• In the past, coyotes (Canis latrans) lived solely in deserts and prairies. Now they also live in forests, mountains, tropical ecosystems, and even in cities throughout North America, Mexico, and into Central America.

    The expansion of coyotes into new areas is largely due to their remarkable adaptability. They are not picky eaters and therefore can survive almost anywhere. They will eat anything from fruit and insects to livestock and deer. Though they prefer fresh meat, they eat large amounts of carrion. 

    Coyotes also adjust well to changes in the landscape. As human populations grow, coyotes thrive in suburban, agricultural, and urban environments. Cautious and elusive, especially around humans, they are rarely seen during the day.

    Another reason coyote populations are thriving may be that humans nearly eliminated their main natural predator: wolves. Humans hunted wolves almost to extinction in many areas, giving coyotes more freedom to expand their territories undeterred. 

    Coyotes form strong family groups. Females give birth in the spring to an average of six pups. Both parents care for the pups until they are able to hunt on their own, which is typically by the next fall.

    The most vocal of all North American wild animals, coyotes communicate with distinctive barks and high-pitched yips and howls. At night, when they are most active, it can be quite a canine chorus when they combine voices to communicate their territories, location, and other important information.

    Coyotes are abundant. Their populations may, in fact, be at an all-time high. They have no current threats to their population but are susceptible to localized threats due to hybridization with domestic dogs and wolves.

    1. How can coyotes move into new areas so easily?

      Coyotes are remarkably adaptive−able to forage and hunt in a variety of settings, wet and arid. Coyotes will eat a wide variety of foods: plants, insects, snakes, small and large mammals−both fresh meat and carrion. Often without predators, since wolves that once hunted them are gone from many habitats, coyotes survive and thrive.

    2. Why are eastern coyotes larger than western coyotes?

      Through hunting, trapping, and clearing of forests, all but a small population of eastern wolves were wiped out by the early 1900s. Without a large wolf population, the easily adaptable western coyote could move east. A very small population of wolves near the Great Lakes was able to interbreed with the newcomer coyotes. Their offspring were larger than the coyote parent since the wolf parent was larger and passed on its traits. Scientists believe this larger eastern coyote has been so successful partly because its larger skull and teeth enable it to eat larger mammals.

    3. How can you tell a coyote from a domesticated dog?

      Coyotes look and act differently from domesticated dogs. Coyotes have pointed, erect ears and a drooping tail, which they hold below their back when running. Coyote and dog tracks, as well as their howls and barks, are also different. Find illustrations and sounds here.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abundant Adjective

    in large amounts.

    agricultural Adjective

    having to do with farmers, farming, or their way of life.

    canine Noun

    dog or another member of the family Canidae.

    carrion Noun

    flesh of a dead animal.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    extinction Noun

    process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

    prairie Noun

    large grassland; usually associated with the Mississippi River Valley in the United States.

    Encyclopedic Entry: prairie
    predator Noun

    animal that hunts other animals for food.

    suburb Noun

    geographic area, mostly residential, just outside the borders of an urban area.

    urban Adjective

    having to do with city life.