The coyote (Canis latrans ) is a species of canine native to North America. It is smaller than its close relative, the wolf, and slightly smaller than the closely related eastern wolf and red wolf. It fills much of the same ecological niche as the golden jackal does in Eurasia. The coyote is larger and more predatory and was once referred to as the American jackal by a behavioral ecologist. Other historical names for the species include the prairie wolf and the brush wolf.Show More
The coyote is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to its wide distribution and abundance throughout North America. Coyote populations are also abundant southwards through Mexico and into Central America. The species is versatile, able to adapt to and expand into environments modified by humans. It is enlarging its range by moving into urban areas in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The coyote was sighted in eastern Panama (across the Panama Canal from their home range) for the first time in 2013.
The coyote has 19 recognized subspecies. The average male weighs 8 to 20 kg (18 to 44 lb) and the average female 7 to 18 kg (15 to 40 lb). Their fur color is predominantly light gray and red or fulvous interspersed with black and white, though it varies somewhat with geography. It is highly flexible in social organization, living either in a family unit or in loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. Primarily carnivorous, its diet consists mainly of deer, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, though it may also eat fruits and vegetables on occasion. Its characteristic vocalization is a howl made by solitary individuals. Humans are the coyote's greatest threat, followed by cougars and gray wolves. In spite of this, coyotes sometimes mate with gray, eastern, or red wolves, producing "coywolf" hybrids. In the northeastern regions of North America, the eastern coyote (a larger subspecies, though still smaller than wolves) is the result of various historical and recent matings with various types of wolves. Genetic studies show that most North American wolves contain some level of coyote DNA.
The coyote is a prominent character in Native American folklore, mainly in Aridoamerica, usually depicted as a trickster that alternately assumes the form of an actual coyote or a man. As with other trickster figures, the coyote uses deception and humor to rebel against social conventions. The animal was especially respected in Mesoamerican cosmology as a symbol of military might. After the European colonization of the Americas, it was seen in Anglo-American culture as a cowardly and untrustworthy animal. Unlike wolves, which have seen their public image improve, attitudes towards the coyote remain largely negative.Show Less
The earliest written reference to the species comes from the naturalist Francisco Hernández's Plantas y Animales de la Nueva España (1651), where it is described as a "Spanish fox" or "jackal". The first published usage of the word "coyote" (which is a Spanish borrowing of its Nahuatl name coyōtl pronunciation (help·info)) comes from the historian Francisco Javier Clavijero's Historia de México in 1780. The first time it was used in English occurred in William Bullock's Six months' residence and travels in Mexico (1824), where it is variously transcribed as cayjotte and cocyotie. The word's spelling was standardized as "coyote" by the 1880s. Alternative English names for the coyote include "prairie wolf", "brush wolf", "cased wolf", "little wolf" and "American jackal". Its binomial name Canis latrans translates to "barking dog", a reference to the many vocalizations they produce.
Coyote features as a trickster figure and skin-walker in the folktales of some Native Americans, notably several nations in the Southwestern and Plains regions, where he alternately assumes the form of an actual coyote or that of a man. As with other trickster figures, Coyote acts as a picaresque hero who rebels against social convention through deception and humor. Folklorists such as Harris believe coyotes came to be seen as tricksters due to the animal's intelligence and adaptability. After the European colonization of the Americas, Anglo-American depictions of Coyote are of a cowardly and untrustworthy animal. Unlike the gray wolf, which has undergone a radical improvement of its public image, Anglo-American cultural attitudes towards the coyote remain largely negative.Show More
In the Maidu creation story, Coyote introduces work, suffering, and death to the world. Zuni lore has Coyote bringing winter into the world by stealing light from the kachinas. The Chinook, Maidu, Pawnee, Tohono O'odham, and Ute portray the coyote as the companion of The Creator. A Tohono O'odham flood story has Coyote helping Montezuma survive a global deluge that destroys humanity. After The Creator creates humanity, Coyote and Montezuma teach people how to live. The Crow creation story portrays Old Man Coyote as The Creator. In The Dineh creation story, Coyote was present in the First World with First Man and First Woman, though a different version has it being created in the Fourth World. The Navajo Coyote brings death into the world, explaining that without death, too many people would exist, thus no room to plant corn.
