Coyotes are a widely misunderstood wild canine that live in North and Central America. The best known coyote is a cartoon character who spent his time buying products in an effort to capture an elusive bird, the roadrunner. Of course, real coyotes do not go shopping, nor do they normally pursue prey they have no hope of catching. There are many misconceptions about the wily coyote.
Myth: All coyotes are the same.
There are actually nineteen known subspecies of coyote. While they can interbreed, they seldom do, and each subspecies is usually specific to its area. Some are more suited to desert life and others to northern extremes.
Myth: Coyotes are closely related to gray wolves.
While both are of the Genus Canis, coyotes evolved in North America, while gray wolves evolved in Europe at the same time, over 1.8 million years ago.
Myth: Coyotes always travel alone.
While it is common to see a lone coyote, they typically hunt in pairs and occasionally travel in small groups or packs.
Myth: Coyotes will breed at any time.
Coyote females come into heat in January and may remain in heat, unless bred, into March. With a gestation period of 61-63 days, pups are usually born in the spring. This is unlike domestic dogs, who come into heat at any time of the year.
Myth: Coyotes will not breed with domestic dogs or wolves.
In areas where coyotes are plentiful, it is not uncommon for them to breed with domestic dogs or wolves. The resulting pups are hybrids.
Myth: Coyotes are killers.
Coyotes certainly can kill, but are opportunists. They are not like our domestic house cat who may kill just for the fun of it. Coyotes kill to eat, and if they find easier meals, they will take them. It is not uncommon to find a coyote eating a deer killed by traffic, or to find it raiding human garbage piles. Coyotes are carnivores but can also eat and digest vegetable matter and fruits. This is not to say that coyotes cannot kill, but if they can find easier food, they will take it.
Myth: Coyotes are pests who kill livestock.
When their natural food sources, rabbits, gophers, and so on, are hard to find, coyotes will prey on livestock. To think of them as pests is not correct; rather, they act to control the populations of other animals and rodents. The problems are greatest when their food sources have been poisoned and are therefore scarce.
Myth: Since they are dogs, coyotes will not kill pet dogs.
Coyotes will kill and eat pet dogs and pet cats, too. Small dogs who are contained in a yard or tied up are easy prey for a coyote that can leap fences and scurry off. It is more likely that a coyote would kill and eat a small domestic dog than a larger one.
Myth: Coyotes are very dangerous to humans.
There have only been two deaths attributed to coyotes – one was a toddler, the other a teenager. However, in the teen attack, it was questioned whether or not the coyotes were part wolf. In general, coyotes are afraid of humans and can easily be scared off with noises and threatening gestures.
Myth: Killing coyotes is the best way of controlling their population.
In fact when coyotes are killed off in one area, they are soon replaced by other coyotes who move in and quickly breed to maintain a somewhat constant population.
Myth: Coyotes are dumb.
Like many dogs, coyotes are actually smart and can be “trained” – many keepers of livestock find it more effective to “train” coyotes to stay away than to shoot them and have them replaced by “untrained” coyotes. Coyotes who have been trapped quickly learn how to stay out of traps, and when they learn where an easy food source is, they will return to it.
Myth: Coyotes are nocturnal.
By nature coyotes are diurnal, meaning they are normally awake in the day. In areas with a lot of human activity, they have adapted to a more nocturnal habit.
To summarize, the coyote is a misunderstood wild animal doing nothing more than trying to survive in the world. Rather than being fearful of them, we should try to better understand them and learn ways to keep ourselves, our pets, and livestock safe.