Coyotes – Why Are They Becoming So Common?

Long considered an icon of the American Southwest, the coyote is now a wildlife resident of most rural towns and urban areas. Why has this particular animal been able to thrive at the same time human development threatens so many other native species? A look at the coyote’s natural evolutionary advantages tells an interesting story of wildlife in modern society.

Coyote Background
Coyotes are part of the Canis designation of mammals, the same category as wolves, dogs and dingoes. They range from black-gray to yellow-gray in color, with a bushy tail that sports a black tip. The chest and belly are white in color. They have a narrow face and erect ear. Coyotes range from 32 to 37 inches tall, weighing around 50 pounds. People often mistake them for medium-sized dogs roaming the neighborhood. However, coyotes have completely retained their wild natures and cannot be tamed even when raised among people from a very young age. They will revert to their wild characteristics at puberty. Coyotes are a hardy and highly adaptable species that have spread rapidly throughout the United States as development has changed the natural environments of these and other native species.

Geographical Distribution
It is thought that the coyote evolved from the gray wolf because their genetic make-up is so similar. Coyotes will interbreed with gray wolves, and scientists find as much as five percent of coyote populations contain gray wolf genes. Coyotes originated in the deserts and plains of North America, but their ability to adapt to various environmental conditions has carried them from Mexico well into Canada, from isolated deserts to urban communities. They are good swimmers, as well, which allows them to expand their range to offshore islands and other environments where can find game or other food supplies.

Although many think of coyotes as carnivores, they are actually omnivores, changing their eating patterns to suit whatever is available. They may poach on livestock or even snatch cats or small dogs if they are an easy catch. However, they will also eat such a wide range as rats, birds, snakes, frogs, fruit or carrion. Coyotes sometimes work in teams of two or three to bring down larger animals like deer. However, they prefer small ground animals as an everyday diet. In fact, it is said that coyotes are important in holding down the rat population near human communities, so their presence serves an important ecological purpose.

Social Behavior
Coyotes make their homes in burrows and often take over the burrows of other animals. Breeding pairs may stay together for several seasons. Coyotes sometimes mate with wolves or dogs, producing hybrid animals. Coyotes have an annual breeding period that occurs from January to March of each year. Six to twelve pups may be born in the spring. Both parents contribute to caring for the litter. These pups will be sexually mature by the age of one year. Coyotes communicate with distinct calls which humans often find noisy and disturbing, but help to cement relationships within the family group and establish territorial boundaries.

Why Coyotes Thrive
The coyote’s ability to make use of any food source available, their ability to change their hunting patterns to suit whatever prey comes their way, their prolific reproductive patterns, and their adaptive living patterns have made them a familiar sight in today’s suburban and urban environments. Finding ways to share these environments continue to be a challenging endeavor for both coyotes and humans.

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