Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Nature: Coyote
adult coyote spotted in FloridaThe coyote (Canis latrans), once strictly a western species, now occurs throughout the eastern United States. Coyotes began expanding their range into the Southeast in the 1960s, reaching northwestern Florida in the 1970s. In a 1981 survey, coyotes were reported  in 18 of Florida's 67 counties. A similar survey in 1988 reported coyotes in 48 counties. In 2009 Coyotes have been seen in every Florida county except Monroe, and it's only a matter of time before they're howling in Key West at happy hour!  The demise of the red wolf and the Florida panther, both natural coyote predators has been associated with the rise of the coyote.

The coyote is a member of the dog family, similar in appearance to a medium size shepherd. They weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, have pointed ears, a narrow muzzle, and bushy tail.  Males tend to be larger than females. Their coat varies from gray to rusty brown, often with a patch of white chest hair. When running, coyotes usually hold their tails at "half mast." Coyote tracks are narrower and more elongated than dog tracks.

The scientific name of the coyote, Canis latrans, literally means barking dog. Coyotes exhibit a variety of vocalizations. They can bark like dogs, though the sounds most often heard are shrill yips and howls. Howling is often a group effort, perhaps beginning as a simple howl, but quickly increasing in intensity to a series of group howls and high-pitched barks. Howling may function as a greeting between coyotes or as a territorial claim between groups.

Coyotes usually hunt alone, sometimes as a pair, but rarely, as a pack. The most important foods are rats and mice, rabbits, wild fruits, insects, birds and virtually any type of carrion. Coyotes kill an animal because it is a food source and are very skilled hunters. They may attack fleeing animals from the rear, biting their legs or tail to slow them down. They most often kill by biting the throat, causing death by suffocation. Coyotes usually take their prey with them to a safe place to eat. They may carry their prey up to one mile before consuming it. They do not leave much behind and tend to eat whatever can fit  in their mouth. In some cases, they have even eaten the leather collar of a pet. Coyotes may  provide an ecological benefit by controlling populations of small predators, such as raccoons and feral cats, that raid nests and eat eggs of migratory birds.

eastern coyote in FloridaCoyotes are elusive. They are more active at dawn and dusk, but can be seen almost anytime during the day or night. Home-range size depends on geographic and seasonal factors. Coyotes  can have a home range of 1,500 to 12,000 acres. This is just one more animal that relies on large amounts of connecting native lands to survive  Coyotes may travel individually or in groups of two or three. Food is an important factor in coyote population densities. In Texas, coyote densities in the fall varied from 0.6 to 0.9 individuals per square mile. Being social animals, coyotes often vocalize excitedly, with yips and barks, when encountering others. Vocalizations from two or three individuals often give the impression that many more animals are involved.

Coyotes have one breeding cycle per year. The male, unlike the domestic dog, has active sperm only in late winter when females are in heat. Coyotes can first breed when they are 10 months old. The proportion of the yearling females that breed varies as a function of food supply: in good years, a higher proportion breed than in years when food is scarce. A mating pair might breed from year to year but not necessarily for life. Coyotes can breed with domestic dogs and produce fertile offspring. Hybridization, or the mating of two individuals of different species, occurs infrequently in the wild. Coyotes breed in late winter. Following a 63-day gestation period  an average of 6 coyote pups are born.

Both parents, and occasionally non-breeding offspring from previous years, help rear the young. Den sites are typically found in hollow logs, abandoned burrows, dense vegetation or brush-covered slopes. Dens are abandoned when pups are eight to 10 weeks of age. Juveniles disperse or move into unoccupied areas and establish new territories typically when they are nine to ten months old. The average life span of coyotes is five to six years in the wild, with mortality being greatest during the first year.
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