Prior to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Coyote played a significant role in Mesoamerican cosmology. The coyote symbolized military might in Classic era Teotihuacan, with warriors dressing up in coyote costumes to call upon its predatory power. The species continued to be linked to Central Mexican warrior cults in the centuries leading up to the post-Classic Aztec rule. In Aztec mythology, Huehuecóyotl (meaning "old coyote"), the god of dance, music and carnality, is depicted in several codices as a man with a coyote's head. He is sometimes depicted as a womanizer, responsible for bringing war into the world by seducing Xochiquetzal, the goddess of love. Epigrapher David H. Kelley argued that the god Quetzalcoatl owed its origins to pre-Aztec Uto-Aztecan mythological depictions of the coyote, which is portrayed as mankind's "Elder Brother", a creator, seducer, trickster, and culture hero linked to the morning star.Show Less
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Coyote males average 8 to 20 kg (18 to 44 lb) in weight, while females average 7 to 18 kg (15 to 40 lb), though size varies geographically. Northern subspecies, which average 18 kg (40 lb), tend to grow larger than the southern subspecies of Mexico, which average 11.5 kg (25 lb). Total length ranges on average from 1.0 to 1.35 m (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 5 in); comprising a tail length of 40 cm (16 in), with females being shorter in both body length and height. The largest coyote on record was a male killed near Afton, Wyoming, on November 19, 1937, which measured 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) from nose to tail, and weighed 34 kg (75 lb). Scent glands are located at the upper side of the base of the tail and are a bluish-black color.Show More
The color and texture of the coyote's fur vary somewhat geographically. The hair's predominant color is light gray and red or fulvous, interspersed around the body with black and white. Coyotes living at high elevations tend to have more black and gray shades than their desert-dwelling counterparts, which are more fulvous or whitish-gray. The coyote's fur consists of short, soft underfur and long, coarse guard hairs. The fur of northern subspecies is longer and denser than in southern forms, with the fur of some Mexican and Central American forms being almost hispid (bristly). Generally, adult coyotes (including coywolf hybrids) have a sable coat color, dark neonatal coat color, bushy tail with an active supracaudal gland, and a white facial mask. Albinism is extremely rare in coyotes; out of a total of 750,000 coyotes killed by federal and cooperative hunters between March 22, 1938, and June 30, 1945, only two were albinos.
The coyote is typically smaller than the gray wolf, but has longer ears and a relatively larger braincase, as well as a thinner frame, face, and muzzle. The scent glands are smaller than the gray wolf's, but are the same color. Its fur color variation is much less varied than that of a wolf. The coyote also carries its tail downwards when running or walking, rather than horizontally as the wolf does.
Coyote tracks can be distinguished from those of dogs by their more elongated, less rounded shape. Unlike dogs, the upper canines of coyotes extend past the mental foramina.
Being both a gregarious and solitary animal, the variability of the coyote's visual and vocal repertoire is intermediate between that of the solitary foxes and the highly social wolf. The aggressive behavior of the coyote bears more similarities to that of foxes than it does that of wolves and dogs. An aggressive coyote arches its back and lowers its tail. Unlike dogs, which solicit playful behavior by performing a "play-bow" followed by a "play-leap", play in coyotes consists of a bow, followed by side-to-side head flexions and a series of "spins" and "dives". Although coyotes will sometimes bite their playmates' scruff as dogs do, they typically approach low, and make upward-directed bites. Pups fight each other regardless of sex, while among adults, aggression is typically reserved for members of the same sex. Combatants approach each other waving their tails and snarling with their jaws open, though fights are typically silent. Males tend to fight in a vertical stance, while females fight on all four paws. Fights among females tend to be more serious than ones among males, as females seize their opponents' forelegs, throat, and shoulders.Show Less
Prior to the near extermination of wolves and cougars, the coyote was most numerous in grasslands inhabited by bison, pronghorn, elk, and other deer, doing particularly well in short-grass areas with prairie dogs, though it was just as much at home in semiarid areas with sagebrush and jackrabbits or in deserts inhabited by cactus, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes. As long as it was not in direct competition with the wolf, the coyote ranged from the Sonoran Desert to the alpine regions of adjoining mountains or the plains and mountainous areas of Alberta. With the extermination of the wolf, the coyote's range expanded to encompass broken forests from the tropics of Guatemala and the northern slope of Alaska.Show More
Coyotes walk around 5–16 kilometres (3–10 mi) per day, often along trails such as logging roads and paths; they may use iced-over rivers as travel routes in winter. They are often crepuscular, being more active around evening and the beginning of the night than during the day. Like many canids, coyotes are competent swimmers, reported to be able to travel at least 0.8 kilometres (0.5 mi) across water.
