Again, I really, really try not to play favorites.
But this is one of my favorites.
The Coyote (Canis latrans) is a medium-sized canid that can be found in North and Central America. Having such a large range, it goes by many regional names: Prairie Wolf, Brush Wolf or American Jackal. Though they are not closely related to jackals, Coyotes have evolved to fill a similar niche in the ecosystem the way true jackals have in Eurasia and Africa. And unlike the wolf, Coyote population, in general, has thrived and even expanded despite the spread of human civilization.
Coyotes can grow up to 34 inches (86 cm) in length, with a 16-inch (41 cm) tail. They can weigh in at 46 pounds (21 Kg), and their average size grows the farther north they're found. Southern Coyotes are smaller than northern Coyotes. The color of their fur depends upon the type of habitat to which they're native. Mountain Coyotes have darker fur than desert Coyotes, which are more tawny in color. There are nineteen recognized subspecies:
- Canis latrans latrans (Plains coyote)
- Canis latrans cagottis (Mexican coyote)
- Canis latrans clepticus (San Pedro Martir coyote)
- Canis latrans dickeyi (Salvador coyote)
- Canis latrans frustor (Southeastern coyote)
- Canis latrans goldmani (Belize coyote)
- Canis latrans hondurensis (Honduras coyote)
- Canis latrans impavidus (Durango coyote)
- Canis latrans incolatus (Northern coyote)
- Canis latrans jamesi (Tiburon Island coyote)
- Canis latrans lestes (Mountain coyote)
- Canis latrans mearnsi (Mearns coyote)
- Canis latrans microdon (Lower Rio Grande coyote)
- Canis latrans ochropus (California valley coyote)
- Canis latrans peninsulae (Baja Peninsula coyote)
- Canis latrans texansis (Texas Plains coyote)
- Canis latrans thamnos (Northeastern coyote)
- Canis latrans umpquensis (Northwest Coast coyote)
- Canis latrans vigilis (Colima coyote)
Coyotes typically hunt in pairs but will sometimes travel in large groups. Packs are usually no bigger than six to eight animals, juveniles and adults who are closely related. The pack structure is not as close-knit as a wolf pack, and in-group relationships are not as stable. Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, though they can be active in the daytime, and they will adapt to a diurnal schedule if they need to, like when they live close to or within human settlements.
Coyotes make a variety of vocalizations, such as howls, yips, barks and growls. Their calls are not usually heard outside of the twilight hours, but they have been observed calling during the day as well. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters and hunters, taking advantage of a variety of means to feed themselves. They have been known to eat carrion and scavenge food in addition to hunting small mammals and insects. The specific types of animals they hunt depends upon their range.
Part of the reason that Coyotes have done so well in relation to human encroachment, while the wolf has declined, is that wolves are a natural predator of Coyotes. As wolf populations have grown with their reintroduction to places like Yellowstone, the local Coyote populations have undergone significant changes.
Male and female Coyotes form monogamous pairs but will not typically be mated for life. After a few years, new mating relationships are formed. After a gestation period of 60 to 63 days, female Coyotes will give birth to an average of six pups, although litter sizes can be as small as one and as large as nineteen (!). Coyotes can interbreed with domestic dogs, and typically do if their range includes human settlements. Hybrids that result from these pairings are called Coydogs, and typically have more of a negative impact on humans than true Coyotes do. They retain the tendency to form packs and retain their aversion to people - but not their livestock. Coydogs will also breed year-round, increasing their population at a rate that exceeds that of the Coyote.
Coyotes have a special place in the lore of the First Nations and Native American people of North and Central America. The Coyote archetype features prominently in many creation and "just-so" stories, commonly appearing as a Trickster. Indeed, the word "coyote" is ultimately derived from the Aztec word "coyotl", which means trickster. The Coyote archetype is usually presented as male, although it has also frequently been female, or gender-fluid.