A lone coyote howling at the moon has become a symbol of the American West. But in reality coyotes are not solitary animals. They mate for life and often hunt in packs.
The coyote ranges from icy Alaska to Costa Rica. It can adapt to many habitats but is most at home in open grassland and thinly wooded bush.
In its preferred terrain, it marks off its territory with urine and uses its howl and
other loud calls to warn off intruders. In other habitats coyotes live a more
nomadic life. In some areas they stay in the hills in summer and move to valleys in winter.
Coyotes usually mate for life, but those that live longer than average often
have more than one partner. During the breeding season, the female is in
heat (ready to mate) for about 10 days. After mating, she looks for a secluded
place to make a den. Depending on the terrain, the den may be in a burrow dug by
both parents, stolen from a fox or badger and enlarged, or hidden in a cave or
|The pups are born after a two-month gestation period and are
nursed for up to seven weeks. At about three weeks they begin to eat solid
food that has been regurgitated by the parents. The pups are fully grown
at about nine months and sexually mature at one year, although many wait
until their second year to mate.
Where food is plentiful, young coyotes may remain with their parents and hunt in a pack. But these packs seldom last long. When the young mature, competition within the family forces them to leave. They typically travel more than 90 miles to establish territories of their own.
Coyotes hunt mostly at night and can adjust their hunting technique to suit their prey
and the environment. They are almost exclusively carnivorous, with jackrabbits, ground squirrels, and other
small rodents making up more than 90 percent of their diet.
Like foxes, coyotes usually stalk their prey and then pounce on it. Coyotes also
pursue large animals such as deer and elk in small packs of around six. Like wolves, they
work together to track down, harass, and kill these larger prey. But their packs are far
less stable than wolf packs since they usually consist of a breeding pair and the young
still in their parents' territory.
Coyotes feed on already dead animals (or carrion) as well as live prey. In some areas already-dead cattle and sheep make up half their diet.
Indirectly, human beings have helped to increase the coyote's numbers. By getting
rid of the wolf in much of the United States and thinning or eliminating many forests,
they have made it possible for the coyote to extend its range further east.
But people also hunt coyotes for their attractive pelts and to prevent them from killing sheep. During the early 1970s, up to 100,000 coyotes a year were trapped, poisoned, or shot from airplanes in the West. In 1977 the fur industry alone took more than 320,000 pelts throughout North America.
Today, however, the coyote is protected in 12 states and hunting is regulated in much of North America
Length: Head and body, 30-40 in. Tail, 12-16 in.
Height: 18-22 in. at shoulder.
Weight: 15-45 Ib.
Sexual maturity: 1 year.
Mating season: January to March.
Gestation: 58-65 days.
No. of young: 2-12. Usually 6.
Habit: Social; nocturnal predator.
Diet: Small mammals, carrion, deer, and sheep.
Lifespan: Usually about 4 years. Up to about 22 years in captivity.
There are 8 other species in the genus Canis, including the gray wolf, C Lupus, and the domestic
dog, C familaris.
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