Range and Habitat
Coyotes range throughout North America, from northern Canada and Alaska, to Central America. They are found in vitrually all the contiguous 48 states and Alaska. They are abundant in Mexico and most countries in Central America, but do not extend to South America. Their range in North America was originally only in the West, but since the extermination of the red and grey wolves, their range has expanded farther eastward, taking over territory that was once occupied by the wolves, and in a sense filling in their niche. Now that the wolves are regaining some ground, coyotes are finding that they are no longer the top dog, as they were for some 50 - 100 years in some areas. There are 19 recognized subspecies of coyote, with 16 in Canada, Mexico and the united States, and 3 in Central America. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, from tundra to forest to scrubland to the outskirts of cities. They will thrive in an area just as long as there is a preybase.
The coyote is one of the most successful land predators on Earth, behind the grey wolf. Its name comes from the Aztec word 'coyotl' which means "barking dog". They have an incredible range in size and coloration. Coyotes from the north are larger (avg. 75 lb (34 kg)) than those farther south, such as Mexico (avg. 25 lb (11 kg)). Their color is generally a light grey with black ticking and pale under-parts. Coyotes that live in the mountains tend to be darker and desert coyotes tend to be more yellowish in color. They may have cinnamon markings on their face and sides of their body.
Their species name, latrans, means "barking" in Latin, so their scientific name literally means "barking dog".
Coyotes are opportunistic feeders, as well as scavengers. They will eat reptiles, rodents, fish, amphibians, birds, insects, crabs, carrion, fruits, and deer. They also eat livestock and poultry, for which they are hotly persecuted as vermin. Coyotes usually hunt at night. In the not to distant past, it was only coyotes in the southern parts of North America that were nocturnal, and hunted only at night, and elsewhere they were diurnal (active during the day). But increases in human persecution has made coyotes all over their range nocturnal hunters.
Coyotes hunt alone when pursuing small game, like mice. They will hunt in pairs or small groups when pursuing larger prey like deer. One usually is responsible for flushing the game out, while the others wait around to ambush it and help take it down. They have even been known to form a symbiotic hunting relationship with the badger; with the coyote scenting out burrowing rodents and the badger digging them out, and both animals sharing the spoils.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating season is between January and February. The female chooses her partner, and once chosen, there is little opposition from other male coyotes. Courtship lasts from 2-3 months. Female coyotes are in heat for only 2-5 days, sometime between late January and late March depending on the latitude in which they live. After a gestation period of 2 months, the female gives birth to an average of six pups, 19 being a recorded high. The cubs are born in a den, either dug by the couple or an abandoned burrow of another animal, such as a badger. The male provides for the litter by feeding and guarding them. Other related coyotes may help provide food or guard the cubs while both parents are away hunting. The cubs open their blue eyes at ten days old. At 21-28 days, they begin to emerge from their den. They are fully weaned by 35 days. They are fed regurgitated meat by the adults. By four months, they are learning how to catch food on their own. By the end of the first year, the litter of coyotes disperses to find territories of their own. Males usually disperse at 6-9 months, while the females usually disperse at an older age, but usually choose to stay with their mother. Physical maturity is attained at 9-12 months. They travel large distances in search of a decent place to call home. Most young coyotes die at this stage due to human persecution to the inexperienced trouble-makers.
Coyotes do not usually roam in packs, but single-sex groups have been observed. These groups are usually related, and are not as tightly bound as a wolf pack. Coyote packs tend to break up and regroup readily. They live in large home ranges, that can be from 4-143 km². Hybridization between the coyote and the wolf and dog have been observed. The red wolf is theorized to be a natural hybrid between the coyote and southern wolf populations. Most hybrids are sterile, but females tend to be fertile, and can mate with either another wolf or coyote.
Coyotes communicate in a variety of ways. The most famous of these is the coyote's howl, which is a high pitched yapping barking howl, that can be heard for miles around on a clear night. They also communicate through other sounds, such as snarls, barking, growling, and whining. Each sound communicates a different feeling, like anger or submission. Coyotes use scent communication as well, regularly marking off their territorial boundaries with urine and feces, which tells intruders that another coyote is living here and to stay out.
The major cause of death in coyotes is human: trapping, hunting, poisoning. Disease such as rabies and hookworm also take their toll. There is a chemical known as 1080 that is meant to poison the coyotes, but ends up doing a whole lot more to the ecosystem than just killing coyotes. The poison gets into everything, like water and grass, and every animal within a large area of where there is 1080 poison is killed.
Despite extremely heavy hunting pressures, coyotes flourish throughout their range. Coyotes replace wolves as the top predators in areas where the wolf has been eliminated. Just like red foxes, there are more coyotes now than there were over 200 years ago. Their range and numbers are spreading, and they are able to be successful since they can eat virtually anything and do not require extensive home ranges and large packs.