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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Order Carnivora : Family Canidae : Canis latrans Say

Coyote (Canis latrans).  Photo by John L. Tveten.Description. A medium-sized, slender, doglike carnivore, similar in appearance to the red wolf* but usually smaller, more slender, with smaller feet, narrower muzzle, and relatively longer tail; colors usually paler, less rufous, rarely blackish; differs from gray wolves in much smaller size, smaller feet and skull; upperparts grizzled buffy and grayish overlaid with black; muzzle, ears and outersides of legs yellowish buff; tail with black tip, and with upperpart colored like back. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M usually 2/2, occasionally 3/3, 3/2, or 2/3 X 2 = 40, 42, or 44. External measurements average: total length, 1,219 mm; tail, 394 mm; hind foot, 179 mm. Weight, 14-20 kg.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Statewide.

Habits. Although often called "prairie wolf," the extensive range of the coyote includes from sea level to well over 3,000 m and habitats ranging from desert scrub through grassland into the timbered sections of the West. Around the turn of the century, coyotes were not known in eastern Texas, where red wolves were common. Land use in this area, including intensive lumbering and agriculture, as well as intensive predator control, eradicated the wolves and now coyotes have expanded their range to also include that part of the state.

The basic social unit is the family group, comprised of a mated pair and their offspring. Nonfamily coyotes include bachelor males, nonreproductive females, and near-mature young. They may live alone or form loose associations of two to six animals. One animal in such "packs" usually is dominant, but the interaction among pack members is only temporary.

Coyotes may be active throughout the day, but they tend to be more active during the early morning and around sunset. Their movements include travel within a territory or home range, dispersal from the den, and long migrations. The home range size of coyotes varies geographically, seasonally, and individually within populations.

The food habits of coyotes are varied. They are opportunists and make use of anything that can be eaten — garbage, carrion, fresh meat in the form of both wild and domestic animals, insects, frogs, snakes, fruits, melons, and so forth. Although coyotes prey on poultry and the smaller livestock, their natural foods consist largely of rabbits, rodents, and carrion. Charles Sperry analyzed 8,339 stomachs of coyotes from the western United States with the following results (expressed in percentages): rabbits, 33; carrion, 25; rodents, 18; domestic livestock (chiefly sheep and goats), 13.5; deer, 3.5; birds, 3; insects, 1; other animal matter (skunks, weasels, shrews, moles, snakes, and lizards), 1; vegetable matter, 2.

Nursery dens are usually located in brush covered slopes, steep banks, thickets, hollow logs, or rock ledges. One den was in a hollow cottonwood tree with the entrance 5 m above the ground. Access to this unusual den was gained by means of a large limb that sloped to the ground. They are also known to den in crevices and shallow caves in rocky bluffs. Rarely is no den provided for the young.

The breeding season begins in January, reaches its peak in late February or early March, and terminates by the middle of May. Coyote mates maintain a close social bond throughout the year, although when the female is in late pregnancy the male often hunts alone and brings food to his mate. One litter a year is the rule. Normal litter size is two to 12, averaging about six. The gestation period is approximately 63 days. At birth, the young are blind and helpless. The eyes open at about 9 days of age and by October or November the young are difficult to distinguish from their parents.

Few coyotes live more than 6-8 years in the wild. Losses are due mainly to predation, parasites and disease, and man. Mortality is particularly high for pups, who are vulnerable to hawks, owls, eagles, mountain lions, and even other coyotes. Hunting and trapping account for many adult deaths. In terms of economic importance, the coyote is the second most important furbearing animal in the state, exceeded only by the raccoon.

* see the Red Wolf species entry for a detailed comparison of the two animals.

Photo credit: John L. Tveten.