Plains Coyote (Canis latrans latrans)

Coyote Subspecies Map. North American Subspecies Map. See also: world species map.

1.  Common Names

Plains Coyote

2.  'Souls Range

Great Plains from Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan south to New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

3.  Appearance

3.1  Sizing

Coyotes have been described as a small wolf, although there are some key differences. Coyotes have shorter, more tapered snouts and much larger ears than the typical gray wolf. Coyotes also hold their tails differently; while a wolf is more likely to keep its tail held horizontally to its spine, a coyote is more likely to allow its tail to droop and hang vertical to the spine. They are about the size of medium-sized dogs. 3

Coyotes generally reach a height of 23 - 28 in (58 - 70 cm). Their length ranges from 42 - 55 in (105 - 132 cm), with a tail length of 11 - 15 in (30 - 39 cm). Coyotes are far lighter than wolves; generally, they range from 20 - 50 lbs (10 - 22 kg). Generally, northern coyotes are larger than southern coyotes, and eastern coyotes are larger than western coyotes. Although the typical size for a desert-born coyote can range from 20-35 pounds, 75 pound (34 kg) mountain coyotes have been captured and trapped, though the more typical weight range hovers around 50 pounds.2


Canis latrans latrans in Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming, United States). From US National Park Service

3.2  Coloration

"Desert Coyotes are light gray or tan with a black tip on the tail. Coyotes of high elevations have fur that is darker, thicker and longer; the under parts are nearly white, with some specimens having a white tip on the tail. In winter the coats of mountain coyotes become long and silky, and trappers hunt them for their fur."6 Coyotes may be grey, buffy, reddish-brown colours, generally with more tawny, reddish, buff, and blondish colors than the gray wolf.3</h3>

Comparison of wolf and coyote skulls. From Rizzo.

The Plains Coyote is distinguished from other species as being "smaller than most other coyotes, and as the lightest in coloring of the identified subspecies."1

4.  Behavior

Coyotes are extremely intelligent. "Foothold traps are a common technique used by trappers. But it's not unusual for coyotes to dig them up and leave their would-be captors a message. 'Often, they expose it, then poop on it just to let you know they found it and they're not going to get caught,'" according to professor and researcher Stan Gehrt of Ohio State University.2 They learn very quickly and they can be very difficult to capture, especially if they have fallen prey to human trapping techniques at a prior time in their lives. The key to coyote behavior is adaptability. Coyotes are among the most adaptable creatures on planet earth—they are comfortable in Yellowstone National Park or Central Park, New York City. They are capable of living on carrion and garbage or hunting creatures large and small for sustenance. They can live in a group with many others of their kind or completely and totally alone.

4.1  Running and Jumping

Coyotes are very good runners, although they may lack the endurance boasted by their larger cousins, they make up for it in agility. "The best runner among the canids, the Coyote cruises normally at 25 to 30 mph (40-50 km/h), getting up to 40 mph (65 km/h) for short distances, and can make 14-foot (4.25 m) leaps."7 Their ability to scale fences several times their own height has prompted products such as The Coyote Roller to keep them out of backyards and other fenced areas.8

Canis latrans latrans. From wildphotons@Flickr

4.2  Vocalization

Howl: yelps, whines, barks, huffs. The coyote prefers to howl in the evening twilight and morning pre-dawn. Coyote calls are more intense in the late winter and spring according to courtship. Like the wolf, a coyote howl is generally initiated by one animal, and then joined by several family units.3 Coyotes will "yelp as a celebration or criticism within a small group of coyotes. Often heard during play among pups or young animals. The scientific name for coyotes means "barking dog," Canis latrans. The bark is thought to be a threat display when a coyote is protecting a den or a kill. Huffing is usually used for calling pups without making a great deal of noise."6

5.  Other Characteristics

5.1  Folklore

Coyotes have long played a role in many Native American tales. "Coyote is a ubiquitous being and can be categorized in many types. In creation myths, Coyote appears as the Creator himself; but he may at the same time be the messenger, the culture hero, the trickster, the fool. He has also the ability of the transformer: in some stories he is a handsome young man; in others he is an animal; yet others present him as just a power, a sacred one."4

5.2  Social Structure

Although the coyote has typically been portrayed as far more of a loner than the gray wolf, described as preferring its own company or the company of a mate, there are many instances of humans observing pack behavior in coyotes. They form complex social structures like their larger cousins with clear hierarchy and an "alpha pair." "Coyotes which live in northern and western areas of their range display more developed and complex social systems than coyotes found in the southern and eastern areas of their range."5 "In general, more coyotes live in packs, approximately 70%, than coyotes that live as mated pairs, approximately 17%. The other 13% accounts for transient individuals."5

5.3  Reproduction

Coyotes and wolves' reproductive cycles are remarkably similar; a female coyotes' gestation period is roughly the same amount of time, and the average number of puppies per litter is also the same.

