Coyote, Canis latrans

Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Mammalia

Order:  Carnivora

Family:  Canidae

Genus:  Canis

Species:  latrans

Status

Common in most areas of the United States.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Status: Not Listed.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern; population increasing.

Description

Coyotes measure 30 to 40 inches from head to tail.  Coyotes weigh 15 to 46 pounds.  Coloration varies from grayish brown to a yellowish gray on the upper parts.  Throat and belly are whitish.  Forelegs, sides of head, muzzle and feet are reddish brown.  Tail, which is half the body length, is bottle shaped with a black tip.  There is also a scent gland located on the dorsal base of the tail.

Habitat and Range

Coyote territories, which are usually defended only during denning season, may be as much as 12 miles in diameter around the den and travel occurs along fixed routes or trails.

Diet

Although generally considered a carnivore, the coyote is opportunistic and its diet is truly omnivorous.  Approximately 90% of their diet is mammalian.  They eat primarily small mammals; they occasionally eat birds, snakes, large insects, and other large invertebrates.  They prefer fresh meat, but they consume large amounts of carrion.  Part of why coyotes are successful at living in so many different places is the fact that they will eat almost anything, including fruit, human trash, and household pet food in suburban areas.  Though often blamed for the disappearance of household pets, coyotes do not frequently consume household pets.

Reproduction

Coyotes are considered serially monogamous: mates may remain paired for a number of years, but not necessarily for life.  Sexual maturity is reached by 12 months.  Courtship lasts for approximately 2 to 3 months.  Average litter size is 6 pups.  Young begin to emerge from the den 21 to 28 days after birth and by 35 days they are fully weaned.  They are fed regurgitated food by both parents.  Male pups disperse from the dens between 6 months and 9 months of age, while females usually stay with the parents and form the basis of the pack (in areas where pack behavior is found).  Adult size is reached between 9 and 12 months.  Where pack behavior is found only the alpha male and female have breeding rights.

Behavior

Coyotes are less likely to form packs than wolves.  Hunting, which takes place around the den, is done individually, in pairs, or in family units depending on prey availability and amount of human activity.  In areas with little human activity, family units may join into a single, stable pack.  In a pack setting, only the alpha male and alpha female breed.  In areas with more human activity, coyotes live in mated breeding pairs or small family units, with the offspring dispersing and finding their own mates.  Coyotes are opportunistic.  Though essentially crepuscular, coyotes may be active at night or daylight hours.  Dens are used year after year.  There are several entrances to a single den.  Coyotes leave their dens to defecate and urinate.  Coyotes are not likely to kill pets, they prefer the pet’s food which is left outdoors.  To prevent encounters, humans should store pet food and garbage securely and where it will not attract coyotes (such as in the house or garage).  Pets should also be given escape routes, not left chained to a run or tree.   Coyotes are highly adaptable and may move into territories left behind by extirpated predators.  For example, coyote populations grew and expanded significantly as gray wolves in the north and east and red wolves in the southeast were removed.

Wow!

  • They are the most vocal of all North American wild mammals, using 3 distinct calls (squeak, distress call and howl call) which consist of a quick series of yelps, followed by a falsetto howl.
  • Coyotes are capable of running at speeds up to 40 mph and jumping distances of up to 12 ft.
  • Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and over 18 years in captivity.
  • Coyotes are also called the “song dog” or “singing dog.”