February 10, 2014

About the Eastern Coyote

Canis latrans

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. latrans

Lifespan: 10-15 years in captivity, 4-5 years in the wild
Size:4 feet long; 24 inches shoulder height; weight 25-35 pounds
Offspring: 5-7 young
Status: common

What do coyotes look like?  
A cousin to dogs, wolves, and foxes, the coyote measures about 4 feet from head to tail, with a shoulder height of about 2 feet and a weight from 25-35 pounds. Eastern coyotes tend to be slightly larger than coyotes found in the west. They have a long and pointed muzzle with a small, rounded nose, and a keen sense of smell. They have sharp eyes, large sensitive eats that are directed forward, slender legs, and small feet with non-retractable claws. The fur is long, coarse, and dense that shows a slight seasonal variation, but varies greatly among individuals. There is not a difference in fur quality between males and females. Usually their colors is gray to cinnamon gray with the underside being buff gray and black.

Where do coyotes live?  
The coyote's habitat in the east consists of brushy country bordering the edge of coniferous and second growth hardwood forests, also fields interspersed with thickets and marshlands. Coyotes do not do well in dense forests. Coyotes sleep on the ground in some cover all year but will make a den for their pups under a stump, hollow log, log pile, rocky ledge, vacant building, or dry culvert. They may even dig their own den or enlarge an abandoned burrow. A coyote den may be 2 to 4 fee underground and up to 30 feet long. It may have one or several concealed entrances in high vegetation. The home range of a coyote may be 2.5 to 26 square miles depending on the availability of prey.

What do coyotes eat and what eats them?  
Coyotes are opportunists and eat a variety of animals including carrion, rabbits, white-tailed deer, rodents, insects, birds, snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles, fish, crayfish, grapes, apples, cherries, berries, and grasses. The main prey of coyotes tends to be rabbits, carrion, and rodents. Coyotes will often bury a meal if they are unable to finish it and return to it at a later time. There are few predators of the adult coyote aside from humans; young pups have more including the wolf, great horned owl, cougar, bear, golden eagle, and humans.

How do coyotes adapt? 
Coyotes are active year round and are chiefly active at dawn and dusk and it is not uncommon to see one out during the day. They often lead a solitary existence or travel in a small "pack" consisting of a mated pair, the pups of the year, and possibly an older offspring. Coyotes are curious animals with a willingness to experiment with new food items and adapt quickly to new situations using it to their advantage. They may sometimes follow large animals using them to flush rodents and insects from a field or will scavenge along a highway. Coyotes may work in pairs to catch prey, splitting off from each other with 30 to 200 feet between them and walking parallel for some distance. They them come together for a short while and split again. A coyote may stalk and creep up on its prey, freeze momentarily, and then pounce like a fox or may hunt by chasing an animal in relays with other coyotes. A coyote usually attacks its prey from the front biting the victim at the thoat and cutting the jugular vein, although they often attack the rear end of a deer. The keen sense of hearing, sight, and smell are very important to the coyote when hunting. They usually trot when hunting but may run as fast as 25 to 30 miles per hour. Coyotes are also strong swimmers and with their thick fur are well equipped to survive in temperatures as low as 20 to 30 degrees below zero. Coyotes communicate by howling, barking, and yipping. They also communicate by using their scent glands, and uring and scat posts to mark their territories.

How do young coyotes develop?
Coyotes may pair together for several years but do not mate for life. Breeding begins in February and gestation lasts for 60 to 65 days with the pups born in April or May. The litter size is normally 5 to 7 blind and helpless pups covered with dark, tawny hair. They are able to crawl after about 3 days and walk at 8 to 10 days. The eyes open at 10 to 14 days and they can run at one month old. The femals may move the pups from one den to another during their first few weeks of life. The pups are nursed for two weeks and then begin to eat partially digested food as well as continue to nurse. The male provides the food for the pups and the femals until they are old enough to venture our of the den at 3 to 6 weeks old when they are weaned. The pups are taught to hunt by both th emale and female at 9 weeks of age. The family will stay together until early fall. If a coyote survives its furst year of life it may live to be 4 to 5 years old or if it is lucky 10 to 15 years. 

Be sure to visit the Science Center's new Coyote Exhibit which will open spring 2014!

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