The most widely distributed, studied and persecuted species in the world, the coyote is the most successful medium-sized predator on Earth. An average coyote weighs about 35 pounds.
Like wolves, coyotes occupy den sites and have a complex family structure based around an alpha male and female, although they can also live alone, in pairs, or in a pack. They fiercely defend territories against other coyotes.
Coyotes can change their breeding and dietary habits, even alter their social dynamics, to survive. These clever animals exploit whatever is available, which allows them to subsist in a wide variety of habitats. Still, they prefer the more solitary places.
Coyotes are among the fastest of mammals, able to reach speeds of up to 40 miles an hour. Their speed and keen sense of hearing help them catch their prey, which includes mice, voles, prairie dogs and rabbits. Unlike wolves, which are strictly carnivorous, coyotes can eat some plant material, although 90% of their diet comes from meat.
Alongside ravens, foxes, wolverines, and other carnivores, coyotes scavenge the carcasses of animals killed by bears, wolves, and other predators, dispersing nutrients and seeds in their scat wherever they roam. Their influence reaches even further into the ecosystem; by limiting the populations of smaller predators such as raccoons, feral cats, and skunks, coyotes help maintain a dynamic balance between species, thus increasing the diversity of species in the ecosystem.
Stop the War!
Coyote carcasses displayed on a wagon wheel.Recent scientific evidence shows that human efforts to contain coyote populations may actually increase their numbers—indeed, their range has expanded three-fold since humans began extensively shooting, trapping and poisoning them 150 years ago.
Coyotes’ complex social dynamics, including breeding behavior, are controlled by the alpha pair in the pack. Should one or both alpha coyotes be killed, younger coyotes in the pack are “released” to breed. Thus, instead of only the alpha pair breeding, several pairs within the pack may breed, increasing overall population size.