|The coyote (Canis latrans) also known as the prairie wolf ) is a mammal of the order carnivora. They are found throughout North and Central America, ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States, and Canada. They occur as far north as Alaska and all but the most northern portions of Canada. There are currently 19 recognized subspecies, with 16 in Canada, Mexico and the United States, and 3 in Central America. The name "coyote" was borrowed from Mexican Spanish, derived from the Nahuatl word coyōtl. Its Latin name Canis latrans means "barking dog".
The word itself has two common pronunciations, use depending upon region or exposure to entertainment media. In northern areas such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, the "e" in the word is not pronounced, making it a two syllable word (kai-oat), with the accent on the first syllable.
In southern areas such as Arizona and New Mexico, the "e" is pronounced, making it a three syllable word (kai-oat-ee), with the accent on the second syllable. Hollywood has generally used the southern pronunciation in movies and television shows, leading to a wider acceptance of that pronunciation, to the point that many people are unaware of the alternative.
Coyotes typically grow from 75-100 centimeters (30-40 inches) in length and on average, weigh from 7-21 kilograms (15-46 pounds). Northern coyotes are typically larger than southern subspecies, with the largest coyotes on record weighing 74¾ pounds (33.7 kg) and measuring over five feet in total length. The coyote's dental formula is I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M usually 2/2, occasionally 3/3, 3/2, or 2/3 X 2 = 40, 42, or 44. Normal spacing between the upper canine teeth is 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches (29 to 35 mm) and 1 to 1 1/4 inches (25 to 32 mm) between the lower canine teeth.
Coyotes are capable of digging their own burrows, though they often appropriate the burrows of woodchucks or American badgers. Coyote territorial ranges can be as much as 19 kilometers in diameter around the den and travel occurs along fixed trails.
In areas where wolves have been exterminated, coyotes usually flourish. The settlement of New England for example ended in the destruction of the resident wolves, resulting in coyotes replacing them and filling the empty biological niche. Coyotes appear much abler than wolves to live among people.
Coyotes will sometimes mate with domestic dogs, usually in areas like Texas and Oklahoma where the coyotes are plentiful and the breeding season is extended because of the warm weather. The resulting hybrids called coydogs maintain the coyote's predatory nature, along with the dog's lack of timidity toward humans, making them a usually more serious threat to livestock than pure blooded animals. This cross breeding has the added effect of confusing the breeding cycle. Coyotes usually breed only once a year, while coydogs will breed year-round, producing many more pups than a wild coyote. A distinguishable feature in a coydog is the ears and tail.
Coyotes have also been known on occasion to mate with wolves. The offspring, known as a coywolf is generally intermediate in size to both parents, being larger than a pure coyote, but smaller than a pure wolf. A study showed that of 100 coyotes collected in Maine, 22 had half or more wolf ancestry, and one was 89 percent wolf. A theory has been proposed that the large eastern coyotes in Canada are actually hybrids of the smaller western coyotes and wolves that met and mated decades ago as the coyotes moved toward New England from their earlier western ranges. The red wolf is considered by some to be a wolf/coyote hybrid, due to its habit of readily mating with coyotes and the fact that it carries no unique genetic trait that would make it distinct from coyotes and grey wolves.
In rural areas, coyotes will respond to human calls. This is most often after the coyotes have started a howling session. They will also respond to recorded howls. In some of these areas, the coyotes will stop and wait for the humans to stop before resuming their howling session, once they've figured out that it isn't another coyote that has been calling to them. In areas where the coyotes have grown accustomed to humans calling back to them, they tend to continue with simpler calls back to the humans and return to more complex calls when the humans get tired of calling to them.
Diet and hunting
Coyotes shift their hunting techniques in accordance to their prey. When hunting small animals such as mice, they slowly stalk through the grass and use their acute sense of smell to track down the prey. When the prey is located, the coyotes stiffen and pounce on the prey in a cat-like manner. Coyotes will commonly work in teams when hunting large ungulates such as deer. Coyotes may take turns in baiting and pursuing the deer to exhaustion, or they may drive it towards a hidden member of the pack. When attacking large prey, coyotes attack from the rear and the flanks of their prey. Occasionally they also grab the neck and head, pulling the animal down to the ground. Coyotes are persistent hunters, with successful attacks sometimes lasting from 14 minutes to about 21 hours; even unsuccessful ones can vary from 2 minutes to more than 8 hours before the coyotes give up. Depth of snow can affect the likelihood of a successful kill.
Relationships with other predators
Cougars sometimes kill coyotes for food. The coyote's instinctive fear of cougars has led to the development of anti-coyote sound systems which repel coyotes from public places by replicating the sounds of a cougar.
In sympatric populations of coyotes and red foxes, fox territories tend to be located largely outside of coyote territories. The principal cause of this separation is believed to be active avoidance of coyotes by the foxes. Interactions between the two species vary in nature, ranging from active antagonism to indifference. The majority of aggressive encounters are initiated by coyotes, and there are few reports of red foxes acting aggressively toward coyotes except when attacked or when their pups were approached. Conversely, foxes and coyotes have sometimes been seen feeding together.
