The Latin name of the coyote, Canis latrans, means “barking dog”. Coyotes are adaptable animals with an expanded range from the arctic slopes of Alaska, through Canada and the U.S., to Costa Rica. They are able to live in a wide variety of habitats. In the West, they prefer to live in open plains, and in the East, in brushy areas. They are accomplished singers, and they are clever, persistent hunters who can survive in hard times on field mice, insects, and field crops. Coyotes are often solitary hunters but may team up when hunting. They are strong swimmers and will follow prey into the water.
Coyotes feed primarily on small animals but may sometimes take animals as large as deer, antelope, and occasionally young livestock. They will also scavenge. As humans move into coyote territories there can be a conflict between man and animal.
Coyotes live in small family groups. Family life revolves around the breeding female. They are very caring parents. When the female goes into the den to have her pups, the male brings food and leaves it outside the den. He will do this until she begins to leave her pups to forage on her own. Both the male and the female will then be responsible for taking care of the pups. However, he will never enter the den.
If something should happen to the mother, the male will continue to leave food outside the den, but if the pups are not old enough to come outside to the food they will perish. He will do this for 5 to 7 days. If they do not eat the food within that time limit, he will abandon the den site and the pups will starve.
Males attain sexual maturity in the first breeding season following birth and are capable of impregnating females. Like wolves, male coyotes become fertile in December. Also like wolves, female coyotes will not become fertile until about February. Some juvenile females may reproduce in the first breeding season following birth, but most will not.
Gestation ranges from 60 to 63 days and coyotes produce only one litter per year. The normal litter size is 6 pups. The number of female coyotes that breed each year and the number of pups they have depend on environmental conditions and the intensity of coyote control practices.
From an Infinite Voyage program on extinction:
In the chaparral environment of southern California, if the coyote is eliminated, the raccoon, fox, possums, etc. will dramatically increase in population to the extent that some bird populations are driven out. The smaller the canyon, the faster species will go extinct. Fragmenting habitat will lead to extinction. It’s just a matter of time. It may take as much as 100 years in larger areas, but overall there are no areas left big enough to allow for long-term habitat survival.
Differences Between Coyotes and Wolves
Coyotes typically prey on small animals, are more likely to scavenge, and can survive on more varied diets, including insects and fruits. They live in smaller family groups — generally a monogamous pair and perhaps some of the previous year’s young.
They are smaller than wolves (28 to 35 pounds). Their ears are relatively larger and their muzzles narrower and more pointed.
There are differences in behavior as well as appearance. In general, coyotes have a more varied vocal repertoire than wolves, but their facial expressions are simpler and more stereotyped. Wolves have a richer “vocabulary” of body language. Coyotes have higher-pitched howls with more “barking” in them — typically known as yip-howls. They usually hold their heads higher than wolves do when howling. With practice, it is easy to differentiate between coyote and wolf howls.
In the mid-west, “brush wolf” is a common name for the coyote. Many people assume, perhaps because of this name, that we still have native gray wolves in parts of Indiana. Though coyotes, dogs, and wolves are so closely related to each other that they can interbreed and have fertile hybrid offspring, there are enough differences between the three species to distinguish them when a close observation is possible.
Sometimes coyotes may hunt in small packs (especially where there is no competition from wolves), but they cannot bring down very large prey like moose or elk. You will find that some people in Indiana are firmly convinced that coyotes can and do hunt together to pull down deer, calves, and sheep. This is not so. They will scavenge the carcasses of farm stock. They are dangerous to young lambs since young lambs do fall within the size of animals a coyote would regard as prey. But stories of coyotes running off carrying forty-pound piglets are probably exaggerated. Not too many predators will waste energy and endanger themselves while carrying something about the same size they are.
Quite often coyotes prefer wild prey such as small rodents. When this is the case, the coyote is the farmer’s helper. Moreover, since coyotes are highly territorial, a coyote who lives on a farm and eats rodents may keep out other coyotes who might be more dangerous to small stock.
The coyote population exploded in the early 1970s in Indiana. It then leveled off in the 1980s and seems to have stabilized.
(Dr. Larry Lehman – Fur-Bearing Animal Biologist, State of Indiana, Fish and Wildlife)