Native to North America, the coyote, Canis latrans, is a medium-sized dog averaging 23 to 26 inches tall and weighing between 15 to 46 pounds. In Florida, average adult coyotes weigh about 28 pounds. Originally from the west, coyotes now occur throughout continental North America where humans persecuted and removed other predators such as the gray wolf, eastern wolf, red wolf, cougars and bears.
Coyotes prefer open grasslands where their main prey — rodents — proliferate. Coyotes live in small family groups dominated by a monogamous alpha male and female and their annual litter of pups. At birth, pups weigh under half a pound. Sometimes, an adult pup remains with its parents to help hunt for food and care for the younger siblings.
Coyote paw tracks are dog-sized — about 2 inches long, but narrower. Their fur is generally gray-brown, sometimes with a white chest patch. Ears are pointed and the muzzle is narrow. Males are larger than females and share parenting equally with their female partner. When running, with burst speeds of up to 40 miles an hour, coyotes hold their bushy tails out behind them.
Coyotes live in cities, suburbs and rural lands in every state and province and range south through Mexico and the seven countries of Central America. They are expected to spread into South America. Their main food source is rodents, small mammals such as rabbits, possums and insects as well as fallen fruit, grains and any pet or human food left outside for them. It is illegal to feed coyotes.
They are most active around dawn and dusk when thoughtless pet owners turn their small animals out to pollute the landscape and neighborhoods with feces and urine. This human habit invites conflict with coyotes.
An important component of Florida ecosystem, coyotes feed on rodents, insects, vegetation, small mammals and reptiles as well as untended cats, small dogs, chickens, etc. Feral and stray cats kill and eat billions of birds every year in the U.S. Coyotes can only catch ground nesting birds like turkey and quail.
Most remaining red wolves are in captive breeding programs. About 44 roam free in North Carolina. Designated as federally endangered since 1967, the native North American red wolf (Canis rufus) is larger than a coyote and smaller than a gray wolf (Canis lupus). Red wolf pelts are brown and buff colored with some black along their backs. Head, ears and legs usually have a reddish color. Adult red wolves weigh from about 45 to 80 pounds, stand at least 26 inches at their shoulder. Red wolves have wide heads, broad muzzles, tall pointed ears, and long, slender legs with large feet. They are about 4 feet long from nose to tail.
Homeowners and tourists will never see a free-roaming red wolf in Florida. For more information, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at https://tinyurl.com/skenjas.
To avoid human-coyote conflicts, the Urban Coyote Initiative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) suggests the following:
- Feeding noyotes is illegal. They will lose their fear of humans.
- Secure garbage cans. Clean up pet food and fallen fruit.
- Secure livestock in predator-resistant enclosures.
- Keep pets in enclosed areas. Walk dogs and cats on a short leash.
Homeowners can co-exist with coyotes and other wildlife by sensibly avoiding conflicts.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 352-249-6899.