Species Spotlight – September 2013: Coyote

Coyotes (Canis latrans) were sporadically introduced into Florida by hunters in the 1920s, but their natural range expansion from the western U.S. began in the 1970s. They have spread throughout the state from northwest Florida and will likely occur in every county within the next few years.

Coyotes are smart and resourceful. They are active during the day and night, and can flourish in most habitat types. They eat a wide variety of small invertebrate and vertebrate prey, but will also eat wild fruits and carrion. All of these characteristics make them very well suited for survival, even as Florida’s human population continues to grow.  

Reproduction occurs once a year in the winter. Animals can begin breeding at 10 months old and they average six pups per year. The parents, and sometimes pups from the previous year, raise the young until they are nine months old and ready to find their own breeding territory. The home range of an adult coyote can be from 1,000 to several thousand acres. Coyotes do not live in packs like wolves; the primary social unit is the breeding pair and their offspring. They can interbreed with domestic dogs and produce young that are also capable of reproduction.

Just mention the word “coyote”, and you will get reactions ranging from love and fascination to outright hate and disdain. Most of us have the memory from our childhoods of watching Wiley Coyote constantly trying (unsuccessfully) to get the best of the Roadrunner. In Native American culture, Coyote is “the trickster”, and his lesson is to lighten up and laugh at yourself. During the spring and summer when there are pups to feed and easy prey are a necessity, coyotes will take young or injured livestock, and they are particularly fond of watermelons. As a result, many landowners expend considerable effort fencing, trapping, and shooting coyotes to keep them off their property. Along Florida’s east coast, coyotes have become a major predator of marine turtle eggs and ground-nesting shorebirds, making them a target of endangered species protection programs. At the other extreme, they are viewed by some as a replacement for the top level predators that have disappeared from our state, helping to keep rodents and other small mammal populations in balance.

Because of their generalist habits and ability to make a living in just about any situation, coyotes have become a common component of the Florida landscape. Regardless of how you feel about them, coyotes are here to stay.

-by Rebecca Bolt