|The Robinson Library >> Family Canidae|
The word "coyote" is from the Nahuatl word cˇyotl. Its scientific name means "barking dog."
The coyote is grayish-brown to yellowish-brown on top, with whitish fur on the underparts, and reddish brown fur on the foreloegs, sides of the head, muzzle, and paws. Its triangular ears are almost too big in relation to the size of its head, it has a long, narrow muzzle, black nose, and yellow eyes. Coyotes are 30-34 inches long, stand 23-26 inches at the shoulder, and weigh 15-46 pounds. The characteristic bushy tail is 12-16 inches long, and when the coyote runs it is carried down, while dogs generally run with the tail up and wolves with tail straight out. Coyotes can run at speeds up to 43 miles per hour, and can leap 13 feet or more.
Distribution and Habitat
Coyotes are found throughout the United States, Mexico, Central America and all but the most northern areas of Canada. They inhabit a variety of habitats, including woodlands, desert-like areas, and even densely populated urban areas. Although capable of digging their own dens, coyotes prefer to take advantage of rocky crevices, logs, caves, and/or abandoned badger and fox dens.
Habits and Behaviors
Coyotes live in packs that typically consist of up to six closely related adults, yearlings, and pups. Despite common depictions to the contrary, coyotes do not howl at the moon, but since they are primarily nocturnal it is more common for them to howl at night than during the day; those howls serve to let each member of the pack know where other members are. Other vocalizations include short warning barks, yips of greeting, dominance growls, and even whining and whimpering as signs of submission to other pack members.
Breeding season typically runs from February through April, and breeding pairs will often form monogamous relationships that last several years. The gestation period is about two months, with 1-19 pups being born per litter (average is six). Newborn pups weigh about 250 grams and are blind and limp-eared. The eyes open and ears become erect at about 10 days of age, they are able to make forays outside the den by 4 weeks, and are weaned at about the same time. Both parents feed and protect the pups, which are fully grown and independent by their 12th month. Males typically leave their birth pack, while females tend to stay with their mother's pack. Coyotes can live up to 10 years in the wild.
Rabbits, rodents, and other small mammals make up most of the coyote's diet, with birds, some reptiles, and even carrion also being taken. It is also not uncommon for a coyote to take domestic cats and dogs, and on rare occasions to go after livestock. Small prey is usually taken by individuals and pairs, but an entire pack will, if given an opportunity, take turns chasing down large prey -- usually deer. During such chases groups of two to three coyotes will chase the prey for a distance and then turn the chase over to another small group, thus reserving their strength while wearing down the prey to the point where it becomes too exhausted to keep running and can be overwhelmed by the entire pack. Such kills are shared by the entire pack, regardless of which members ended up making the final kill.
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This page was last updated on December 30, 2018.