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Mississippi State University

Coyote (Canis latrans)


The coyote is a member of the family Canidae and is recognizable to most people, whether because of western folklore or increasing interest in coyote control. The coyote has shown great range expansion east of the Mississippi River in recent years. From 1900 to approximately 1965, no wild coyotes were found in the southeastern states east of the Mississippi River. Prior to the 1970's, the coyote was a western prairie species; however, it has shown a remarkable range expansion during the past 3 decades. Red wolf populations once existed throughout the Southeast, until trapping and poisoning eliminated free-ranging populations prior to 1970. Removal of large canids and subsequent introductions of coyotes into the Southeast, enhanced by excellent habitat conditions, contributed to the expansion of the coyote across the Southeast.

Expansion of coyotes into the southeastern United States was not all natural. Coyotes were released in some areas; however, most releases were either accidental or intentional releases of coyotes in pens established for hunting. The coyote's rapid expansion also has been attributed to conducive land management practices, such as widespread timber harvesting and subsequent regeneration of resultant clearcuts. In general, coyote densities in the Southeast range from 0.35 to 2.3 coyotes/kilometer, but vary greatly depending on local habitat conditions.

The coyote has a high reproductive potential, having the potential to produce up to 12 pups, although the average is 6. Such a reproductive capacity explains the ability of the coyote to respond so rigorously to removal efforts, and its ability to expand its range throughout the southeastern United States within 25 years. One aspect of coyote reproduction concerns the hybridization of the coyote through breeding with domestic canids. Although coyote-domestic dog interbreeding produces fertile offspring, the offspring have significantly reduced fecundity. Most research addressing hybridization has indicated that coyote-dog hybridization is minimal.

Coyotes are highly omnivorous, preying on animal and plant material. Coyotes frequently prey on rodents (mice, rats), rabbits, deer, insects, and fruits. Coyotes readily consume blackberries during spring and summer and persimmons during fall. Coyotes will readily scavenge carcasses, particularly livestock and deer. However, coyote damage to livestock throughout the United States may be substantial and several studies reflect an increased incidence of deer within coyote diet during fawning periods.

Home ranges of coyotes range from 760 to over 6000 ha. Whether sex-specific differences in home range size exists is unclear, as some studies have reported larger home ranges for males, whereas others have reported the reverse. Coyotes use a diversity of habitats, owing to their opportunistic foraging habits. Early to mid-successional habitats of pine and hardwood forests are used frequently, as are pine plantations, cedar woodlots, fencerows, and edges of cultivated fields.

Coyotes are susceptible to a diverse array of diseases, and some may have debilitating effects on local coyote populations. Canine distemper (virus) is a common disease of coyotes as is sarcoptic mange. Parvovirus enteritis also may affect coyote populations, but its prominence within the coyote is unclear.