Canis latranscoyote

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Coyotes are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout North and Central America. They range from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States, and Canada. They occur as far north as Alaska and all but the northernmost portions of Canada.

Habitat

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and use a wide range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and swamps. They are typically excluded from areas with wolves. Coyotes, because of their tolerance for human activities, also occur in suburban, agricultural, and urban settings.

Physical Description

Coloration of coyotes varies from grayish brown to a yellowish gray on the upper parts. The throat and belly are whitish. The forelegs, sides of head, muzzle and feet are reddish brown. The back has fulvous colored underfur and long, black-tipped guard hairs that produce a black dorsal stripe and a dark cross on the shoulder area. The tail, which is half the body length, is bottle shaped with a black tip. There is also a scent gland located on the dorsal base of the tail. There is one moult per year, which starts in May with light loss of hair and ends in July after profuse shedding. Coyotes are significantly smaller than gray wolves and much larger than foxes. Coyotes are distinguished from domesticated dogs by their pointed, erect ears and drooping tail, which they hold below their back when running. The eyes have a yellow iris and round pupil. The nose is black and usually less than one inch in diameter. The ears are large in relation to the head and the muzzle is long and slender. The feet are relatively small for the size of the body. The pes has four digits and the manus has five with a small first digit. Coyotes run on their toes (digitigrade). The dental formula is 3/3 1/1 4/4 2/3. The molars are structured for crushing and the canines are rather long and slender.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    7 to 21 kg
    15.42 to 46.26 lb
  • Range length
    75 to 100 cm
    29.53 to 39.37 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    19.423 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Courtship lasts for approximately 2 to 3 months. Female coyotes are monoestrous and are in heat for 2 to 5 days between late January and late March. Mating occurs within these 3 months. Once the female chooses a partner, the mates may remain paired for a number of years, but not necessarily for life.

Spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days and occurs between January and February depending on geographic location. Gestation lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6. The pups weigh approximately 250 grams. The young are born blind, limp-eared and pug-nosed. After 10 days the eyes open, the pups weigh 600 grams and their ears begin to erect in true coyote fashion. Twenty-one to 28 days after birth, the young begin to emerge from the den and by 35 days they are fully weaned. They are fed regurgitated food by both parents. Male pups disperse from the dens between months 6 and 9, while females usually stay with the parents and form the basis of the pack. Adult size is reached between 9 and 12 months. Sexual maturity is reached by 12 months. Coyotes hybridize with domestic dogs and occasionally with gray wolves.

  • Breeding interval
    Coyotes usually breed once each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January to March.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 19
  • Average number of offspring
    5.7
  • Average number of offspring
    6
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    50 to 65 days
  • Range weaning age
    35 to 49 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 to 10 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 10 months

Female coyotes gestate and nurse their young. Both male and female coyotes bring food to their young after they are weaned and protect their offspring. The young sometimes stay with the pack into adulthood and learn how to hunt during a learning period.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.

Behavior

Coyotes are less likely to form packs than are wolves. Hunting, which takes place around the den, is done individually, in pairs, or in family units depending on prey availability. Coyotes are essentially nocturnal but can occasionally be seen during daylight hours. Although coyotes are capable of digging their own burrows, they often enlarge the burrows of woodchucks or badgers and use these as their dens. Dens are used year after year. There are several entrances to a single den. Coyotes leave their dens to defecate and urinate. Coyotes are capable of running at speeds up to 65 km/hr and they can jump distances of up to 4 m.

  • Range territory size
    283 (high) km^2

Home Range

Coyote ranges, which are usually defended only during denning season, may be as much as 19 km in diameter around the den and travel occurs along fixed routes or trails.

Communication and Perception

Coyotes use auditory, visual, olfactory and tactile signals to communicate. They are the most vocal of all North American wild mammals, using 3 distinct calls (squeak, distress call and howl call) which consist of a quick series of yelps, followed by a falsetto howl. Howling may act to announce where territories are to other packs. Coyotes also howl when two or more members of a pack re-unite and to announce to each other their location. Their sight is less developed and is used primarily to note movement. They have acute hearing and sense of smell. They use stumps, posts, bushes or rocks as "scent posts" on which they urinate and defecate, possibly to mark territory. Coyotes are very good swimmers but poor climbers.

Food Habits

Coyotes are versatile in their eating habits. They are carnivorous; 90% of their diet is mammalian. They eat primarily small mammals, such as eastern cottontail rabbits, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and white-footed mice. They occasionally eat birds, snakes, large insects and other large invertebrates. They prefer fresh meat, but they consume large amounts of carrion. Part of what makes coyotes so successful at living in so many different places is the fact that they will eat almost anything, including human trash and household pets in suburban areas. Plants eaten include leaves of balsam fir and white cedar, sasparilla, strawberry, and apple. Fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the diet of coyotes in the fall and winter months. Coyotes hunt animals in interesting ways. When on a "mousing" expedition, they slowly stalk through the grass and sniff out the mouse. Suddenly, with all four legs held stiffly together, the coyotes stiffen and pounce on the prey. Hunting deer, on the other hand, calls for teamwork. Coyotes may take turns pursuing the deer until it tires, or they may drive it towards a hidden member of the pack. Coyotes sometimes form "hunting partnerships" with badgers. Because coyotes aren't very effective at digging rodents out of their burrows, they chase the animals while they're above ground. Badgers do not run quickly, but are well-adapted to digging rodents out of burrows. When both hunt together they effectively leave no escape for prey in the area. The average distance covered in a night's hunting is 4 km.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit

Predation

Coyotes are very secretive. Especially near human habitations they are active mostly early in the morning and late in the evening. Coyotes keep their young in or near the den while they are young so that the pups aren't killed by predators and competitors such as wolves and mountain lions.

Ecosystem Roles

Coyotes help in keeping many small mammal populations in check, such as mice and rabbits. If populations of these small mammals were allowed to become too large it would result in habitat degradation

Mutualist Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Coyotes help to control some agricultural pests, such as rodents. Coyote pelts are also still collected and sold in some areas.

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Coyotes serves as hosts for a number of diseases, including rabies. They are considered a threat to poultry, livestock, and crops. Coyotes may also compete with hunters for deer, rabbits, and other game species.

Conservation Status

Coyotes are common and widespread because of their extraordinary adaptability.

Other Comments

Coyotes are one of the dominant terrestrial carnivores in North America, with humans and wolves being their greatest enemies.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Erik Tokar (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

choruses

to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Baker, Rollin H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. Michigan State University Press, Detroit, pg: 390-399.

Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. Mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto and Buffalo, pg: 286-289.

Fox, M.W. 1975. The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology and Evolution. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, London and Melbourne, pg: 247-262.

Nowak, Ronald M. and John L. Paradiso. 1983. Walkers Mammals of the World. 4th Ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, pg: 949-951.