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Wild Thing: Prairie Wolf

Our dogs’ wild cousin, the coyote, is a master of survival and adaptability.

By Evelyn Moreno

Remember the old Roadrunner cartoon, where Wile E. Coyote constantly tried to capture his speedy nemesis? I laughed at their antics, but I always felt bad for the coyote as he failed time after time. My parents assured me that coyotes manage very well in the real world and aren’t subject to constant torment. 

Coyotes once primarily lived in western prairies and deserts but now roam forests, mountains and even busy cities. In 1804, Lewis and Clark encountered the species in present-day South Dakota. Unsure of what it was, they named it “prairie wolf.” The name “coyote” derived from the Aztec word coyotl, used by Spanish settlers when they arrived in America. Its Latin name, Canis latrans, means “barking dog.”

Coyotes are quite the survivors. They’ve lived in North America for more than a million years; in that time, they learned to adapt to changing environments and overcame many efforts aimed at their elimination. In Texas, coyotes have slowly filled the void left by wolves, with more existing here than in any other state.

For years, coyotes have been the center of controversy. Sheep growers and hunters do not appreciate the threat they pose to their flocks or to wild game. In an effort to eradicate this threat, more than 17,000 coyotes were killed in Texas in 2014. However, their wariness and adaptability make them as difficult to bring down as the roadrunner in the cartoon.

Porcupine

Actually, their primary food source is neither sheep nor deer. Coyotes feed on mice, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, frogs, lizards, snakes, fruit and more. Unlike Wile E. Coyote, who would devise hundreds of plans to catch Roadrunner, coyotes can be lazy, usually not interested in working too hard to get their meals. They also prefer to use natural caves or old animal dens for a home rather than digging up their own den.

Similar in size to a German shepherd, coyotes are 32 to 37 inches long, not including tail, and weigh 25 to 50 pounds. They can live for as long as 14 years, although many don’t make it past four years of age. Litter size varies from five to six pups to as high as 12 to 16 pups.

Coyotes form strong family groups and are considered monogamous, meaning pairs remain together for numerous years. When a coyote pup leaves the family it typically relocates about five to 10 miles away, but occasionally one will stay behind to help raise a new litter of pups.

With the exception of Wile E. Coyote, coyotes are extremely intelligent animals with keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. Their sense of survival and opportunistic nature have allowed them to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

Common Name
Coyote

Scientific Name
Canis latrans 

Habitat
Open plains in the west and brushy areas in the east

Diet
Coyotes eat almost anything: insects, rodents, rabbits, fish, snakes and fruit.

Did you know?
Coyotes are great swimmers, allowing them to escape predators through the water and colonize islands.

 

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See more wildlife articles on TP&W magazine's Texas wildlife page


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