Due to the coyote's wide range and abundance throughout North America, it is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The coyote's pre-Columbian range was limited to the Southwest and Plains regions of North America, and northern and central Mexico. By the 19th century, the species expanded north and east, expanding further after 1900, coinciding with land conversion and the extirpation of wolves. By this time, its range encompassed the entire North American continent, including all of the contiguous United States and Mexico, southward into Central America, and northward into most of Canada and Alaska. This expansion is ongoing, and the species now occupies the majority of areas between 8°N (Panama) and 70°N (northern Alaska).
Although it was once widely believed that coyotes are recent immigrants to southern Mexico and Central America, aided in their expansion by deforestation, Pleistocene and Early Holocene records, as well as records from the pre-Columbian period and early European colonization show that the animal was present in the area long before modern times. Nevertheless, range expansion did occur south of Costa Rica during the late 1970s and northern Panama in the early 1980s, following the expansion of cattle-grazing lands into tropical rain forests. The coyote is predicted to appear in northern Belize in the near future, as the habitat there is favorable to the species. Concerns have been raised of a possible expansion into South America through the Panamanian Isthmus, should the Darién Gap ever be closed by the Pan-American Highway. This fear was partially confirmed in January 2013, when the species was recorded in eastern Panama's Chepo District, beyond the Panama Canal.
A 2017 genetic study proposes that coyotes were originally not found in the area of the eastern United States. From the 1890s, dense forests were transformed into agricultural land and wolf control implemented on a large scale, leaving a niche for coyotes to disperse into. There were two major dispersals from two populations of genetically distinct coyotes. The first major dispersal to the northeast came in the early 20th century from those coyotes living in the northern Great Plains. These came to New England via the northern Great Lakes region and southern Canada, and to Pennsylvania via the southern Great Lakes region, meeting together in the 1940s in New York and Pennsylvania. These coyotes have hybridized with the remnant gray wolf and eastern wolf populations, which has added to coyote genetic diversity and may have assisted adaptation to the new niche. The second major dispersal to the southeast came in the mid-20th century from Texas and reached the Carolinas in the 1980s. These coyotes have hybridized with the remnant red wolf populations before the 1970s when the red wolf was extirpated in the wild, which has also added to coyote genetic diversity and may have assisted adaptation to this new niche as well. Both of these two major coyote dispersals have experienced rapid population growth and are forecast to meet along the mid-Atlantic coast. The study concludes that for coyotes the long range dispersal, gene flow from local populations, and rapid population growth may be inter-related.Show Less
Individual feeding territories vary in size from 0.4 to 62 km2 (0.15 to 24 sq mi), with the general concentration of coyotes in a given area depending on food abundance, adequate denning sites, and competition with conspecifics and other predators. The coyote generally does not defend its territory outside of the denning season, and is much less aggressive towards intruders than the wolf is, typically chasing and sparring with them, but rarely killing them. Conflicts between coyotes can arise during times of food shortage. Coyotes mark their territories by raised-leg urination and ground-scratching.Show More
Like wolves, coyotes use a den (usually the deserted holes of other species) when gestating and rearing young, though they may occasionally give birth under sagebrushes in the open. Coyote dens can be located in canyons, washouts, coulees, banks, rock bluffs, or level ground. Some dens have been found under abandoned homestead shacks, grain bins, drainage pipes, railroad tracks, hollow logs, thickets, and thistles. The den is continuously dug and cleaned out by the female until the pups are born. Should the den be disturbed or infested with fleas, the pups are moved into another den. A coyote den can have several entrances and passages branching out from the main chamber. A single den can be used year after year.Show Less
