10 Cool Facts About Coyotes

coyote walking in grassland area around sunset
Doorways to the past / Getty Images

Coyotes are medium-sized wild dogs once found only in arid regions of North America. Today, a total of 19 subspecies span the continent and neighboring Central America. Often mistaken for dogs, they can reach anywhere from 15 to 46 pounds. A good way to differentiate them from a domesticated furry friend is to watch the tail; a coyote's is bushy and held downward, even when running.

Everyone knows about Wile E. Coyote and his endless pursuit of the roadrunner. But how many people know much about real coyotes? Here are 10 things you may not have heard about this smart and incredibly adaptable canid species.

Fast Facts

  • Common Name: Coyote
  • Scientific Name: Canis latrans
  • Average Lifespan in the Wild: 10
  • Average Lifespan in Captivity: 18
  • IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
  • Current Population: Unknown

1. Coyotes Provide Great Pest Control

coyote hunting meadow voles by leaping in air
Tom Koerner / USFWS / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The coyote is an expert hunter of rodents and rabbits, which makes it a helpful species to have around for pest control. While coyotes have a terrible reputation among ranchers, smart, nonlethal coyote management can be significantly beneficial as rabbits are cows' primary competitor for grass. When ranchers share their land with coyotes—ones who don't have an interest in livestock, ideally—these dogs can keep mouse, vole, groundhog, prairie dog, and gopher populations at bay.

2. They Expanded Their Range Because of Humans

The coyote was once found only in the southwestern and plains areas of North America. But as Europeans moved west—all the while extirpating large predators such as wolves, cougars, and bears that kept coyotes in check and cutting down forests into prairie-like farmland—the coyote moved into new territory. The species has now spread to nearly every corner of North America and into Central America.

Coyotes don't just stick to rural areas. They have become residents in nearly every urban area across the continent as well.

3. Eastern Coyotes Are Part Wolf

The eastern coyote is larger than the western coyote and has slightly more wolflike features. Why? DNA analysis has shown that as the western coyote spread east, it hybridized with eastern wolves (with a little domestic dog DNA mixed in). That's why the eastern coyote is often called the coywolf.

This new variation of coyote may be recognized by scientists as a new subspecies, or a new species, in the future.

4. They Are Omnivores

Coyotes don't just stick to rodents and birds for prey. They are omnivores that will happily feast on ripe berries, vegetables, fallen fruit, and other healthy goodies. If you're interested in keeping coyotes out of your yard, it is important to remove all food and water sources, including cleaning up around any fruit and nut trees, berry vines, vegetable patches, under the bird feeder, and anything else that might be considered food. And this should go without saying: Put a lid on the compost bin and never leave pet food outside.

5. They Mate for Life

Coyotes mate for life and are monogamous. In a 2012 study of 18 litters of coyotes, researchers discovered that once they find a mate, a coyote couple is in it for the long haul. This remains true regardless of the number of other potential mates in the area. If the male dies, the female coyote will likely leave the area immediately or soon after any pups are independent.

6. They Are Fast

Coyotes generally amble about at a normal dog's walking speed. However, they can reach speeds of 35 to 43 mph when pursuing prey or fleeing danger. This makes them about twice as fast as their cartoonish counterpart, the roadrunner, and a similar speed to a racing greyhound. They walk and run on their tiptoes to reduce the noise they make when traveling.

7. They Make 11 Different Noises

Coyote Howling From High Point On Red Sandstone
Design Pics / David Ponton / Getty Images

Coyotes are by far the most vocal wild mammals in North America. Researchers have identified 11 different vocalizations: growl, huff, woof, bark, bark-howl, lone howl, group yip-howl, whine, group howl, greeting songs, yelps. They use these vocalizations to communicate with others in their family group or pack and communicate territory to animals outside the pack. A pair of coyotes can easily sound like a larger group due to the variety of vocalizations.

8. They Adapt Well to City Life

coyote standing in a parking lot

Connar L'Ecuyer / Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr / Public Domain

Coyotes frequently dwell right under human noses in suburbs and cities. Every major city in the U.S. has a coyote population. Researchers are finding that urban coyotes exhibit different behaviors than suburban and rural coyotes. They are less shy and more likely to eat cats and human-made food than their rural cousins. They also eat ornamental fruits and seeds from human planted non-native species, such as figs, palms, and grapes. Unfortunately, the lost shyness is directly related to the positive reinforcement coyotes often receive from humans.

9. They Parent Together

Coyotes raise their young as a couple or within a larger pack. Litters of pups can range from a single offspring to as many as 19. The size of the litter depends on food and other resources available to the coyotes. Adult coyotes start the weaned young on regurgitated food, which both parents provide the pups. Parents are very protective of the young and move the pups to new dens if they feel the original is unsafe. Pups normally stay with parents for the first six to nine months, and female pups may remain with their original family group for life.

10. They Are Sometimes Dangerous

A domestic dog and wild coyote on snow-covered landscape
Akchamczuk / Getty Images

Coyotes are generally shy animals and avoid humans. That said, humans may unwittingly invite dangerous run-ins with these predators if they attempt to feed or corner them. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred when humans have tried to save their cats and small dogs from attacking coyotes, too. The wild canids will sometimes get into fights with domestic dogs of their size, often causing injuries and sometimes death.

Avoid creating those situations by keeping dogs on leashes, keeping cats indoors, feeding pets indoors, making noise when you encounter coyotes, and reporting aggressive coyotes.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do coyotes attack humans?

    Coyotes have attacked humans, but this is extremely rare. They are not bloodthirsty animals; they'll only attack a human if they feel threatened.

  • When are coyotes most active?

    Coyotes are most active after sunset and through the night (hence the howling-at-the-moon trope), even though they are not strictly nocturnal. On a broader scale, they are most active during the breeding season and when the young separate from their family groups, both occurring consecutively from October through March.

  • Why do coyotes howl?

    A coyote's howl is just one of its 11 vocalizations. It makes this noise mostly to establish its territory with other nearby coyotes.

  • What should you do if you see a coyote?

    If you see a coyote going about its normal business at night, leave it be. Exercise caution if you see one during the day, as this could show that it isn't fazed by the presence of humans. If one approaches you, that's when you can resort to waving hands, yelling, throwing rocks, and finding other ways to defend yourself—but whatever you do, don't run.

View Article Sources
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