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Coyote (Canis latrans)

Family: Canidae, Dogs

Description: Grizzled gray or orangish gray above, with buff underparts. Long, rusty or yellowish legs with dark vertical line on lower foreleg. Bushy tail with black tip. Ears prominent. Slender, pointed snout. Nose pad to 1" (2.5 cm) wide. Ht 23–26" (58–66 cm); L 3' 5"–4'4" (105–132 cm); T 11 3/4–15 1/4" (30–39 cm); HF 7 1/8–8 5/8" (18–22 cm); Wt 20–40 lb (9.1–18.2 kg); a very large individual may reach 55 lb (25 kg).

Similar Species: Gray and Red wolves are larger, with larger nose pads; both hold tail horizontal. "Coydogs," hybrids of Coyote and domestic dog, especially shepherd mixtures, are larger, usually lack dark vertical line on lower foreleg, and have relatively shorter and thicker snouts.

Breeding: Mates February–April; 1 litter of 1–19 young born April–May, in a crevice or underground burrow.

Habitat: In West, open plains; in East, brushy areas.

Range: Generally common throughout e and s Alaska, s and w Canada, and all of w U.S., but has extended its range into entire U.S.

Discussion: The Coyote’s scientific name means "barking dog"; its common name comes from coyotl, the name used by Mexico’s Nahuatl Indians. The best runner among the canids, the Coyote cruises normally at 25 to 30 mph (40–50 km/h), getting up to 40 mph (65 km/h) for short distances, and can make 14-foot (4.25 m) leaps. Tagged Coyotes have been known to travel great distances, up to 400 miles (640 km). The Coyote runs with its tail down, unlike the domestic dog (tail up) or wolves (tail straight). In feeding, the Coyote is an opportunist, eating rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and other small mammals, as well as birds, frogs, toads, snakes, insects, and many kinds of fruit. Carrion from larger animals, especially deer, is an important food source in winter. The Coyote usually hunts singly, but may combine efforts with one or two others, running in relays to tire prey or waiting in ambush while others chase the quarry toward it. Sometimes an American Badger serves as an involuntary supplier of smaller animals: While it digs for rodents at one end of a burrow, a Coyote waits to pounce on any that emerge from an escape hole at the other end. The Coyote stalks like a pointer, "freezing" before it pounces, and chases down larger prey, such as Snowshoe Hares and cottontails. A strong swimmer, it does not hesitate to enter water after prey. Like most carnivores, Coyotes have maternal dens for raising the young, but do not have permanent homes. The typical den is a wide-mouthed tunnel, 5 to 30 feet (1.5–9 m) long, terminating in an enlarged nesting chamber. The female may dig her own den, take over and enlarge a fox or badger burrow, or use a cave, log, or culvert. If the den area is disturbed, the female will move the pups to a new home. The Coyote may pair for several years or even for life, especially when populations are low. Its vocalizations are varied, but the most distinctive—given at dusk, dawn, or during the night—consists of a series of barks and yelps, followed by a prolonged howl and ending with short, sharp yaps. This call keeps the band alert to the locations of its members and helps to reunite them when separated. One call usually prompts other individuals to join in, resulting in the familiar chorus heard at night in the West (although noticed increasingly in the East, as Coyotes grow in number there). Barking alone, with no howling, seems to be a threat display employed in defense of a den or a kill. Although captive Coyotes have lived for 18 years, and one was known to live in the wild for 14 1/2 years, most individuals probably live only 6 to 8 years. Predators once included Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Mountain Lions, and wolves, but with declining populations of these animals, they are no longer a threat. Humans are the major enemy, purportedly killing Coyotes to protect livestock, as Coyotes are accused, often unjustly, of killing lambs, pigs, and poultry. In the 1970s and 1980s, Coyote pelts became quite valuable, but since the collapse of the fur industry, there has been little demand for them. Despite years of being trapped, shot, and poisoned, Coyotes have maintained their numbers and continue to increase in the East.

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