Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Creature Feature: Coyote

Coyote (Canis latrans)
(c) California Department
of Fish and Game

Keep Me Wild Campaign

Tis’ the Season. It’s the time for the imagination to run wild, to tell ghost stories and enjoy other legendary and fantastic tales, and dress up like our favorite characters. Every culture around the world has its own set of heroes and villains. Coyote’s have a reputation in Native American legend for being tricksters, among other things. Some tribe’s stories tell of coyote being the creator, others paint him as a hero, others simply as a fool. The name coyote is a mispronunciation by the Spanish of the Aztec word Coyotl.

Range and Relatives

Whichever reputation rings true to you, Coyote’s are a fascinating local animal. They sometimes get mistaken for medium-sized dogs or wolves. In fact the species Canis latrans, or the North American coyote is related to wolves, jackals, foxes and domestic dogs. It means “barking dog” in latin. Their habitat range is all throughout North America from Alaska to Mexico. Coyotes can be found in desert areas, foothill woodlands, and even populated urban neighborhoods.

What is their secret? How can they live in such a variety of places?

(c) Dennis Maxwell/AP
Coyotes are omnivores; they eat just about anything they can find, primarily meat. They will feed on rabbits, rodents, fish, insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, carrion (including each other), and even plants like cactus fruit.

A coyote will usually come out by itself at night to hunt. Coyotes will adapt their hunting strategies to suit the prey available within their habitat. They will hunt together to catch larger game such as deer or domestic dogs or cats.

Size and Styling

Coyote fur is usually tan underneath and black at the tip. Their bushy tails, long narrow noses, and yellow eyes are distinctive. Coyote’s hold their tails differently than other canines when they run. Instead of sticking their tails straight out, coyotes run with their tails down.

Coyotes can weigh anywhere between 15 and 45 pounds with 25 being the average. They are generally three in a half to four and a half feet long ( including the tail) and 23 to 26 inches tall.

Their tracks are 2 ½ long and 2 inches wide. Coyotes tracks are more triangular shaped than dog prints. Also there is more space between the toes and the pad on a coyote footprint than a dog track.

Coyote pups, dens and family life

Coyotes tend to sleep in a semi-hidden spot on the ground most of the year. But an expectant mother will often find a cave, hollow log, or an abandoned or unguarded fox hole to expand to make her den. She can have anywhere from one to nineteen pups, but the average is around six pups. Mating season is in February or March and the pups are born in April or May. The pups are born blind, and open their eyes after a week or two.

The father and sometimes an older sister from the last year will help train the pups to hunt when they are two or three months old. Males leave the group when they are six to nine months old, whereas females usually stay near their mothers pack.

Males sometimes travel as far as 100 miles away from where they were born. Coyotes can live up to 10-15 years in the wild and up to 20 in captivity. Wolves, Mountain lions, and in urban areas, cars sometimes cut their lifespan short.

Howling and other coyote communication

Coyotes don’t just bark, they growl, yelp, whimper, whine, yip, and of course howl. They make different sounds depending on what they are trying to communicate. Yipping signals excitement or possibly teasing, short barks are warnings, and howling lets the pack know where it is at.

Growling is used to establish dominance. Laughing is used for intimidation, and barking followed by growling is a form of scolding. Coyotes yelp when distressed. Whining or whimpering actually signifies bonding among coyotes, and longer higher pitched barks are used for calling pups.

Coyotes have good senses of hearing and smell as well. They will mark their territory with their urine or scat. Their vision is limited. When prey is not moving it is harder for them to see so they rely on their other senses.

Coyotes and humans - The best way to deal with coyotes

The “trick” humans should be most concerned about is how well they adapt to almost any kind of environment. Even cities as large as Los Angles have been known to have been pranked by this punk! The craftiest and most courageous coyotes will come into backyards to eat human garbage and even people’s pets.

Coyotes can become lazy and greedy and stop hunting if they can get enough garbage. So to be a good neighbor, outsmart Coyotes by keeping the lid tight on your trash. Safe guard your domestic pets by bringing them inside at night or closing them up in a coyote-proof pen. This will help Coyotes stay wild and hunt rabbit and other natural prey.

Learn more about Coyotes

Quick Coyote facts and fun for kids:

If you care to fool your friends and family here’s some websites you can visit to dress up as the wily coyote.

Come give your coyote lungs a try during Placer Nature Center’s Harvest Festival!
Besides a Howling Contest, there will be many other fun games and nature-related activities. Join us October 13th, from 4:30-7:30pm
Learn more at: http://www.placernaturecenter.org/halloween/

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