straight out below the level of its back.
Coyotes found in low deserts and valleys weigh about 20 pounds, less than half of their mountain kin, who can weigh up to 50 pounds. Desert coyotes are light gray or tan with a black tip on the tail.
Coyotes of high elevations have fur that is darker, thicker and longer; the under parts are nearly white, with some specimens having a white tip on the tail. In winter the coats of mountain coyotes become long and silky, and trappers hunt them for their fur.
The coyote is one of eight species of the genus Canis. Four of these are jackals of Europe, Africa and Asia. Other members of the genus include the Grey Wolf (C. lupus), the Red Wolf (C. rufus) and all the breeds of the domestic dog (C. familiaris).
The coyote is one of the few wild animals whose vocalizations are commonly heard. At night coyotes both howl (a high quavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. Sometimes, when it is first heard, the listener may experience a tingling fear of primitive danger, but to the seasoned outdoorsman, the howl of the coyote is truly a song of the West.
The coyote's tail is used in threat displays. It becomes bushy and is held horizontally when the coyote displays aggression.
The coyote's hearing is very acute and is used for detecting prey and avoiding danger. Movement and position of the ears is used to communicate mood and rank.
The coyote's sense of smell is highly developed and is used to detect prey and carrion. It is also used to detect the scent left by other coyotes as territorial markers.
The coyote has five digits on the forefeet, including the dewclaw (remnants fifth digit) and four digits on the hindfeet. the coyote is digitigrade meaning it walks with only its toes touching the ground.
The Gray Wolf, (Canis lupus) once shared much of the same range as the coyote and belongs to the same Genus Canis. But the wolf is usually larger and darker in appearance.
Coyotes also carry their tails quite differently than wolves. A coyote's tail is normally held down, although not between the legs. A wolf carries its tail rather horizontally.
The nearly successful attempts to exterminate the Gray Wolf (the coyote's primary predator) has been largely responsible for the coyote's great expansion across the American continent.
One of the most adaptable animals in the world, the coyote can change its breeding habits, diet and social dynamics to survive in a wide variety of habitats.
Alone, in pairs or in packs, coyotes maintain their territories by marking them with urine. They also use calls to defend this territory, as well as for strengthening social bonds and general communication.
Coyote Vital Statics
Weight: 15-45 lbs.
Curious Coyote Facts
Coyotes inhabit all life zones of the Desert Southwest from low valley floors to the crest of the highest mountains, but especially on open plains, grasslands and high mesas. Its natural habitat is open grassland, but it will move to wherever food is available.
Some studies indicate that in the desert, valleys and low foothills, coyotes occupy a range of no more than 10 or 12 square miles. In mountainous areas they probably have both a summer and winter range, as heavy snows drive them to lower elevations.
Coyotes are not your average dog they are not to be messed with. They are smart, and they learn quickly. They can be dangerous, and when it comes to urban coyotes, steps should be taken to avoid encouraging them to visit your neighborhood. That means close garbage can lids tightly, do not leave pet food outside and do not leave small pets outside unaccompanied.
Coyotes love nothing better than cats and frequently take small dogs. Inform neighbors of your sighting and encourage them to take steps to NOT attract the clever little varmints. Remember: Make sure that no pet food is ever left outdoors.
Coyotes usually present little danger to livestock. While they are normally fairly solitary or roam in small groups, at times they may gang up and attack larger animals such as sheep or a pony. During foaling time, do not let foals out without a human around at all times. Coyotes will attack sheep and foals but not adult cattle or horses unless such livestock are sick or extremely weak.
Food & Hunting
It travels over its range and hunts both day and night, running swiftly and catching its prey easily. It has a varied diet and seems able to exist on whatever the area offers in the way of food. The coyote eats meat and fish, either fresh or spoiled, and at times it eats fruits and vegetable matter and has even been known to raid melon patches.
Although the coyote has been observed killing sheep, poultry and other livestock, it does not subsist on domestic animals. Food habit studies reveal that its principle diet is composed of deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, other small rodents, insects, even reptiles, and fruits and berries of wild plants.
The coyote is an opportunistic predator that uses a variety of hunting techniques to catch small mammals likes rabbits and squirrels, which comprise the bulk of its diet. Although it hunts alone to catch small prey, it may join with others in to hunt larger mammals like young deer or a pony.
The coyote often tracks its prey using its excellent sense of smell, then stalk it for 20-30 minutes before pouncing. It may also take advantage of its stamina to chase its prey over long distances, and then striking when the quarry is exhausted.
At the beginning of the mating season in January, several lone male coyotes may gather around a female to court her, but she will form a relationship with only one of them. The male and female desert coyote may travel together before mating in January or February.
The female bears one litter of three to nine puppies a year, usually in April or May when food is abundant. The gestation period is from 63 to 65 days.
The pups are born blind in a natal den, but their eyes open after about 14 days and they emerge from the den a few days later. They suckle for five to seven weeks, and start eating semi-solid food after three weeks. While the male helps support the family with regurgitated food, the mother does not allow him to come all the way into the den.
The pups live and play in the den until they are six to ten weeks old, when the mother starts taking them out hunting in a group. The family gradually disbands, and by fall the pups are usually hunting alone. Within a year, they go their own way, staking out their own territory, marked with the scent of their urine.
Coyotes have long been one of the most controversial of all non-game animals. Agricultural interests have urged its control by whatever means necessary so that actual and potential livestock losses may be eliminated. Since 1891, when the first programs aimed at control were begun in California, nearly 500,000 coyotes have been reported destroyed at a cost of an estimated $30 million of the taxpayers' money.
Environmentalists firmly believe that the coyotes are necessary to preserve the balance of nature. Some sportsmen feel the coyote is responsible for the declines in game species. Biologists agree that individual animals preying on livestock and poultry should be destroyed but that the species as a whole is not necessarily harmful, because much of its diet is made up of destructive rodents. Biologists also agree that coyote populations have no lasting effects on other wildlife populations. So the controversy rages on.
Coyotes have recently been classified as non-game animals in California and may be taken throughout the year under the authority of a hunting license. Meanwhile, despite the constant hunting and intensive efforts to reduce the coyote population, on a quiet night the song of the "Little Wolf" may still be heard throughout the Desert Southwest.
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Created: March 23, 2002
Last modified: April 9, 2002
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