Coyotes are widely distributed throughout the United States. Efforts to contain wild populations of coyotes have been only "temporarily" successful in spite of bounties, poisons, and a total lack of protection in many states. This species is very adaptable and can thrive in forests, farmlands, prairies, mountains, deserts, and swamplands. Coyote populations are know to exist in 46 states, and it is possible that coyotes will soon be present in all states except Hawaii. Coyotes can adapt to populated areas, and thousands of coyotes living within the city limits of Los Angeles have led to severe management problems. Coyotes frequently howl at night when they are not severely persecuted.
Coyotes are wild canines with dog- or wolf-like features. Weights are slightly heavier for males, with average weights of about 30 pounds for males and 25 pounds for females in western states.
A coyote immigration has affected eastern states since the early 1950s, and the eastern coyote is now recognized as a true breeding subspecies of coyote. Eastern coyotes do attain larger body weights than western coyotes, and this may reflect hereditary traits as a result of cross-breeding between northern coyotes and eastern timber wolves. Weights of over 60 pounds have been recorded for some eastern coyote males, though the majority weigh between 30 and 35 pounds.
Coyotes have 42 teeth, including four long incisor teeth. Eyes are yellow or amber with round black pupils, which indicate that coyotes were probably daytime hunters before man began persecuting the species in earnest.
Guard hairs on a coyote pelt are about 3 inches long on the back and 5 inches long in a patch between the shoulders known as the "mane" or "hackles." Coloration varies with individuals and sections, with most coyotes being mottled grays with lighter-colored bellies. Brownish and reddish colors also occur commonly in areas, and melanism or black colors occur more rarely.
There is evidence to suggest that coyotes mate for life and that new mates are accepted after the removal of one of the pair. Mated male coyotes attend to the females that give birth to the annual litter in an underground den. A regular den is often used year after year unless the coyotes feel threatened at the den site.
Breeding occurs in February in southern states and March in northern states. The gestation period is 63 days, and the female coyote will stay underground with her young until their eyes open 11 or 12 days later. During this time, the male will bring food for the female and then help bring food to the den for the coyote pups.
Litter sizes average five to seven pups in many areas. Litter sizes seem to be dependent upon coyote population densities. Litters may average eight or nine pups where coyote populations are sparse, but on the other hand, this phenomenon may reflect healthier coyotes due to an abundance of food.
Crosses between coyotes and dogs do occur rarely, and these crosses are know as "coy-dogs." Coy-dog reproduction is very poor because the coyote dogs breed in November, which culminates in mid-winter births. Also, the male coy-dogs do not bring food for the females after the birthing process or help the female feed or raise the young.
Some juvenile female coyotes accept mates at 9 or 10 months of age, but most coyotes do not pair up with mates until they are 20-22 months old.
Coyotes are territorial during the bulk of the year. Territory sizes vary a great deal, and territories are far larger in areas where food is sparse. Males range much farther than females. It appears that female territories do not overlap, but a male coyote territory may overlap the territories of several other male and female coyotes.
Female coyotes will usually stay within 5 to 8 miles. Mature males may have territories as large as 30 to 40 square miles, which are patrolled on a somewhat regular basis. Territories are often abandoned during shortages of food. Several family units may concentrate in an area with an abundant food supply for a short period of time.
Coyotes do have a social order, with certain individuals having dominance over others. At times, coyotes will hunt in packs, or teams, to relay running an antelope or jack rabbit. Coyotes are even known to follow badgers to catch the ground squirrels that are chased from dens by the digging activity of the badger.
Average weight: 30 pounds
Mating season: February and March
Gestation period: 63 days
Litter size: 8 or 9 pups, on average
Female range: 8 square miles
Male range: 40 square miles
Life span: up to 12 years
Juvenile coyotes usually disperse in November or December to seek their own territories and mates. Dispersal distances vary a great deal, and the young may be required to travel farther when coyote populations are dense. Male coyotes usually have to travel farther to find the larger territories that they need, and a number of young males have been known to relocate farther than 100 miles away from their birthplaces.
Coyotes are skilled hunters. Their vision, sense of smell, and hearing are all extremely good and enable the coyote to feed itself easily during most of the year. In the extreme weather of mid-winter, coyotes frequently eat carrion. Significant numbers of deer and antelope are killed by coyotes. Deer are particularly vulnerable during deep snow conditions when coyotes often pack up to hunt. Although healthy adult deer or antelope are sometimes killed by coyotes, the fawns of both species are particularly vulnerable.
Sheep on the rangelands are a particular temptation to coyotes, and its seems likely that some coyotes develop a taste for lamb after natural mortalities of sheep occur on the range. Nevertheless, coyotes soon learn to kill sheep when they are available, and it is virtually impossible to discourage them after they develop a taste for sheep. Coyotes also kill calves, and sometimes these calves are eaten as they are being born. Bobtailed calves are frequently seen on western rangelands and are usually the result of an attack by one or more coyotes.
Coyote depredation upon livestock depends a great deal on the coyote population in the area, as well as the availability of other foods. Fertile farmlands usually contain an abundance of small game, and livestock predation is less likely to occur under these circumstances.
Important coyote foods vary with the area and include jackrabbits, cottontails, prairie dogs, mice, and rats. Game birds, muskrats, squirrels, and domestic fowl are also taken when available. Fruits such as watermelons, grapefruits, apples, and persimmons are also eaten seasonally, if available.
Coyote populations are known to exist in all states except Hawaii. They can also easily adapt to populated areas.
Coyotes contribute to the health of many prey species by keeping populations in check. The carrion eating habits of coyotes help reduce the population of injurious insects that afflict livestock species. However, they do cause of significant loss to livestock producers in some areas. These losses amount to millions of dollars and cause hardships for many western and southern livestock producers.
In western states, coyotes serve as a host for fleas and ticks, which carry bubonic plague. This disease can be fatal to man. Western coyotes should be placed in large garbage bags after they are killed and then sprayed with an insecticide. This will kill the parasites before they abandon the cooling body of the coyote.
Coyotes are also vulnerable to a variety of diseases, including parvo enteritis, mange, distemper, and rabies. Heartworms afflict coyotes, as do other internal parasites. External parasites include lice, mites, fleas, and ticks.
Adult coyotes are rarely killed by other wild species. Juvenile animals are sometimes killed by eagles, mountain lions, and dogs.
Coyotes are considered to be old at 10 to 12 years of age.