Nature Discovery with Renée! Hint: Canis latrans

Welcome to our weekly Nature Discovery Blog, where each week Librarian Renée will feature a new animal that lives in our neighborhood! 

It must be 8pm in Lafayette!  I love how the community has started an organized evening howl to remind everyone that even though we are all practicing social distancing, we are not alone.  Our friends and neighbors are still out there! I especially love that the residents of Lafayette have chosen a howl to communicate.

As the evenings grow warmer, very soon you will hear the howls and yips of one of the most talked about, most misunderstood, and feared neighborhood animals.  I bet you can guess my animal this week, but if not, here are a few more clues!

-Renée 

Can you guess who I am?

  1. This animal is a clever master of disguise, many Indigenous Nations told stories of their cleverness and tricks.
  2. They too live in communities and share nightly howls to communicate and to show joy!
  3. In Colorado, they come after the Mountain Lion as an apex predator, invaluable at keeping our rodent and deer populations under control.
  4. Scientific name is Canis latrans

If you guessed a Coyote you are correct! 

Ah the coyote, the most talked about and for some, unwanted urban dweller. Especially in the late spring and summer months, there will be daily posts on neighborhood chat sights about coyote sightings. We fear for our small pets and our children. Like all wild animals, the Coyote should be respected with space, but hopefully with a little more information on this truly beautiful and amazing animal, we can let go of some of the fear.

Here are some more interesting Coyote facts:

Early this year wolves made the local news. For a while now scientists have known that the Grey Wolves have been visiting Colorado (the last Grey Wolf resident of Colorado was killed around 1940) but in January, the Denver Post reported that a wolf pack had moved into northwestern Colorado (Wolves confirmed in Colorado). This was exciting news for many of us!

Did you know the Grey Wolf is the Coyotes closest ancestor? The Coyote separated from the wolf about 1 – 2 million years ago. And since the killing of our last Grey Wolf in Colorado, Mountain Lions and now Coyotes have taken its place as apex predators. (Just what is an Apex Predator? Read on!)

Coyotes are pack animals, meaning they live in communities consisting of parents, pups, aunts and uncles. As a community, they truly embrace the “takes a village” concept. The females can have 3-12 pups in their den and everyone contributes to the rearing and feeding of the young. This will include the regurgitation of food. After about 6 weeks the pups can leave the den, but will remain with their pack, until they are ready to find their own territories. When this happens, a coyote will live a solitary life until a new pack is formed.

While they are smaller than their closest relatives (coyotes range from 20-50 lbs in weight, while the male grey wolf can weigh as much as 80 lbs) they look very similar and share many traits. They both have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, and a fantastic sense of smell (hence the long snout!).  Coyotes can smell a rabbit or dead animal from a long way off, possibly 350 yards or more, and they can also smell the territories of other Coyotes. And with those large pointy ears, you better believe they hear that mouse under the snow or dirt!

Where can you find Coyotes? Coyotes live just about everywhere! Unlike their cousins, the Coyote is very adaptable to an urban lifestyle. Coyotes don’t require one large territory. They can piece together a territory from surrounding parks and open spaces.

What do Coyotes eat? As an apex predator in Colorado (APEX PREDATOR– a predator at the top of the food chain) Coyotes help keep our deer and rodent populations in check. Without Mountain Lions and Coyotes, our grasslands, prairies, and foothills would be mowed down! Spend a day counting rabbits in your neighborhood! Without population control of rodents and deer, our gardens and crops would be overrun.

Our ever adaptable friends have made the most of living in this urban environment. Coyotes are what I like to call ‘opportunivores,’ meaning they will eat what is available. So, if there is uneaten fruit on a tree or tomatoes rotting on a vine, they will eat that. If there is dog or cat food sitting on a porch or trash left outside, they will definitely eat that. And, if small pets are unattended in the back yard or on a long leash, they may eat that too. This is where fear and conflict among our two species arises.

Coyotes are essential to a healthy ecosystem and they are here to stay. Towns and cities have had very little success at removing Coyotes. If one animal is removed (which usually means killing them as traps are very dangerous), a new individual coyote will fill that space and will form new packs. With the abundance of food sources and a low population density, females can accommodate larger litters. So, if they are here to stay and so are we, we have to learn to get along!

Here are some helpful tips for living in Coyote territory (they were here first!): 

  1. Remove rotten or unwanted fruits and vegetables from gardens and trees. If it’s still good, give it away to neighbors and friends. 
  2. Don’t feed your pets outside. Coyotes can smell that yummy kibble! If you have a small dog, don’t let them off leash and don’t use expandable or long leashes.  I spend a lot of time on our neighborhood trails and I can’t tell you how often I have seen Coyotes stalking small dogs that are either off leash or on a long leash.
  3. If you do see a Coyote, bring it to others attention so they can be aware. 
  4. Coyotes are excellent jumpers, so if you don’t have a six foot fence, keep an eye on your pets when they are in the yard. Coyotes are cathemeral, meaning they are not solely nocturnal (active at night), diurnal (active during the day), or crepuscular(active at dawn and dusk), but rather will be active as needed to find resources. 
  5. Be watchful of your surroundings, listening to your pets, and notifying neighbors of Coyote sightings is very helpful.
  6. Very few Coyotes will stick around unless they have become too comfortable around humans.  If that is the case, you will then want to contact Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

If you should see a Coyote, here are some “SMART” safety tips:

S – Stop, do not run!

M – Make yourself big! Reach your arms up to the sky like a tree.

A – Announce yourself! In a loud voice, say something! If necessary, throw something!

R – Retreat! Slowly walk away without turning your back to the animal

T – Tell! Tell people you pass or neighbors so they are aware.

So, let’s hear those howls!  Communicate with your family, friends and neighbors.  Let them know you are there, you are safe, and you are happy.  Do as the Coyotes do! If you would like to learn more about these amazing animals, you can access interesting articles from Colorado Division of Wildlife through our catalog, such as: Who is Coyote.

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