Coyote wearing VHF collar in Steuben County.
Credit: Scott Smith
Coyotes are members of the Canidae family and share a lot of the same traits of their relatives: wolves, dogs, foxes and jackals. There are 19 subspecies of coyote, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. They have narrow, elongated snouts, lean bodies covered in thick fur, yellow or amber eyes and long, bushy tails. Coyotes have gray, white, tan and brown fur. Their fur color depends on where they live. Coyotes that live in the mountains have darker coats and ones that live in the desert have lighter coats.
Coyotes are about as big as medium-size dogs, though they are smaller than wolves. They are 32 to 37 inches (81 to 94 centimeters) from head to rump. Their tail adds another 16 inches (41 cm) to their length. Coyotes typically weigh about 20 to 50 lbs. (9 to 23 kilograms).
Where do coyotes live?
Coyotes live in North America and roam the plains, forests, mountains and deserts of Canada, the United States, Mexico and Central America. As humans take over more and more countryside, coyotes are adapting to living in cities to find food. In fact, it is becoming more and more common to see coyotes in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Coyotes are solitary creatures and mark their territory with urine. During the winter, coyotes tend to become more social, though. During the cold months, they join forces, creating hunting packs to find food more easily.
These hunters are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and hunt at night. This is why you usually only hear coyotes howling at night. Coyotes howl to communicate their location. They also use other noises to communicate. They make huffing noises to call their pups and they bark at others to tell them to stay away.
What do coyotes eat?
Coyotes are not picky eaters. They are typically thought to be only meat eaters, but they are actually omnivores — they eat meat and vegetation. They eat small game such as rodents, rabbits, fish and frogs, and larger game like deer. When they aren't snacking on bigger prey, they will eat snakes, insects, fruit and grass. Coyotes are known for being pests because they will kill livestock and pets. In cities, coyotes will eat pet food or garbage.
Breading season is February to March. In the spring, females build dens in preparation for their young. Females have a gestation period of 63 days and give birth to groups of three to 12 young at once. The groups of babies are called litters and each coyote baby is called a pup. How big the litter size is depends on where the coyotes live. In areas where there are a lot of coyotes, there will be a smaller litter size. In areas with fewer coyotes, the litter size will be larger.
Both the male and female participate in taking care of the pups. The male will bring food to the female and the pups and help protect them from predators.
According to the National Trappers Association, a female coyote will stay in her den with her pups until their eyes open. This can take 11 or 12 days.
By fall, the pups are old enough to hunt for themselves. Coyotes are usually ready to mate at 20 to 22 months old. In the wild, coyotes live around 14 years.
Coyotes can also mate with dogs. The offspring are called "coydogs." Coydogs don't have a very big population because they tend to mate and have babies during the winter, making it harder for the pups to survive. Also, males do not help the females take care of the pups, which also lead to poor survival rates.
The taxonomy of coyotes, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), is:
Genus and species: Canis latrans
Subspecies: There are 19:
- Canis latrans cagottis (Mexican coyote)
- Canis latrans clepticus (San Pedro Martir coyote)
- Canis latrans dickeyi (Salvador coyote)
- Canis latrans frustror (southeastern coyote)
- Canis latrans goldmani (Belize coyote)
- Canis latrans hondurensis (Honduras coyote)
- Canis latrans impavidus (Durango coyote)
- Canis latrans incolatus (northern coyote)
- Canis latrans jamesi (Tiburón coyote)
- Canis latrans latrans (plains coyote)
- Canis latrans lestes (Mountain coyote)
- Canis latrans mearnsi (Mearns coyote)
- Canis latrans microdon (Lower Rio Grande coyote)
- Canis latrans ochropus (California valley coyote)
- Canis latrans peninsulae (peninsula coyote)
- Canis latrans texensis (Texas plains coyote)
- Canis latrans thamnos (northeastern coyote)
- Canis latrans umpquensis (northwest coast coyote)
- Canis latrans vigilis (Colima coyote)
Coyotes are not endangered. In fact, some believe that the coyote population has never been higher. Farmers and ranchers have tried controlling the population with poisons, guns and traps, but the populations are still growing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, since 1861, 500,000 coyotes have been killed by the U.S. government to hamper population growth. This is a task that cost taxpayers around $30 million, according to The Educational Broadcasting Corp.
Coyotes are very quick creatures. They can run around 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour.
To distinguish the difference between coyotes and wolves, scientists looked at both species' DNA, according to the Journal of Mammalogy.
Males will travel up to 100 miles to find food when their current home is overpopulated.
- National Geographic: Coyote
- San Diego Zoo: Coyote
- National Geographic Kids: Coyote
- Smithsonian National Zoo: Coyote
- PBS Nature: Coyote
- National Trappers Association: Coyotes
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service: Canis latrans
- The Animal Files: Coyote