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Tristan Gray

on 22 June 2013

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The coyote is from the genus Canis and the species latrans. In Latin Canis latrans means “barking dog”, but the common name ‘coyote’ is from the Aztec word 'coyotl' which means “trickster” (Feldhamer, Thompson, Chapman, 2003, p. 467). Due to the wide range of coyote habitats, there are over a dozen subspecies of Canis latrans characterized by the region that they occupy. The subspecies of coyote here in Alamogordo, New Mexico is called a Mearns Coyote or Canis latrans mearnsi (Tersky, 1995). The desert coyote is smaller than most averaging about ten kilograms in weight with reddish-gray fur (Feldhamer, et al., 2003, p. 468). However, coyotes inhabit almost the entire North American continent and the further North that they inhabit the larger they are and the grayer and thicker their fur is (Feldhamer, et al., 2003, p. 468).
Previous to mating season, male coyotes will compete for the attention of a female until she chooses a mate. Female coyote ovulation occurs from about January to March and last two to five days (Tokar, 2001). Sixty-three days after conception a litter of one to nineteen pups is born and both parents share responsibility for the care of the young (Tokar, 2001). The pups are born in a den that was dug by the mated coyote pair. Coyotes do not generally live in dens unless taking care of pups. The pups are blind for about ten days after birth, they are nursed by their mother for seven week in which time the male parent will bring food back to the mother and litter (Tarbox, 2007, p.33). Pups also eat regurgitated food from the mother until they are old enough for solid food which is at about six to nine months when the pups start leaving the parents, or unless a pack is formed (Tarbox, 2007; Tokar, 2001). Not all pups survive due to either lack of resources or predation, typically from eagles or owls (Schmitz, 2009).
A coyote diet typically consists of small animals with some fruits, vegetables and nuts thrown in to supplement (Schmitz, 2009). In the desert the coyote will hunt squirrels, mice, hares, lizards, insects, birds, nuts and plants. Coyotes are known to eat carrion when fresh meat is not available. They are also well known for eating garbage, livestock and even pets when they are hungry enough (Feldhammer, et al., 2003, p. 472 – 474). The coyote’s ability to eat almost anything is one reason why they can inhabit various regions in North America and why their population continues to thrive.
The abundance of resources in a coyote’s territory determine if they will live in a pack, when they will reproduce and how many pups can be supported. Generally a coyote will live, hunt and breed with a mate for any number of years or even for life. If resources are good, a mated coyote pair will also live with their older offspring and any new pups (Tarbox, 2007, p. 33). This makes up the coyote pack, but the mated pair are the leaders. In the desert of New Mexico resources are limited and the mammals are small so coyotes do not travel in packs, but in Northern areas where larger game can be found the coyotes can be found hunting in packs (Tokar, 2001).
Coyote’s digestive systems are designed for them to be able to eat such different foods. Coyote digestive systems are characteristic of all the digestive systems in the genus Canis. Coyotes do not really chew their food but rather swallow large pieces of their food after it has been torn up by their sharp canines, and the flatter molars are only used to crush bones (Chiba, 2009, p. 28 – 30). Coyote’s jaws do not move from side to side like a human’s does for chewing (Chiba, 2009, p. 28). Also unlike humans, coyote saliva does not contain enzymes that help to break down their foods, their highly acidic stomachs and the enzymes in the small intestine perform that function (Chiba, 2009, p. 36). The esophagus of the canine is composed of striated muscle fibers rather than the smooth muscle of the human esophagus (Chiba, 2009, p. 36). It takes carnivores twice as long as humans to digest their food. Canine stomachs are designed to eat large portions of food at once and they can go days without eating.
Some forty to fifty million years ago the order Carnivora emerged, distinguished by a shift to primarily eating meat (Vila, Maldonado, Wayne,1999, p. 72; MacDonald, Sillero-Zubiri, 2005, p. 51). MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri (2005) theorize that this shift toward hyper-carnivory was because of a reduction in other carnivorous animals during that time period (p. 51). Two different forms emerged; the cat-like carnivore and the dog-like carnivore (Vila, et al., 1999, p. 72). Existing canids began to radiate and evolve into more current forms about ten million years ago (Vila, et al., 1999, p. 72). It is not commonly known that the wolf species evolved from the coyote species. The separation from coyote to wolf occurred some three to four million years ago (Wayne, 1993, fig. 2). However, unlike the wolf population today, the coyote population is flourishing and in the past ninety years has covered the North American continent (Kays, Curtis, Kirchman, 2009).
Chiba, Lee I. (2009). Animal Nutrition Handbook (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.ag.auburn.edu/ ~chibale/an00contents.pdf

Schleichert, Elizabeth. (2009). Coyotes. National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/Animals/Mammals/Coyotes.aspx

Feldhamer, George A., Thompson, Bruce C., Chapman, Joseph A. (2003). Wild mammals of North America: biology, management, and conservation (2nd ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kays, Roland, Curtis, Abigail, Kirchman, Jeremy J. (2009) Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves. Biology letters. Retrieved from http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2009/09/23/rsbl.2009.0575.full

MacDonald, David W., Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio (2005). The biology and conservation of wild canids. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schmitz, Tara (2009). Coyote. University of Wisconsin BioWeb. Retrieved from http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2009/schmitz_tara/index.htm
Tarbox, A. D. (2007). A desert food chain (Vol. 2). Mondak, Minnesota: The Creative Company.

Tesky, Julie L. (1995). Canis latrans.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.
Retrieved from http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Tokar, E. (2001). Canis latrans. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Canis_latrans/

Vila, C., Maldonado, J. E., Wayne, R. K. (1999). Phylogenetic relationships, evolution and genetic diversity of the domestic dog. The American Genetic Association Journal of Heredity 90(1): 71 – 77. Retrieved from http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/90/1/71.full.pdf

Wayne, Robert K. (1993). Molecular evolution of the dog family. Retrieved from http://wooferhouse.net/Links/MolecularEvolutionOfTheDogFamily/MolecularEvolutionOfTheDogFamily.htm
Coyotes today are interbreeding with wolves and dogs, even carrying genetic evidence of interbreeding with the extinct red wolf (MacDonald, Sillero-Zubiri, 2005, p. 71). Growth in coyote populations is mainly due to the decline of the wolf population (p. 68 – 71). The reasons that coyotes are flourishing while wolves are fading is that wolves, traveling in larger groups, need more resources that human encroachment is effecting. While wolf populations decline the coyote population increases because they no longer have to compete with wolves for resources and have adapted to urban settlements (Kays,et al., 2009). Coyotes have always been thought to be a very opportunistic and clever species. Hopefully through hybridization these canine groups can live on in new coyote cross breeds.
(Schleichert, 2009)
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