coyote (kĪˈōt, kĪōˈtē) [key] or prairie wolf, small, swift wolf, Canis latrans, native to W North America. It is found in deserts, prairies, open woodlands, and brush country; it is also called brush wolf.
The coyote resembles a medium-sized dog, with a narrow, pointed face, long, thick, tawny fur and a black-tipped bushy tail. Adult males have a head and body length of about 35 in. (89 cm), with a 14-in. (36-cm) tail; they stand 21 in. (53 cm) at the shoulder and usually weigh about 30 lb (14 kg). The cry of the coyote, heard in the early evening, is a series of high-pitched yelps. Coyotes live in pairs, and both parents care for the young; they make their dens in roots of trees, rock crevices, or in ground burrows made by other animals. They are largely nocturnal, but are also seen in the day, and are extremely wary of humans.
They hunt alone, in pairs, or when hunting larger prey in small groups. Omnivorous feeders, they prey on a variety of small animals, sometimes cooperating to attack larger mammals; they also eat plant matter, carrion, and garbage. They can maintain a speed of 35 mi (56 km) per hour while chasing prey. Coyotes are responsible for destroying some domestic livestock, but they are valuable scavengers and destroyers of rodents.
There has almost always been a bounty on coyotes somewhere in the United States, and many thousands are killed each year. Despite this, coyotes have not been reduced in number, and their range has actually increased in the past century, due in part to the fact that many formerly forested areas now more closely resemble the plains and also that the eradication of top-level predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, has left an open ecological niche. Common in the central and W United States, they range N to Alaska, S to Central America, and E to New England and Nova Scotia; they have even begun to move into urban centers, such as New York City. The coyotes of the E United States are larger than those in the West as a result of having interbred with wolves.
The coyote is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Canidae.
See W. Grady, The Nature of Coyotes (1995).
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology