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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. latrans
Canis latrans
Say, 1823

The coyote (Canis latrans, meaning "barking dog", also prairie wolf [1]) is a member of the Canidae (the dog family) and a relative of the domestic dog. Coyotes are only found in North America. Coyotes may occasionally assemble in small packs, but normally hunt alone. Coyotes live an average of about 6 years. The word "coyote" derives from the Náhuatl (Aztec) word cóyotl ( IPA /ˈkɔ.jɔtɬ/).

Despite being extensively hunted, the coyote is one of the few medium-to-large-sized animals that has enlarged its territory since human encroachment began (another is the raccoon). Coyotes have moved into most of the areas of North America formerly occupied by wolves, and the "dog" one sees scrounging from a suburban trashcan may in fact be a coyote.


Coyote profile
Coyote profile

The coyote stands less than two feet (0.6 m) tall and varies in colour from gray to tan with sometimes a reddish tint to its coat. A coyote's ears and nose appear long and pointed, especially in relation to the size of its head. It weighs between 9 - 22 kilograms (20 - 50 lb), averaging 14 kg. The coyote can be identified by its thick bushy tail, which it often holds low to the ground. It can be distinguished from its much larger relative, the Gray Wolf, by its overall slight appearance compared to the massive 34 to 57 kg (75 to 125 lb) stockiness of the bigger canid. The coyote is an extremely lean animal and may appear underfed even if healthy.

The northeast coyote and the Cape Cod coyote are thought to be a 50% mix with the Red Wolf. Coyotes can also hybridize and produce fertile offspring with Gray Wolves and domestic dogs. However practical constraints such as the timing of estrus cycles and the need for both parents to care for the pups limit such crosses in the wild. Hybrids between coyotes and Domestic Dogs are known as " Coydogs".


Coyote in a forest
Coyote in a forest

Coyotes are highly adaptable and live in a variety of different niches. Their behaviour can vary widely depending on where they live, but in general they live and hunt singly or in monogamous pairs in search of small mammals including rabbits, mice, shrews, voles, and foxes. It is an omnivore and adapts its diet to the available food sources including fruits, grasses, and vegetables along with small mammals. In Yellowstone National Park, before the reintroduction of the wolf, they began to fill the wolf's ecological niche, and hunted in packs to bring down large prey.

Coyotes mate for life. They breed around the month of February and 4–6 pups are born in late April or early May. Both parents (and sometimes undispersed young from the previous year) help to feed the pups. At three weeks old the pups leave the den under close watch of their parents. Once the pups are eight to twelve weeks old they are taught to hunt. Families stay together through the summer but the young break apart to find their own territories by fall. They usually relocate within ten miles. The young are sexually mature at 1 year of age.

Coyote with a ruddy tint in its fur
Coyote with a ruddy tint in its fur

Hearing a coyote is much more common than seeing one. The calls a coyote makes are high-pitched and variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks. These calls may be a long rising and falling note (a howl) or a series of short notes (yips). These calls are most often heard at dusk or night, less often during the day. Although these calls are made throughout the year, they are most common during the spring mating season and in the fall when the pups leave their families to establish new territories. Many people find these calls eerie or disturbing. As well, its howl can be very deceiving: due to the way the sound carries, it can seem as though it is in one place, when the coyote is really elsewhere.

In rural areas, coyotes will respond to human calls. This is most often after the coyotes have started a howling session. They will also respond to recorded howls. In some of these areas, the coyotes will stop and wait for the humans to stop before resuming their howling session, once they've figured out that it isn't one of them that's been calling to them. In areas where the coyotes have grown accustomed to humans calling back to them, they tend to continue with simpler calls back to the humans and return to more complex calls when the humans get tired of calling to them. Playing a recorded wolf howl will make them stop for up to an hour before they start in again (probably because wolves prey upon coyotes.)

Coyotes may also thrive in urban settings. A study by scientists at The Ohio State University yielded some surprising findings in this regard. Researchers studied Coyote populations in Chicago, IL over a six year period, proposing that coyotes have adapted well to living in densely populated urban environments while avoiding contact with humans. They found, among other things, that urban coyotes tend to live longer than their rural counterparts, help humans by killing vermin and other small animals, and live anywhere from parks to industrial areas. The scientists estimate that there are up to 2,000 coyotes living in Chicagoland and that this circumstance may well apply to many other urban landscapes in North America.

Character in mythology

Many myths from Native American peoples that include a character named "Mika" or just "Coyote". He can play the role of trickster or culture hero (or both), and also often appears in creation myths and just-so stories.

Fictional coyotes

  • Wile E. Coyote is a Warner Brothers cartoon coyote who is endlessly trying to catch and eat an extremely fast Road Runner with his tricks, many of which involve technology or Rube Goldberg machines. His efforts are always futile, and he usually harms himself in the effort. It is likely that the stereotype of Coyote-as-trickster helped form the basis of this protagonist. The cartoon character Wile E. Coyote has a comically exaggerated nose, tail and ears, inspired by the appearance of the real animal.
  • Coyotes feature prominantly in the novel The Book of Sorrows, by Walter Wangerin Jr, sequel to the award-winning The Book of the Dun Cow. The coyote Ferric is a skinny, scared creature struggling to feed his wife Rachael and their three pups, and to protect them from the cruel, wild world outside the den. As he travels far from home looking for food in the barren winter, he accidently sets in motion a chain of events that bring Heaven and Hell crashing down upon him, and on every living thing in the land.
  • The San Antonio Spurs NBA basketball team has used a Coyote as its mascot for more than 22 years. The character was created by Tim Derk.
  • The mascots of the Phoenix NHL hockey team are the Phoenix Coyotes.
  • Coyote the trickster appears as a major character in the novel Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore. He is the companion of the protagonist, a Crow Indian used-car salesman. A number of traditional Crow stories about Coyote are used as vignettes in the story.
  • Coyote, trickster and creator, is a central character in Ursula Le Guin's Buffalo Gals, and also plays a role in Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water.
  • In the Disney cartoon show Gargoyles, Coyote is the name of a series of robots of human level intelligence created by Xanatos and having his personality. Also, the mythical Coyote the trickster makes an appearance in the episode "Cloud Fathers", and is portrayed as one of Oberon's children.
  • Sky Coyote is the role taken by the cyborg Joseph in the book of that title by Kage Baker, to convince the Chumash tribe of California to evacuate before white men could wipe them out in 1700.


The coyote is one of the few wild animals whose vocalizations are commonly heard. At night coyotes both howl (a high quavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. Howls are used to keep in touch with other coyotes in the area. Sometimes, when it is first heard, the listener may experience a tingling fear of primitive danger, but to the seasoned outdoorsman, the howl of the coyote is truly a song of the West.

Howling - communication with others in the area. Also, an announcement that “I am here and this is my area. Other males are invited to stay away but females are welcome to follow the sound of my voice. Please answer and let me know where you are so we don't have any unwanted conflicts.”

Yelping - a celebration or criticism within a small group of coyotes. Often heard during play among pups or young animals.

Bark - 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.

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