Coyotes will sometimes form a symbiotic relationship with American badgers. Due to the fact that coyotes are not very effective at digging rodents out of their burrows, they will chase the animals while they are above ground. Badgers on the other hand are not fast runners, but are well-adapted to digging. When hunting together, they effectively leave little escape for prey in the area.
In some areas, coyotes share their ranges with bobcats. It is rare for these two similarly sized species to physically confront one another, though bobcat populations tend to diminish in areas with high coyote densities. Coyotes have been known to occasionally kill bobcats, but in all cases, the victims were relatively small specimens, such as adult females and juveniles.
Relationship with humans
Adaptation to human environment
Coyotes also thrive in suburban settings and even some urban cities. A study by wildlife ecologists at Ohio State University yielded some surprising findings in this regard. Researchers studied coyote populations in Chicago over a seven-year period (2000-2007), proposing that coyotes have adapted well to living in densely populated urban environments while avoiding contact with humans. They found, among other things, that urban coyotes tend to live longer than their rural counterparts, kill rodents and small pets, and live anywhere from parks to industrial areas. The researchers estimate that there are up to 2,000 coyotes living in "the greater Chicago area" and that this circumstance may well apply to many other urban landscapes in North America. In Washington DC's Rock Creek Park, coyotes den and raise their young, scavenge road kill, and hunt rodents. "I don't see it as a bad thing for a park," the assigned National Park Service biologist told a reporter for Smithsonian Magazine (March 2006). "I see it as good for keeping animal populations in control, like the squirrels and the mice." As a testament to the coyote's habitat adaptability, a coyote (known as "Hal the Central Park Coyote") was even captured in Manhattan's Central Park in March 2006 after being chased by city wildlife officials for two days.
Attacks on humans
Due to an absence of harassment by residents, urban coyotes lose their natural fear of humans, which is further worsened by people intentionally feeding coyotes. In such situations, some coyotes begin to act aggressively toward humans, chasing joggers and bicyclists, confronting people walking their dogs, and stalking small children.
However, there is currently only one recorded fatal attack on a human. In 1981 in Glendale, California, a coyote attacked a toddler, who despite being rescued by her father, died in surgery due to blood loss and a broken neck.
Livestock and pet predation
Coyotes will typically bite the throat just behind the jaw and below the ear when attacking adult sheep or goats, with death commonly resulting from suffocation. Blood loss is usually a secondary cause of death. Calves, and heavily fleeced sheep are killed by attacking the flanks or hind-quarters, causing shock and blood loss. When attacking smaller prey, such as young lambs and kids, the kill is made by biting the skull and spinal regions, causing massive tissue and ossular damage. Small or young prey may be completely carried off, leaving only blood as evidence of a kill. Surplus killing, or killing more prey than can be consumed, is common with many kills not being fed upon. Coyotes will usually leave the hide and most of the skeleton of larger animals relatively intact unless food is scarce, in which case they may leave only the largest bones. Scattered bits of wool, skin and other parts are characteristic where coyotes feed extensively on larger carcasses.
Coyote predation can usually be distinguished from dog or coydog predation by the fact that coyotes partially consume their victims. Tracks are also an important factor in distinguishing coyote from dog predation. Coyote tracks tend to be more oval-shaped and compact than those of domestic dogs, plus, claw marks are less prominent and the tracks tend to follow a straight line more closely than those of dogs. With the exception of sight hounds, most dogs of similar weight to coyotes have a slightly shorter stride. Coyote kills can be distinguished from wolf kills by the fact that there is less damage to the underlying tissues. Also, coyote scats tend to be smaller than wolf scats.
Although it is rare for coyotes to attack humans, coyotes are often attracted to dog food and animals that are small enough to appear as prey. Items like garbage, pet food and sometimes even feeding stations for birds and squirrels will attract coyotes into backyards. Approximately 3 to 5 pets attacked by coyotes are brought into the Animal Urgent Care hospital of South Orange County each week, the majority of which are dogs, since cats typically do not survive the attacks. Scat analysis collected near Claremont, California revealed that coyotes relied heavily on pets as a food source in winter and spring. At one location in Southern California, coyotes began relying on a colony of feral cats as a food source. Over time, the coyotes killed most of the cats and then continued to eat the cat food placed daily at the colony site by citizens who were maintaining the cat colony. Coyotes will usually attack smaller or similar sized dogs, though they have been known to occasionally attack large, powerful breeds such as Rhodesian ridgebacks and Rottweilers. Even with a size advantage, large dogs are usually at a disadvantage against coyotes in physical confrontations, due to the fact that coyotes have larger canine teeth and are generally more practiced in hostile encounters.
The harvest of coyote skins in Texas has varied over the past few decades, but has generally followed a downward trend. A few conservationist groups have associated the declining harvest of coyote pelts to an over-harvest. This contradicts the fact that if a harvest reduction were due to declining coyote numbers, one would expect prices per pelt to increase in the face of a stable demand and declining supply. Fashion, and the changing custom of wearing fur garments, may be significant among these factors. While the European Union's ban on furs from North America is expected to have a major impact on the fur market in the United States, its influence on coyote harvest in Texas may not be significant, seeing as Texan coyote populations show no sign of decline.
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