Coyote (Canis latrans)
This week’s spooky crawly is a critter of mythological proportions. Meet the coyote (Canis latrans).
If you’ve ever heard a group of coyotes yipping and barking in the night, you can attest to their spookiness. However, there’s so much more to these super smart canids.
Fun fact: Coyotes don’t live in packs, but in family groups. The family consists of a monogamous pair and their offspring. Male cubs will leave the family group when they are around six months of age to go off and begin their own families. Females stay with the parents longer.
The name “coyote” comes from the Nahuati word “coyoti” and their Latin name “Canis latrans” translates to “barking dog.” Coyotes are indeed quite chatty. They communicate lots within their family group with one call initiating several others. Their calls can be heard from miles away.
If you’ve never seen a coyote, you might be surprised at how small they are. They are considered mid-sized wild dogs, weighing between 20 and 40 lbs, half the size of our Oregon wolves. It could be argued they have twice the brains, though.
The cleverness of coyotes is almost always the first thing to come up in any description of these native dogs. Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and Canada have the coyote as the star of numerous myths. While the coyote’s cleverness is central to many, and they are often dubbed “the trickster,” the mythology of the coyote is broader than you’d think.
For example, the Achumawi of Northern California feature the coyote in “Spider Woman and Coyote” a story in which it’s up to the coyote to gather all the animals together to reach out to the Silver Fox so she will end endless winter.
Coyote must lead all the animals to the top of Mt. Shasta and inspire them to work together; “We must each share our powers, our thoughts, our dreams, our strength, and our songs whole-heartedly.”
Under coyote’s leadership, the animals are successful and not only does winter weather turn to spring rain, but they are rewarded with the first ever rainbow for their efforts.
Modern day coyotes might best be summed up with the word “adaptable.” In fact, they are one of the most adaptable animals in the world. A coyote can change its breeding habits, diet and social habits to survive in a wide variety of habitats. Some city-dwelling coyotes have even learned how to cross streets with green lights.
Coyotes’ wide-ranging diet also helps them adapt to any setting. They are primarily carnivores; 90% of their preferred diet consists of small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, hares, squirrel, and sometimes birds. Coyotes are one of the best natural pest controllers we have.
They also eat insects, fruits, berries, birds, frogs, snakes, plants and seeds. Carrion from larger animals, especially deer, is an important food source in winter.
Coyotes have a wicked good sense of smell. This helps them sniff out rodents in their burrows as well as those free carrion meals. Like last week’s crawly, the American crow, coyotes are opportunistic eaters, but they will also work hard for a meal. When stalking small rodents, coyotes will stalk their meal for up to 30 minutes before freezing then pouncing.
Final fun fact: Coyotes are cathemeral or metaturnal; this means they sleep and eat both during the day and at night. However, coyotes living in areas with more humans will switch to a more nocturnal lifestyle to avoid people as much as possible.