Common Name: Coyote
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: Canis latrans

photo M. Noonan

Coyote Taxonomy/Description

The coyote belongs to the dog family, Canidae, in the Mammalian Order of Carnivora. Other members of Canidae include foxes, wolves, jackals, and all breeds of domesticated dog. The coyote's scientific name is Canis latrans, which means "barking dog". The coyote is so closely related to the domesticate dog that breeding is possible. These hybrids are referred to as "coydogs".

Coyotes vary in coloration from tan to gray. Those found at higher elevations have darker, thicker, and longer fur, while those inhabiting lower elevations. The coyote stands 15-20 inches at the shoulder, and measures 40-60 inches in length.

photo M. Noonan

Coyote Habitat/Diet

The coyote's range is vast - extending from Alaska to Central America, and California to New England. The coyote has adapted well to human occupation, primarily due to decreased competition from wolves. Humans have reduced the territory inhabited by wolves, allowing for such expansion.

photo M. Noonan

The coyote's principal diet consists of mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, other small rodents, insects, reptiles, fruits, and berries.

Coyote Behavior/Reproduction

Coyotes may live alone, in pairs, or in packs. Parenting and sleeping takes place inside a den, which is usually dug by the coyote. Coyote hunt nocturnally, and mark their respective territories with urine.

photo M. Noonan

Female coyotes bear on litter of 1-12 puppies each year, caring for them in a natal den. Male coyotes also have major parenting role, providing regurgitated food for his pups and mate. Coyote gestation is approximately 60-65 days.

Coyote History

The coyote's primary predator is the wolf. As Europeans began to settle North America, the native wolf populations began to decline. The areas once inhabited by wolves were colonized by coyotes. Once found primarily west of the Mississippi, the coyote has been expanding its range eastward, as well as northward. The absence of wolves has allowed the coyote to presently expand its range as far north as Alaska and Midwestern Canada, and as far east as Florida and New England.

photo M. Noonan

Our Experiences with Coyote

We sighted our first coyote on a snowy hillside while entering Wind Cave National Park. The gray and tan fur of the coyote vibrantly contrasted the glistening snow. A second coyote was spotted hunting on a grassy plain. This time we could see the cryptic coloration of the coyote's pelt, as it matched the golden browns and yellows of the prairie grasses. Shortly after his hunt, the coyote neared our van. He laid down several feet away from the van, exposing bright white teeth during a yawn, as the sun set over the prairie horizon.

Coyote Conservation

The coyote has adapted to human prevalence and urbanization. As wolves were hunted to near extinction by humans, coyotes expanded their range. The urban environment has also proved suitable for coyotes. In 1995, a pair of coyotes was found living in New York City!



Carnivora - Mammalian Order, which consists of families including cats, weasels, civets, hyenas, raccoons, and bears.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.