As much as we enjoy learning about each species, this week we were pleasantly and extremely surprised by what we learned about the Coyote! This is not the first canid we have covered, but one that just left us speechless. The Coyote is a master of survival and adaptation. They are the first non-invasive species we know of whose range has actually substantially increased due to human activity. Because grey wolves have been persecuted to near extinction, Coyotes have filled part of their niche and expanded their territories. Coyotes live among many people throughout North and Central America, are a common site and persecuted as a pest. They are just a spectacular and very much misunderstood animal. Coyotes are well worth your time to learn more about.
Coyotes belong to the Canidae family. This includes about 34 species of grey wolves, red wolves, domestic dogs, foxes and jackals. Coyotes closest relatives are the gray wolves and domestic dogs. Within the species of Coyotes (Canis latrans) there is 19 subspecies. This includes:
- Canis latrans ochropus (California valley coyote)
- Canis latrans texensis (Texas plains coyote)
- Canis latrans frustror (south-eastern coyote)
- Canis latrans thamnos (north-eastern coyote)
- Canis latrans umpquensis (northwest coast coyote)
- Canis latrans latrans (plains coyote)
- Canis latrans lestes (mountain coyote)
- Canis latrans cagottis (Mexican coyote)
- Canis latrans clepticus (San Pedro Martir coyote)
- Canis latrans dickeyi (Salvador 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 Island coyote)
- Canis latrans mearnsi (Mearns coyote)
- Canis latrans microdon (Lower Rio Grande coyote)
- Canis latrans peninsulae (peninsula coyote)
- Canis latrans vigilis (Colima coyote)
The canids crossed into North America from Asia about 8 million years ago. Around this time, is when the canids split into two lineages, foxes and wolves. It was about 1.8 million years ago when Coyotes split off from wolves. Today’s modern Coyotes did not emerge until the end of the last Ice Age. They are a relatively new species and continue to evolve. In fact, Coyotes are rapidly adapting to humans in North America. They are one of the few non-invasive species whose geographical range has actually dramatically grown. This is due to the forceful removal of wolves and also due to human activities.
Coyotes are one of the most adaptable mammals we have run across in the podcast. They have adapted so well to humans and urbanization, that you now find Coyotes in almost every major city within North America. While their diets normally consist of small mammals, they will eat almost anything, to include carrion. They also love to eat human garbage and have been known to eat small family pets (dogs and cats). Coyotes are also quite fast with top speeds of 40 MPH (70 KPH).
The major reason Coyotes have done so well is due to the removal of one of their natural predators, wolves. Wolves would keep coyotes in check throughout their history. However, since wolves have been largely removed from the ecosystem across the Americas, Coyotes have thrived. They have filled in for the wolves in some aspects, like eating small dear, or even caribou. Another aspect to their success is due to their quick breeding intervals. Coyotes reach maturity within their first 2 years of age and can have litters of up to 19 pups.
Due to their success, Coyotes are listed as Least Concern. While no population numbers could be found, an estimated 500,000 Coyotes are killed each year in the United States. They are viewed as pests. However, arguments can be made that the actual killing of Coyotes actually does more harm to controlling their numbers. More can be read about this HERE