The Coyote by James L. Cummins  

A popular figure in folklore and pop culture, coyotes are usually depicted as inventive, mischievous, and evasive. The most widely recognized representation of the coyote is the animated, Wile E. Coyote, of the popular Road Runner cartoon series.  

The cartoon character would have you believe that coyotes are found only in the desert and chase only long-legged birds when in fact, the coyote (Canis latrans) is a species of canine found in all parts of the United States, except for Hawaii. Unlike the wolf, the coyote’s range has expanded along with human civilization, and coyotes readily reproduce in metropolitan areas. 

Coyotes have grayish-brown to yellowish-brown fur on top and whitish, or buff, fur on their underparts. The forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle, and paws are reddish-brown. With large, triangular ears and a long, narrow muzzle, the coyote has a black nose, yellow eyes, and a long, bushy tail. In fact, the tail can help to distinguish between coyotes, wolves, and dogs. When running, the coyote keeps its tail down; dogs keep their tails up; and wolves run with their tails straight out.  

From the muzzle to the tip of the tail, full-grown coyotes typically measure just over 4 feet. Coyotes stand a little over 2 feet and weigh anywhere between 15 and 50 pounds. However, some coyotes have been recorded weighing nearly 75 pounds and measuring over 5 feet in total length. Coyotes are known for their agility. Reaching speeds up to 45 miles per hour and jumping distances of over 13 feet, coyotes have been observed to travel in large groups, though they primarily hunt in pairs. Typical packs consist of six closely related adults, yearlings, and young. Coyote groups are often called bands, packs, and routs.  

The coyote is active at night. Coyotes primarily eat small mammals, such as rabbits, voles, squirrels, prairie dogs, and mice though they will also eat birds, snakes, lizards, deer, and livestock, as well as large insects and other large invertebrates. In the fall and winter months, fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the coyote’s diet. Part of the coyote’s success as a species is its dietary adaptability. With this, coyotes have been known to eat human garbage and domestic pets. 

Female coyotes are monestrous (in “heat” once per year), between late January and late March. The gestation period lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter sizes range anywhere from 1 to 19 pups. Sexual maturity is reached by 12 months.  

The coyote is a very vocal animal. The calls a coyote makes are high-pitched and variously described as howls, yips, yelps, barks, whines, and growls. The federal government routinely shoots, poisons, traps, and kills coyotes each year to protect livestock. Coyotes are often attracted to dog food and small animals. Items like garbage, pet food, and even feeding stations for birds and squirrels will attract coyotes into backyards.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi.


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