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coyote

Canis latrans

What do they look like?

The fur color of coyotes ranges from grayish brown to yellowish gray; they also usually have a black stripe along their spine. Their bellies and throats are white and their feet, parts of their head, and front legs are reddish brown. Their tails have a black tip. Coyotes have large pointed ears that stand straight up and a long tail. They have large yellow eyes and relatively small feet.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    7 to 21 kg
    15.42 to 46.26 lb
  • Range length
    75 to 100 cm
    29.53 to 39.37 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    19.423 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

Coyotes are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout North and Central America. They range from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States, and Canada. They occur as far north as Alaska and all but the northernmost portions of Canada.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and use a wide range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and swamps. They are typically excluded from areas with wolves. Coyotes, because of their tolerance for human activities, also occur in suburban, agricultural, and urban settings.

How do they reproduce?

Males court females for 2 to 3 months, pairs mate between January and March. Once females choose a partner they typically stay together for a few years.

Female coyotes are pregnant for 60 to 63 days. An average sized litter is 6 pups, but litter size can range from 1 to 19 pups. When pups are born they are blind, their ears are limp, and they only feed on their mother's milk. After about one month they come out of the den. They are then fed regurgitated food from both parents, as well as their mother's milk. They are weaned at 5 to 7 weeks old. Male pups leave the den when they are 6 to 9 months old, females usually stay with the parents and form a pack. Adult size is reached between 9 and 12 months and they can begin mating when they are one year old. Coyotes can mate with domestic dogs and occasionally with gray wolves.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Coyotes usually breed once each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January to March.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 19
  • Average number of offspring
    5.7
  • Average number of offspring
    6
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    50 to 65 days
  • Range weaning age
    35 to 49 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 10 months

Female coyotes nurture their young inside their bodies until they are born and then afterwards by nursing them. Both male and female coyotes bring food to their young after they are weaned and protect their offspring. The young sometimes stay with the pack into adulthood and learn how to hunt during a learning period.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning

How long do they live?

Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.

How do they behave?

Coyotes are active mostly at night and in the early morning and late evening hours but can occasionally be seen during daylight. Although coyotes are capable of digging their own burrows, they often enlarge the burrow of a woodchuck or badger for use as a den. Dens are used for several years. Coyotes usually hunt in the areas surrounding their dens. Coyotes are social animals, living in family units called packs. Packs defend territories against other coyotes, dogs, and wolves. They hunt individually, in pairs, or in family units, depending on how much prey is available and what kinds of prey are available. Coyotes are capable of running at speeds of up to 65 km/hr and they can jump distances of up to 4 m. Coyotes are very good swimmers but poor climbers.

  • Range territory size
    283 (high) km^2

Home Range

Coyote ranges, which are usually defended only during denning season, may be as much as 19 km in diameter around the den and travel occurs along fixed routes or trails.

How do they communicate with each other?

Coyotes use their senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing to communicate. They are highly vocal mammals, using 3 distinct calls: squeaks, distress calls, and howl call, which consist of a quick series of yelps, followed by a high-pitched howl. Howling may act to announce where their territory is to other packs. Coyotes also howl when two or more members of a pack re-unite and to announce to each other where they are. Their sense of sight is also well developed and is used primarily to observe the facial expressions and body language of pack members. They use stumps, posts, bushes or rocks as scent posts on which they urinate and defecate to mark territory.

What do they eat?

Coyotes are versatile in their eating habits. They are carnivorous; 90% of their diet is mammalian. They eat primarily small mammals, such as eastern cottontail rabbits, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and white-footed mice. They occasionally eat birds, snakes, large insects and other large invertebrates. They prefer fresh meat, but they consume large amounts of carrion. Part of what makes coyotes so successful at living in so many different places is the fact that they will eat almost anything, including human trash and household pets in suburban areas. Plants eaten include leaves of balsam fir and white cedar, sasparilla, strawberry, and apple. Fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the diet of coyotes in the fall and winter months. Coyotes hunt animals in interesting ways. When on a "mousing" expedition, they slowly stalk through the grass and sniff out the mouse. Suddenly, with all four legs held stiffly together, the coyotes stiffen and pounce on the prey. Hunting deer, on the other hand, calls for teamwork. Coyotes may take turns pursuing the deer until it tires, or they may drive it towards a hidden member of the pack. Coyotes sometimes form "hunting partnerships" with badgers. Because coyotes aren't very effective at digging rodents out of their burrows, they chase the animals while they're above ground. Badgers do not run quickly, but are well-adapted to digging rodents out of burrows. When both hunt together they effectively leave no escape for prey in the area. The average distance covered in a night's hunting is 4 km.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Coyotes are very secretive. Especially near human habitations they are active mostly early in the morning and late in the evening. Coyotes keep their young in or near the den while they are young so that the pups aren't killed by predators and competitors such as wolves and mountain lions.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Coyotes help in keeping many small mammal populations in check, such as mice and rabbits. If populations of these small mammals were allowed to become too large it would result in habitat degradation

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species

Do they cause problems?

Coyotes serves as hosts for a number of diseases, including rabies. They are considered a threat to poultry, livestock, and crops. Coyotes may also compete with hunters for deer, rabbits, and other game species.

How do they interact with us?

Coyotes help to control some agricultural pests, such as rodents. Coyote pelts are also still collected and sold in some areas.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Coyotes are common and widespread because of their extraordinary adaptability.

Some more information...

Coyotes are one of the dominant terrestrial carnivores in North America, with humans and wolves being their greatest enemies.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Erik Tokar (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

choruses

to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland
savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland
urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Baker, Rollin H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. Michigan State University Press, Detroit, pg: 390-399.

Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. Mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto and Buffalo, pg: 286-289.

Fox, M.W. 1975. The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology and Evolution. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, London and Melbourne, pg: 247-262.

Nowak, Ronald M. and John L. Paradiso. 1983. Walkers Mammals of the World. 4th Ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, pg: 949-951.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Tokar, E. 2001. "Canis latrans" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 17, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Canis_latrans/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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