5.4  Habitat

Perhaps more than any other creature, a coyote is an opportunist. Along with the raccoon, it is the only creature in North America to have greatly expanded its range and gained great benefit from humans. Humans helped to eradicate the wolf populations in the southern fifty states, which allowed the coyote populations to explode. "Wolves prefer thick, unfragmented forests, while coyotes are more common in open forests and grasslands. An increasing fragmentation of forests led to an increase in the coyote population. Coyotes are comfortable with human development, and almost all rural areas have healthy coyote populations."3 There are only two North American biomes that do not serve as coyote habitat: the tundra and the humid southeastern forests, such as the Everglades.3

5.5  Diet

"In feeding, the coyote is an opportunist, eating rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and other small mammals, as well as birds, frogs, toads, snakes, insects, and many kinds of fruit" (Coyote). Coyotes are actually more successful hunters than their larger cousins the gray wolf. "In one study (Gese et al. 1996), scientists observed 4,439 predation attempts by coyotes, 35% of which (1,545) were successful."9. Although young and old coyotes hunt quite differently, their success rates are very similar. Younger coyotes tended to make more attempts at hunting, and older animals tended to be more careful in the actual selection of their prey.9 By contrast, gray wolves enjoyed hunting success rates of around twenty percent.10 Coyote hunting patterns are quite similar to those of the wolf; coyotes may wait to ambush their prey while others chase it toward the attackers.3

5.6  Survival

As coyotes were one of the few canine species to greatly expand their range and habitat during humanity's life, they were doing quite well in 1988. Upon the destruction of humans, however, wolves and dogs began to encroach on coyote territory, usually driving them back. Even so, coyotes are resourceful creatures, and they still exist in great numbers, especially in Central America and the southwestern United States.

5.7  Luperci

Many coyotes are Luperci. Their close proximity to humans made them a very early carrier of the Luperci traits, though many coyotes retain feral lifestyles. In recent times, coyotes are adopting more humanized lifestyles, perhaps as part of a bid to out-adapt their larger cousins.

6.  Media

  • YouTube - Coyotes Defend Den: Shows several coyotes defending their den from a large wolf. Clearly illustrates the size differences between wolves and coyotes, as well as displays coyote pack behavior and attacks on wolves.
  • YouTube - Wolf vs Coyote: GRAPHICAL WARNING. This video shows what happens when a sole coyote draws too close to a wolf pack's kill. It does not end well for the coyote.
  • YouTube - Coyote vs Dog: A coyote "plays" with a dog in the backyard. Clearly illustrates the size similarities between a collie-sized dog and a coyote.
  • YouTube - Wolf vs Two Coyotes: A pair of coyotes drives a wolf away from their den. Clearly illustrates size differences between coyote and wolf.
  • YouTube - Coyote "Attack": LANGUAGE WARNING. A coyote "plays tag" with a man, testing him out to see if he is acceptable prey. Just a pretty video, shows a rather large Northern mountain coyote.
  • YouTube - Wolf and Coyote Walking: A coyote and wolf walk together in Yellowstone National Park. Helps to illustrate size differences between the two species.
  • YouTube - Fighting Coyotes: A trio of coyotes fights over the corpse of a bird. Just shows a few coyotes tussling with one another, and the third ending up "winning" the confrontation, albeit in a rather sneaky way.
  • Mp3 - Coyotes Howling: Listen to some coyotes howling!

7.  More Images

Plains Coyote, gainesp2003@Flickr Plains Coyote, gainesp2003@Flickr Plains Coyote, Sangudo@Flickr Plains Coyote, vjosulliva@Flickr Plains Coyote, ru_24_real@Flickr

8.  Citations

  1. Bioweb.uwlax.edu
  2. Cnn.com
  3. Edex, Tamara. "Coyote." Mammals of Ontario. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 2002. pp 110-113.
  4. Pantheon.org
  5. Davidson.edu
  6. Desertusa.com
  7. Enature.com
  8. Coyoteroller.com
  9. Nps.gov
  10. Reference.com
  11. Cnn.com
\