While the popular consensus is that olfaction is very important for hunting, two studies that experimentally investigated the role of olfactory, auditory, and visual cues found that visual cues are the most important ones for hunting in red foxes and coyotes.Show More
When hunting large prey, the coyote often works in pairs or small groups. Success in killing large ungulates depends on factors such as snow depth and crust density. Younger animals usually avoid participating in such hunts, with the breeding pair typically doing most of the work. Unlike the wolf, which attacks large prey from the rear, the coyote approaches from the front, lacerating its prey's head and throat. Like other canids, the coyote caches excess food. Coyotes catch mouse-sized rodents by pouncing, whereas ground squirrels are chased. Although coyotes can live in large groups, small prey is typically caught singly. Coyotes have been observed to kill porcupines in pairs, using their paws to flip the rodents on their backs, then attacking the soft underbelly. Only old and experienced coyotes can successfully prey on porcupines, with many predation attempts by young coyotes resulting in them being injured by their prey's quills. Coyotes sometimes urinate on their food, possibly to claim ownership over it. Recent evidence demonstrates that at least some coyotes have become more nocturnal in hunting, presumably to avoid humans.Coyotes may occasionally form mutualistic hunting relationships with American badgers, assisting each other in digging up rodent prey. The relationship between the two species may occasionally border on apparent "friendship", as some coyotes have been observed laying their heads on their badger companions or licking their faces without protest. The amicable interactions between coyotes and badgers were known to pre-Columbian civilizations, as shown on a Mexican jar dated to 1250–1300 CE depicting the relationship between the two.
Food scraps, pet food, and animal feces may attract a coyote to a trash can.
The coyote is ecologically the North American equivalent of the Eurasian golden jackal. Likewise, the coyote is highly versatile in its choice of food, but is primarily carnivorous, with 90% of its diet consisting of meat. Prey species include bison (largely as carrion), white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds (especially galliformes, roadrunners, young water birds and pigeons and doves), amphibians (except toads), lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises, fish, crustaceans, and insects. Coyotes may be picky over the prey they target, as animals such as shrews, moles, and brown rats do not occur in their diet in proportion to their numbers. However, terrestrial and/or burrowing small mammals such as ground squirrels and associated species (marmots, prairie dogs, chipmunks) as well as voles, pocket gophers, kangaroo rats and other ground-favoring rodents may be quite common foods, especially for lone coyotes. More unusual prey include fishers, young black bear cubs, harp seals and rattlesnakes. Coyotes kill rattlesnakes mostly for food (but also to protect their pups at their dens) by teasing the snakes until they stretch out and then biting their heads and snapping and shaking the snakes. Birds taken by coyotes may range in size from thrashers, larks and sparrows to adult wild turkeys and, rarely, brooding adult swans and pelicans. If working in packs or pairs, coyotes may have access to larger prey than lone individuals normally take, such as various prey weighing more than 10 kg (22 lb). In some cases, packs of coyotes have dispatched much larger prey such as adult Odocoileus deer, cow elk, pronghorns and wild sheep, although the young fawn, calves and lambs of these animals are considerably more often taken even by packs, as well as domestic sheep and domestic cattle. In some cases, coyotes can bring down prey weighing up to 100 to 200 kg (220 to 440 lb) or more. When it comes to adult ungulates such as wild deer, they often exploit them when vulnerable such as those that are infirm, stuck in snow or ice, otherwise winter-weakened or heavily pregnant, whereas less wary domestic ungulates may be more easily exploited.
Although coyotes prefer fresh meat, they will scavenge when the opportunity presents itself. Excluding the insects, fruit, and grass eaten, the coyote requires an estimated 600 g (1.3 lb) of food daily, or 250 kg (550 lb) annually. The coyote readily cannibalizes the carcasses of conspecifics, with coyote fat having been successfully used by coyote hunters as a lure or poisoned bait. The coyote's winter diet consists mainly of large ungulate carcasses, with very little plant matter. Rodent prey increases in importance during the spring, summer, and fall.
