Animal Control

Natural History of Coyotes

The coyote (Canis latrans) has a well-deserved reputation for being cunning and opportunistic. This is why they have been so successful in increasing their population and range, while some other species have suffered declines.

Prior to the arrival of European people in North America, coyotes were found in the central part of the U.S. and in northern Mexico. Today their range extends from Panama to the Canadian tundra, including all continental U.S. states and Alaska. There are several reasons for this great coyote population and range expansion. Prominent is the elimination of wolves from much of their range in North America. Wolves are fiercely protective of their territories and will kill any coyote they encounter. Likewise, coyotes protect their territories by killing foxes. Another major reason that coyotes have expanded their range is that they are opportunistic and are champions at adapting to environments, rural and urban. They do this by blending into an environment and taking advantage of any available food source.

Coyote standing on hill front view

Today coyotes can be found living in green belts in cities across North America including cities in Nevada. Many large cities in the west such as Los Angeles, Pasadena, Phoenix and Las Vegas have coyotes as permanent residents. So the coyote that is seen in an urban area probably lives there and is not just passing through on its way to or from an outlying area.

In the wild coyotes eat carrion (road kill), rabbits, rodents, lizards and insects. Studies show that up to 40 percent of their diet may consist of vegetable matter such as flowers, grasses, fruits and seeds. Sometimes working in groups of two to eight, they will prey on domestic sheep, livestock and poultry as well as deer and pronghorn antelope fawns. In urban areas they will have even been known to take domestic cats and dogs. Their appetite for watermelon has caused tremendous problems for farmers in Texas.

Nationally there have been a few instances of coyotes attacking humans with most attacks being on very young children. Attacks are more apt to occur when they have lost their natural fear of humans, Many of the attacks occur when people try to feed the animals.

Coyotes in desert areas are about the size of a small collie and weigh approximately 20 pounds smaller than their cousins in the mountains and to the east. They are gray or tan and run with their bushy tails held low. They breed in February and March with a litter of pups arriving 60 days later. Litters range from four to ten pups with four being the average.

There have been rare instances of coyotes breeding with dogs to produce "coydogs". It is believed that they have bred with Eastern timber wolves to produce coyotes that are much large than those found in the West. Eastern coyotes have been known to reach weights of 80 pounds.

A variety of diseases can afflict coyotes, particularly if overpopulation occurs. Diseases include rabies, mange and distemper. Rabies in coyotes caused concerns in Nevada in the past when outbreaks occurred.

Provided by Nevada Department of Wildlife, Geoff Schneider