Author: Richard Plunkett

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Scientific Name: Canis latrans
Common Name: Coyote
Spanish Name: Coyote

Coyotes can be many different colors, but they usually are gray to reddish brown on the upper part of their bodies. Coyotes that live in higher elevations are more gray and black and those from the desert are more reddish. Their bellies and throats are lighter in color, sometimes whitish. Their faces, forelegs and feet are reddish brown. Coyotes have soft underfur and longer, black-tipped guard hairs on the back and tail giving the appearance of a black stripe and cross on the shoulders. Their tails are about half as long as their body and have black tips. Coyotes are medium-sized. They are generally smaller than wolves and larger than foxes. As adults they weigh 7˝ to 44 lbs.. The males are slightly larger than females. Their size ranges from about 2˝ to 3 ft. long (head and body) and have tails that are about 1 to 1˝ ft. long. Coyotes look different than dogs because they have large pointed ears which stick up and black-tipped tails which hang down even when they run.

Geographic range:
Coyotes are the most dominant carnivore (meat eaters) throughout North America. Their range extends covers the entire continental United States and through Mexico and Central America to Costa Rica. Several subSpecies of coyote occur in New Mexico: C. l. mearnsi is found in west of the Rio Grande, and in the northwestern part of the state; C. l. texensis is found throughout southeastern and central New Mexico; C. l. lestes is found in northern New Mexico; C. l. latrans can be found in the far northeast corner of the state bordering the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Coyotes seem to live everywhere from high mountains to lowlands and deserts; from the dunes of White Sands to large cities like Albuquerque. Coyotes can adapt to nearly any environment and according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service they are able to use every square mile within New Mexico! Coyotes dig dens for shelter and for taking care of their pups. Coyotes seem to prefer habitats which are free of wolves.

Food Web:
Coyotes belong to the order of carnivores (meat eaters) but a much better description of their eating habits would be omnivore because they can eat anything. They eat plants, including fruits, seeds, nuts, cones, leaves and insects They eat other animals, including rabbits, birds, rodents and carrion . When food is scarce, coyotes may turn to domestic animals as a source of prey and go after chickens, turkeys, weak cattle or anything else they can catch. Coyotes have even eaten leather boots when they are hungry enough! Coyote diets vary with their habitat because they are very clever and resourceful and can make the best of whatever food sources are available.

Reproduction and Development:
Coyotes reach maturity in their first year and can have pups when they are about 9 to 10 months old. Coyotes tend to stay with one mate (though not always for life). They usually breed once a year. They have litters of six pups on average after carrying them for 60 days (gestation). The pups are born in a den and are blind and helpless. They weigh about half a pound. They develop and grow quickly. They can leave the den when they are three weeks old and are weaned from their mother's milk after four weeks. Both parents bring food to the young while they are in the den. When they are 8 to 10 weeks old the family will leave the den, but they will return to the same dens year after year. Male pups usually leave home when they are 6 to 9 months old. The female pups usually stay with the parents and form a pack. Coyotes can live nearly 20 years in captivity, but only 6 to 10 years in the wild. Coyotes are at the greatest risk of dying during their first year.

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and resourceful animals. This is shown in their social structures. Some coyotes are loners and live alone or with their mates. Sometimes coyotes form packs similar to wolf packs. Food supply seems to be a major factor in determining social organization for coyotes. Often packs will gather around a dead deer or elk. Coyotes generally function at night (are nocturnal), though they are sometimes spotted during the day. They can run at speeds up to 40 m/hr and are good jumpers, but they can not climb very well. Suprisingly coyotes are very good swimmers!

Coyotes have many methods of communication. They use vocal signals which include squeaks, howls and distress calls. Coyotes use some visual signals, even though their eyesight is not very good. Coyotes share many social signals with other animals from the family canidae. They will scent-mark their territories and boundaries by urinating or defecating on stumps, bushes or rocks. Coyotes also use tactile (touching) signals and tactile contact may be important for forming social bonds.

Coyotes have a reputation as “tricksters” or “jokers” because of their determination and clever ways of surviving nearly anywhere. They may sometimes be victims of their own success and have often been hunted, trapped and poisoned as “pests” because they may attack livestock and domestic animals. In New Mexico coyotes are not considered game animals and are afforded limited protection. They are not classified as endangered, but measures are taken in some areas to protect coyotes and their habitat.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: latrans

(SubSpecies: lestes [NM], mearnsi [NM], texensis [NM])

Species information was obtained from the Biota Information System of New Mexico (BISON) and the following sources:

The Smithsonian book of North AmericanMammals. D.E. Wilson and S. Ruff (eds.). The Smithsonian Institution, 1999.

Mammals of North America. E.R. Hall and K. R. Kelson. The Ronald Press Company, 1959.