The coyote feeds on a variety of different produce, including blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, apples, prickly pears, chapotes, persimmons, peanuts, watermelons, cantaloupes, and carrots. During the winter and early spring, the coyote eats large quantities of grass, such as green wheat blades. It sometimes eats unusual items such as cotton cake, soybean meal, domestic animal droppings, beans, and cultivated grain such as maize, wheat, and sorghum.
In coastal California, coyotes now consume a higher percentage of marine-based food than their ancestors, which is thought to be due to the extirpation of the grizzly bear from this region. In Death Valley, coyotes may consume great quantities of hawkmoth caterpillars or beetles in the spring flowering months.Show Less
Like the Eurasian golden jackal, the coyote is gregarious, but not as dependent on conspecifics as more social canid species like wolves are. This is likely because the coyote is not a specialized hunter of large prey as the latter species is. The basic social unit of a coyote pack is a family containing a reproductive female. However, unrelated coyotes may join forces for companionship, or to bring down prey too large to attack singly. Such "nonfamily" packs are only temporary, and may consist of bachelor males, nonreproductive females and subadult young. Families are formed in midwinter, when females enter estrus. Pair bonding can occur 2–3 months before actual copulation takes place. The copulatory tie can last 5–45 minutes. A female entering estrus attracts males by scent marking and howling with increasing frequency. A single female in heat can attract up to seven reproductive males, which can follow her for as long as a month. Although some squabbling may occur among the males, once the female has selected a mate and copulates, the rejected males do not intervene, and move on once they detect other estrous females. Unlike the wolf, which has been known to practice both monogamous and bigamous matings, the coyote is strictly monogamous, even in areas with high coyote densities and abundant food. Females that fail to mate sometimes assist their sisters or mothers in raising their pups, or join their siblings until the next time they can mate. The newly mated pair then establishes a territory and either constructs their own den or cleans out abandoned badger, marmot, or skunk earths. During the pregnancy, the male frequently hunts alone and brings back food for the female. The female may line the den with dried grass or with fur pulled from her belly. The gestation period is 63 days, with an average litter size of six, though the number fluctuates depending on coyote population density and the abundance of food.Show More
Coyote pups are born in dens, hollow trees, or under ledges, and weigh 200 to 500 g (0.44 to 1.10 lb) at birth. They are altricial, and are completely dependent on milk for their first 10 days. The incisors erupt at about 12 days, the canines at 16, and the second premolars at 21. Their eyes open after 10 days, by which point the pups become increasingly more mobile, walking by 20 days, and running at the age of six weeks. The parents begin supplementing the pup's diet with regurgitated solid food after 12–15 days. By the age of four to six weeks, when their milk teeth are fully functional, the pups are given small food items such as mice, rabbits, or pieces of ungulate carcasses, with lactation steadily decreasing after two months. Unlike wolf pups, coyote pups begin seriously fighting (as opposed to play fighting) prior to engaging in play behavior. A common play behavior includes the coyote "hip-slam". By three weeks of age, coyote pups bite each other with less inhibition than wolf pups. By the age of four to five weeks, pups have established dominance hierarchies, and are by then more likely to play rather than fight. The male plays an active role in feeding, grooming, and guarding the pups, but abandons them if the female goes missing before the pups are completely weaned. The den is abandoned by June to July, and the pups follow their parents in patrolling their territory and hunting. Pups may leave their families in August, though can remain for much longer. The pups attain adult dimensions at eight months and gain adult weight a month later.Show Less
Coyotes were likely semidomesticated by various pre-Columbian cultures. Some 19th-century writers wrote of coyotes being kept in native villages in the Great Plains. The coyote is easily tamed as a pup, but can become destructive as an adult. Both full-blooded and hybrid coyotes can be playful and confiding with their owners, but are suspicious and shy of strangers, though coyotes being tractable enough to be used for practical purposes like retrieving and pointing have been recorded. A tame coyote named "Butch", caught in the summer of 1945, had a short-lived career in cinema, appearing in Smoky and Ramrod before being shot while raiding a henhouse.