In body form and size, the coyote (Canis latrans ) resembles a small collie dog, with erect pointed ears, slender muzzle and a bushy tail. Coyotes are predominantly brownish gray in color with a light gray to cream-colored belly. Color varies greatly, however, from nearly black to red or nearly white in some individuals and local populations. Most have dark or black guard hairs over their back and tail.
In western states in the United States, typical adult males weigh from 25 to 45 pounds (11 to 16 kg) and females from 22 to 35 pounds (10 to 14 kg). In the East, many coyotes are larger than their western counterparts, with males averaging about 45 pounds (14 kg) and females about 30 pounds (13 kg).
Coyote-dog and coyote-wolf hybrids exist in some areas and may vary greatly from typical coyotes in size, color and appearance. Also, coyotes in the New England states may differ in color from typical western coyotes. Many are black, and some are reddish. These colorations may partially be due to past hybridization with dogs and wolves.
Coyotes were historically most common on the Great Plains of North America. They have since extended their range from Central America to the Arctic, including all of the United States (except Hawaii), Canada and Mexico.
Coyotes have adapted to and now exist in virtually every type of habitat, arctic to tropic, in North America. Coyotes live in deserts, swamps, tundra, grasslands, brush, dense forests, from below sea level to high mountain ranges,and at all intermediate altitudes. High densities of coyotes also appear in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Phoenix, and other western cities.
Coyotes bed in sheltered areas but do not generally use dens except when raising young. They may seek shelter underground during severe weather or when closely pursued.
Coyote dens are found in steep banks, rock crevices, sinkholes and underbrush, and in open areas. Their dens are usually in areas selected for protective concealment. Den sites are typically located less than a mile (km) from water, but may occasionally be much farther away. Coyotes will often dig out and enlarge holes dug by smaller burrowing animals. Dens vary from a few feet (1 m) to 50 feet (15 m) and may have several openings.
Coyotes are most active at night and during early morning hours (especially where human activity occurs), and during hot summer weather. They may also be active throughout the day where there is minimal human interference and also during cool weather.
They have good eyesight, hearing and a keen sense of smell. Coyotes have been measured at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km/hr) and can sustain slower speeds for several miles (km).
Coyotes are successful at surviving and even flourishing in the presence of people because of their adaptable behavior and social system. They typically display increased reproduction and immigration in response to human-induced population reduction.
Coyote mortality rate is highest during the first year of life and few survive for more than 10 to 12 years in the wild. Human activity is often the greatest single cause of coyote mortality.
Coyotes usually breed in February and March, producing litters about 9 weeks (60 to 63 days) later in April and May. Females sometimes breed during the winter following their birth, particularly if food is plentiful. Average litter size is five to seven pups, although a litter of up to 13 has been reported. More than one litter may be found in a single den.
Coyotes are capable of hybridizing with dogs and wolves, but reproductive dysynchrony and behaviors generally make it unlikely. Hybrids are fertile, although their breeding seasons do not usually correspond to those of coyotes.
Both adult male and female coyotes hunt and bring food to their young for several weeks. Other adults associated with the denning pair may also help in feeding and caring for the young. Coyotes commonly hunt as singles or pairs and extensive travel is common while hunting. They will hunt in the same area regularly, however, if food is plentiful. They occasionally bury food remains for later use.
Pups begin emerging from their den by three weeks of age, and within two months they follow adults to large prey or carrion. Pups are normally weaned by six weeks of age and frequently moved to larger quarters such as dense brush patches and/or sinkholes along water courses. The adults and pups usually remain together until late summer or fall when pups become independent. Pups are occasionally found in groups until the breeding season begins.
Coyotes can cause damage to a variety of resources, including livestock, poultry and crops such as watermelons. They sometimes prey on pets and are a threat to public health and safety when they frequent airport runways and residential areas, and carry rabies. The primary concern regarding coyotes is predation on livestock, mainly sheep and lambs.
Since coyotes frequently scavenge on livestock carcasses, the mere presence of coyote tracks or droppings near a carcass is not sufficient evidence that predation has taken place. Other evidence around the site and on the carcass must be carefully examined to aid in determining the cause of death. Signs of a struggle may be evident. These may include scrapes or drag marks on the ground, broken vegetation, or blood in various places around the site.
One key in determining whether a sheep or calf was killed by a predator is the presence or absence of subcutaneous (just under the skin) hemorrhage at the point of attack. Bites to a dead animal will not produce hemorrhage, but bites to a live animal will.
Coyotes may kill more than one animal in a single attack, but they often only feed on one of the animals. Coyotes typically attack sheep at the throat, but young or inexperienced coyotes may attack any part of the body.
Common coyote diseases include distemper, hepatitis, parvo virus and mange (caused by parasitic mites). Rabies and tularemia also occur and may be transmitted to other animals and humans. Coyotes harbor numerous parasites including mites, ticks, fleas, worms and flukes.
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The status of coyotes varies depending on state and local laws. In some states, including most western states, coyotes are classified as predators and can be taken throughout the year whether or not they are causing damage to livestock. In other states, coyotes may be taken only during specific seasons and often only by specific methods, such as trapping. Night shooting with a spotlight is usually illegal. Some state laws allow only state or federal agents to use certain methods (such as snares) to take coyotes. Some states have a provision for allowing the taking of protected coyotes (usually by special permit) when it has been documented that they are preying on livestock. Some eastern states consider the coyote a game animal, a furbearer or a protected species.
Federal statutes that pertain to wildlife damage control include the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which deals with using toxicants, and the Airborne Hunting Act, which regulates aerial hunting.
Laws regulating coyote control are not necessarily uniform among states or even among counties within a state, and they may change frequently. A 1989 Supreme Court action established that it was not legal to circumvent the laws relative to killing predators, even to protect personal property (livestock) from predation.
Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Produce livestock in confinement. Herd livestock into pens at night. Properly constructed and maintained exclusion fences (net-wire and/or electric) can aid significantly in reducing predation.
Select pastures that have a lower incidence of predation to reduce exposure of livestock to predation. Herding of livestock generally reduces predation due to human presence during the herding period. Change lambing, kidding and calving seasons. Shed lambing, kidding and calving usually reduce coyote predation. Remove carrion to help limit coyote populations.
Guard dogs: Some dogs have significantly reduced coyote predation.
Donkeys and llamas: Some are aggressive toward canines and have reduced coyote predation.
Sonic and visual repellents: Strobe lights, sirens, propane cannons and other devices have reduced predation on both sheep and calves.
Chemical odor and taste repellents: None have shown sufficient effectiveness to be registered for use.
M-44 ejector devices for use with sodium cyanide-loaded plastic capsules. They are most effective during cold weather (fall to spring). Livestock protection collars (LPC) containing Compound 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) are registered for use only in certain states.
Gas cartridges are registered as a burrow (den) fumigant.
Leghold traps (Nos. 3 and 4) are effective and are the most versatile control tool. Snares are effective where coyotes pass through or under net-wire fences and in trail sets.
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The above information was adapted from PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission of the editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee).