The coyote (Canis latrans) is in the same family as domestic dogs, foxes, and wolves. There about twenty subspecies of coyotes, including the plains, Mexican, Salvador and mountain coyote. These subspecies each possess minor differences in coat patterns and size that distinguish them from one another. The existence of so many subspecies of coyotes makes it difficult to list specific physical characteristics that are common among the species in general, but they do share some traits.
These shared traits include their size, with their nose-to-tail lengths ranging from 0.9 to 1.35 m for adult coyotes. Males tend to be slightly bigger than females of the same age. The weight range for male coyotes is 8-20 kg, while that for females is 7-18 kg. Coyotes’ fur color varies with age, subspecies, and physical location. The common colors are red or brown, and additional markings of scattered black, white, or grey streaks and patches provide a great deal of variety. The coyote has a thin head with a pointed nose and prominent ears. The tail of a mature adult coyote is usually somewhere between 40 cm and 46 cm. Another distinguishing trait is that the tail is usually downward-facing as the coyote moves.
Coyote pups rely on milk from their mother for the first two months of their lives. After weaning, grown coyotes are purely carnivorous. Their main prey includes small animals such as squirrels and wild hares. Other species on their list of prey include porcupines and small rodents like mice. Due to the small size of these animals, coyotes usually hunt alone. They also attack livestock, with sheep being top on their list of targets, and scavenge a good deal for already dead carcasses of just about anything they might come across.
Habitat and Range
A coyote’s dwelling is referred to as a den. They can live there alone, in temporary packs, or in nuclear family units. The coyote is native to North America. They are considered of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, given their wide distribution and large population in this region. Though prior to European colonization and settlement coyotes were concentrated in what is now the American Southwest, the Great Plains of Canada and the United States, and northern Mexico, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw them spread across almost the entirety of the continent. Much of this was a result of population declines of more capable predators such as wolves due to overhunting, and coyotes encroaching upon their former domains.
Unlike most members of the canine family, coyotes do not rely on packs or family units for survival. They are also considerably less aggressive, which is evident in their choice of smaller prey and tendency to scavenge as much as possible. They do, however, get aggressive when it comes to fighting for territorial dominance, though usually not for mating rights with other coyotes. Coyotes communicate using different barking sounds, as well as physical cues. Hormones and scents (pheromones) are also used for such purposes, especially during mating seasons.
Coyotes are exclusively monogamous and usually live in nuclear family packs. Their mating season usually occurs in the middle of winter. Unlike most other wild animals, there is no fighting for her approval. After the female makes her choice, the other males will retreat, leaving the pair to go through a two- to three-month bonding period, which can be likened to courting in humans. Such patterns are not common in the animal kingdom. After copulation, gestation generally takes a 63-day period, culminating with the pups being delivered in the den. It takes about three or four months for the pups to be ready to leave the den and become independent.
Interactions With Other Species
Coyotes are in constant competition with grey wolves and red foxes which have a similar distribution and diet. They usually attack foxes but retreat from wolves. Mountain lions and bobcats are also their natural enemies. Despite common beliefs, coyotes, not wolves or mountain lions, kill more livestock in the US than any other predator. Coyotes have managed to survive despite growing human populations across North America, in part due to the regulation of coyote hunting. In the past, Western settlers occasionally hunted coyotes for their meat, though they more commonly did so for lucrative revenues in the fur trade. Though infrequent, coyote attacks on humans have been documented, though they do not often end in serious injury or death. There is evidence that pre-colonial Indigenous cultures may have domesticated coyotes, though the practice is rare today.