|Photo: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences|
With the exception of the wolf, the coyote is the largest native member of the dog family living wild in the Pacific States. There are 35 different species of wild dogs in the family Canidae, including foxes, wolves, coyotes, and dingoes. The first wild dogs lived in North America. They were excellent hunters and adapted to different climates and habitats. One of the reasons wild dogs can survive in so many different places is that they eat almost anything. They are mostly carnivorous (meat eaters), but when that is scarce they will even eat insects and plants. Wild dogs are fast on their feet. They have great endurance and can easily outrun their prey. Coyotes can run as fast as 40 miles per hour. Large lungs supply lots of oxygen to the muscles enabling them to run for miles without getting tired. Long legs allow them to cover more ground quickly as they run, their light weight skeleton aids in their speed. Their body is mostly muscle–very strong for its size. Coyotes do not have powerful jaws, thus cannot kill large prey single-handedly. However, in packs they can take down large animals such as deer. Their long, thin jaws are made for grabbing prey and hanging onto it. This allows them to have a large nose–the better to smell! They have somewhat small, pointed ears that “scoop” sounds, some of which are too high pitched for humans to hear. Their ears stand up even when they sleep. You often hear coyotes communicating with one another by howling or yapping. If one animal gets separated from the pack, it will howl. When others in the pack hear it they howl or yap, allowing the “lost” animal to find its way back. The track of a coyote resembles that of a dog so closely that expert trappers find it difficult to tell them apart. It is easily distinguished from the track of cougar or bobcat by the shape of the pad and the presence of claw marks.
- Grayish or tawny color, occasionally reddish; sometimes lighter underneath with darker hair tips; white throat and belly. The fur of animals living in the mountains is longer and thicker than that of coyotes living in the desert. Generally resembles a German shepherd except the coyote has a much bushier tail.
- The shape of the coyote track is unique, the front pads differ from the rear pads. Each foot has four toes, the outer toes are slightly larger than the inner toes on each foot; claws present. Coyotes tend to walk in a straight line; walking stride of 8 to 16 inches and leaps to 10 feet.
- Adults range from 20 – 50 lbs, males larger than females.
- Widespread throughout CA; prairies, open woodlands, brushy edges. Coyote usually make their dens in natural crevices or caves; sometimes enlarge a burrow made by a ground squirrel or badger (not here).
- Most commonly west of the Mississippi River; has spread to the Atlantic. From Alaska and central Canada south to Panama.
- Mainly rabbits (in lower elevations), ground squirrels, gophers, meadow mice, kangaroo rats (not here); occasionally a young fawn, berries, insects, young birds, snakes, carrion (dead animals).
- Males mate with one female and family units stay together until late summer; mating occurs in late winter. Average litter is of six or seven pups, but can range from two to ten; born in early spring.
- Humans only real “enemy “ of coyotes.