Bekoff, M. 1977. Canis latrans. Mammalian species no. 79


Also known as
Brush wolf, prairie wolf, Heul wolf, Steppenwolf, lobo, American jackal.
What is the scientific name?
Canis latrans
Where are they located? How many subspecies are there?
Coyotes are found all across North America. There are 19 subspecies of coyotes, C.l. latrans, C.l. ochropus, C.l. cagottis, C.l. frustror, C.l. lestes, C.l. mearnsi, C.l. microdon, C.l. peninsulae, C.l. vigilis, C.l. clepticus, C.l. impavidus, C.l. goldmani, C.l. texensis, C.l. jamesi, C.l. dickeyi, C.l. colatus, C.l. hondurensis and C.l. thamnos. The subspecies in southern Oregon is C.l. umpquensis (Jackson 1951).
Where do they live?
Anywhere, almost. From the desert to grasslands to forests to urban areas. (Beckoff 1982) I have even seen them in heavily populated areas of Los Angeles adjacent to foothills.
What do they look like?
Coyotes have a grayish head, back and tail with lighter underparts. They can be distinguished from Wolves by their size, coyotes are much smaller. While a typical male coyote weighs between 24 and 35 pounds a typical male Wolf weighs between 65 to 100 pounds. Coyotes also have relatively longer and slimmer ears (Paradiso and Nowak 1982; Bekoff 1977). Coyotes that live at higher, forested altitudes are darker in color than those that live in the desert, which tend to be a browner gray (Bekoff 1977).
How big are they?
Between 3 to 4 feet in total length, males are usually larger (Hall 1981). Males weigh between 24 and 35 pounds, females between 21 and 30 pounds (Bekoff 1982).
How long do they live?
Average lifespan is approximately one to six years. About 67% of coyote pups less than one year old die each year. Two of the oldest recorded wild coyotes were 13½ and 14½ years old, respectively. In captivity, coyotes have lived up to 18 years (Bekoff 1982; Young 1951).
What do they eat?
Anything, almost. Mammals make up about 90% of the coyote's diet, but it is an opportunist and takes advantage of whatever food source is most available. Their diet also varies with the seasons and a complete list would fill several pages. The following list represents the most common items: rabbits, rodents, birds, amphibians, snails, fish, insects, deer and elk. Most of the bigger animals, like deer and elk, are thought to be in the form of carrion. Coyotes also eat fruits such as berries, peaches, pears, apples, persimmons, watermelons, cantaloupes, and carrots. Even such odd things as leather boots and tin cans have been reported (Bekoff 1977).

Interesting notes: Lou Benjamin (1992), an engineer at WP Natural Gas company, related a story to me about coyotes being utilized to find gas leaks in the desert. The coyotes often made a habit of defecating in areas where there were gas leaks, even though the gas lines were buried underground. Engineers took advantage of this habit and, when checking for gas leaks, would look for scat along the length of the pipeline. They would remove it, mark the spot with a stake, and come back in a few days to see if there was fresh coyote scat. If there was, they would dig down to inspect the line. They frequently found leaks so small that when soapy water was applied to the pipe it would take several seconds for any bubbles to appear. Benjamin also mentioned that his company was thinking of using dogs to find gas leaks in the future.

Northern coyote subspecies are larger than southern subspecies (Beckoff 1977). One of the largest coyotes on record weighed 74¾ pounds and measured over five feet in total length (Young 1951). Coyotes can run up to 40 miles per hour, but normally only run between 25 and 30 miles per hour. They may also jump as high as 14 feet (Whitaker 1980). Coyotes generally don't live in close-knit packs, as do wolves, and are much more solitary. The coyote packs that have been observed usually consist of family members. (Beckoff 1977).

Coyotes have been known to find food simply by watching other animals. Ravens, magpies, wolves and even eagles have all been pursued by the coyote in an attempt to either steal or clean-up the remains of whatever was being eaten. In one instance, a coyote was observed chasing a raven that was perched on a snowdrift eating some unknown food. The coyote ran after the raven, causing it to fly a few yards away. The coyote sniffed the ground where the raven had been perched, searching for any left over morsels. Finding none, the coyote looked again at the Raven and dashed after it. The raven again flew to a safe distance from the coyote, who again sniffed the ground where the raven had been landed. This occurred 11 or 12 more times. While the raven could have flown far away from the coyote, which it finally did, it seemed to enjoy the little game of "catch me" (Murie 1940).

I have worked with coyotes at Wildlife Images for a number of years and even though I am often greeted with lots of tail wagging and whining, I don't trust them. Two of the longest residents at Wildlife Images are male and female coyotes trained to walk on a leash. My wife, Gail, and I sometimes take them out of their pens for exercise. Once when we were walking Mandy, the female, I lost my train of thought and forgot what we were walking.

I had climbed down a bank next to the Rogue River, out of Mandy's sight. Mandy doesn't like the gushing Rogue and never comes near the water, but I wanted to skip rocks across the water. Gail remained at the top of the bank with Mandy who was engaged in lots of sniffing and munching of grass. I started climbing back up the bank and when my head became level with the top of the bank I was surprised to see Mandy's growling and snarling face only two feet from my mine! This sweet little canid, who only minutes before had been the object of our praise for "behaving so well today," had me shaking. Never sneak up on a coyote!

As I froze in my tracks, Gail quickly pulled Mandy back up the trail. As they both moved away, I mounted the bank and followed them at a safe and humble distance. I finally got the courage to call Mandy and when I did, she turned around and ran quickly back to me pulling Gail with her. My nerves were still a little shaky, but I managed to assume a dominant appearance (never let them see you sweat) and pet her. She greeted me with the usual licking and belly-up (scratch me!) behavior, just like nothing had ever happened.

Several experiences like this have led me to believe that regardless of what people say, wild animals do not generally make good pets. They can be wonderful one minute and nasty the next. This is how they should be. Coyotes have learned to survive by being nervous and cautious. While this makes for wonderful survival skills in the wild, its not the kind of behavior you want in your living room.