This weekend I’m in Palm Springs to attend the Desert Trip concert, which, if you don’t know, has a lineup of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters. Sorry, had to brag about that a bit. Anyway, the point is, I’m in the desert, and when I was thinking of an animal to blog about, I knew it had to be a desert creature. So today we’ll talk about a wonderfully adaptive canine, the coyote.
Coyotes are native to North America, and have a very broad range within the continent. They are found from Panama to Alaska, only being absent from the northern and maritime parts of Canada. The coyote’s range encompasses a wide array of different habitat types, including forest, grasslands, deserts, swamps, and suburban and urban settings. Originally, coyotes were more at home in grasslands and deserts, where wolves were not abundant. Humans then decimated North American wolf populations, opening the door for the flexible coyote, and they have now spread to a much wider area.
Coyotes grow to be eight to twenty kilograms in weight, with males being slightly larger than females. Size varies depending on location, with northern coyotes growing larger than southern ones. Colour is also variable, with most coyotes being grey and red, with some black and white markings. Compared to grey wolves, coyotes have longer ears, a thinner frame and muzzle, and a larger braincase.
Coyotes are a social species, though they are not nearly as reliant on pack structure as wolves are. Coyotes tend to hunt small prey, such as rabbits, squirrels, and mice. This means that a pack structure is unnecessary, as hunting can be accomplished individually or in pairs. Coyotes will sometimes join together in temporary packs to bring down larger prey. They have also been known to work together with badgers, chasing rodents above ground while the badgers dig them out from underground, leaving the poor creatures nowhere to hide. Coyotes will also scavenge and eat plants, human waste, and pets.
The breeding season for coyotes occurs from January to March, with females in heat attracting a number of males. Once a female has picked a mate, the other males move on, not contesting her decision. Coyotes, unlike wolves, are strictly monogamous, and pair bonds can last a number of years. Gestation is around two months, and litter size is usually around six pups. The pups open their eyes after ten days, and leave the den after four weeks of age. At 35 days they are weaned, and males disperse at 6 to 9 months of age, while females tend to stay with the pack.
As humans took over more of North America’s wilderness, wolf populations declined enormously. This was excellent news for the coyote, who is often in direct competition with wolves. And since they adapt readily to living closely with humankind, coyotes are doing quite well for themselves. Which makes me happy, because coyotes are super cool animals. But it also makes me sad, because wolves are also amazing. Still, at least one species is currently successful.