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Wildlife of the Desert Southwest -
The Coyote, Canis latrans
Page 1: Rattlesnakes
Page 2: Cougars
Page 3: Coyote
Page 4: Lizards
The coyote has long been one of my favorite animals. For many the coyote is an icon, it represents the Southwest. Picture the desert landscape with its towering red mesas, the glowing western moonrise and one cannot help but see the coyote with his long nose facing skyward as he cries out his evening song. The coyote is cunning, can adapt to any situation, is strong, tough- it is a survivor.
The name coyote is derived from the Nahautl word "Coyotl"; the L was dropped by the Spanish and the name became "coyote". The latin name Canis latrans translates to "barking dog". Today the coyote inhabits our continent from northern Alaska throughout most of Canada, across the entire U.S., Mexico and into southern Central America. One hundred and fifty years ago its range was half that, roughly the western U.S. down into Mexico. Biologists believe that westward expansion and its resultant killing off of the wolf opened up territory for the coyote. It began moving into new terrain and has not ceased.
Coyotes exhibit complex social organisation and dominance hierarchies. They are found either in groups (the pack), as mated pairs, or as individuals, referred to as transients. Each living situation has its own advantages and coyotes may move through the different types of organisation during its lifetime. For example, young males after leaving their birth pack may be solitary while searching for a mate or another pack to join. Infirm or older individuals may also be transients. Resource pressures may also force coyotes for a group; if food is scarce it becomes adaptive for individuals to strike out on their own to hunt and forage. Two coyotes found together may be a mated pair, but after giving birth, they may be seen as a pack as the female pups will stay with their parents.
Coyotes are opportunistic hunters and foragers. I have examined coyote scats and found mice, prairie dog and rabbit bones and fur, as well as flagging tape and candy wrappers. Although their primary diet is small mammals they will eat nearly anything- mice, rates, prairie dogs, snakes, frogs, lizards, rabbits, human garbage, road kill, domestic cats and dogs, young cattle and sheep, nuts, berries, cactus fruits and most anything in between. Hunting strategies vary seasonally, with group size and by region, and again are adpated to the present conditions. Coyotes are most active at dawn and dusk, but are also active throughout the night and can be seen hunting at mid-day. Coyote packs will organise and hunt larger mammals as a group.
Howling by coyotes is classified as three types: solitary howl, group howl, and group yip-howl. A solitary howl may be a call by a lost animal, or simply a transient. Groups howls or yip-howls broadcast the location of group to otherr groups, and may help a group organise during hunting.
Size- 15-50 pounds, depending on habitat, food, climate, competition and sex- desert coyotes tend to be smaller, in the 30 pound range. Females tend to be slightly smaller than males.
Color- coyotes exhibit a wide variety of coloration. This can depend on time of year, age of the animal and the region they are located in.
Breeding- male and female pairs typically mate for life, until one dies. Litter size falls between 2-8 pups, but can be outside of this range in either direction. Mating season ranges from January through April. Gestation is 60 -62 days. Males leave the den by within the first year, females often stay with the parents.
More on coyotes- on their habits and on tracking and observing them- can be found on our Tracking Pages.
The following text is from my blog post of 06 February, 2008. It deals with the touchy subject of predator control, mainly that of coyotes.
Follow this link for some more info on the M-44 Sodium Cyanide capsule.
I Never Met a Coyote I Didn't Like...
Recently a long-time friend who also happens to be a chemist and environmental scientist, Christopher Parker of Lander, Wyoming sent me a link to the story of Dennis Slaugh. Slaugh, in 2003, had a federally manufactured M-44 predator control device release a cloud of sodium cyanide powder in his face. Slaugh immediately became ill, and has suffered from the encounter ever since. The federal government has said they were not responsible for the event, and has refused to help Slaugh or even communicate with him. The M-44 is designed to release its charge into the mouth of the predator that attempts to eat the baited device. Unfortunately, it has no way to discern between species.
These devices are manufactured for and by the federal government, and set by officers of the innocuous-sounding federal agency called Wildlife Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to an article in the January, 2008 issue of Men’s Journal, the agency “shoots, traps, or poisons” 1.7 million animals annually. The same article states that this happens at a cost to taxpayers of 100 million dollars a year.
I have been aware for much of my life of the killing of animals by the federal government as part of the federally subsidised predator eradication program. I knew a number of people in the small Nevada town where I grew up who were in the business of hunting “dogs”, as they referred to coyotes. These hunters and trappers would boast large numbers of coyote kills each year. Until now I have paid little attention to the federal programs, and federal dollars, that subsidize the large-scale killing of part of the food chain of the western U.S. Yes, your tax dollars are killing coyotes, mountain lions, bears, foxes, bobcats, skunks, pet dogs, and have come close to killing humans. Slaugh is not the only person injured by the devices. It is only matter of time before someone is killed.
And therein lies my worry. My three year old son and I spend a lot of time in the wilds of Utah. As he gets older, we plan to spend more time, as much time as we can, exploring the deserts and canyons and rivers of the southwest. That is why we live in the West. Until recently, until I learned of the M-44 devices that are used for killing predators, my primary worry in the wilderness with my son was the Midget Faded Rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis concolor, and cougars to a lesser degree. Now added to these is the possibility that he may find one of the M-44 devices. The government requires that a sign be posted warning of the nearby danger, within 25 feet of the device, according to the information I found online. This requirement is ridiculous in many ways. In the case of my son, who cannot read yet, it is utterly useless.
There is just too much for me to cover regarding this subject at the moment. I will follow up on this post, continue researching, and add more links to stories as I find them. Some of the topics I plan to research include ranching subsidies, the actual threat of predators as opposed to what might be the perceived threat, the actual loss by ranchers each year due to predators, the possible environmental damage caused by the release of sodium cyanide, the threat of coyotes to people in both wilderness and urban/suburban settings, and the position of my Colorado representatives on these issues.
This brings me to the bill introduced in the House in December of last year (2007- the comment period ended on 05 March, 2008.) The bill is titled the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act.You may still be able to find it online by searching for "compound 1080 and HR 4775”, the bill number.You can see it as Congress.gov here. It is simple and straightforward- ban cyanide and the devices.
The website Trap Free Oregon has more information on the action that needs to be taken, on the proposed ban, the devices and poison. It also has a sample letter to help you draft your own.
The organisation called Sinapu (link is now to an ecommerce site?) was one of the groups responsible for the petition to the EPA. More info on the subject can be found at their website.
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Page 1: Rattlesnakes
Page 2: Cougars
Page 3: Coyote
Page 4: Lizards