A lot of questions surround coyotes and their presence in the wild.
Question 1: Is there an overpopulation problem in Indiana?
According to Dr. Larry Lehman, Indiana state biologist for fur-bearing
animals at the Forest-Wildlife Headquarters, Mitchell, IN, the
population of coyotes exploded in the 1970's, leveled out in the
1980's, and has remained steady at that level through the year 2000.
Question 2: Was their natural population check the wolf?
Coyotes natural predators were the wolf, cougar and bobcat. However,
there are other natural factors that also keep the population in check.
We know that availability of prey (rodents, mice voles, rats, rabbits,
squirrels) determines the coyote population within an area. When there
is an abundance of prey, litters tend to be larger. When prey is
scarce, litters tend to be smaller. Population is also limited by the
dispersal of the pups at about 10 months of age. At this time they must
leave their home territories to find territories of their own,
sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to do so. Less than 50 percent
survive that journey. A combination of hunters, automobiles, distemper,
parvo-virus, and starvation (from competition with other migrant
coyotes) lead to the majority of these deaths. These factors: hunters,
cars and disease, also impact the natural population within a given
home range. Another factor that controls population involves the
fertility cycle. Male coyotes, unlike dogs which are fertile
year-round, are only fertile once a year. This cycle begins
approximately a month before the female coyote comes into estrus in
about January. In Indiana, pups are born towards the end of March. Cold
weather and snow during the first few weeks of the pup's life affects
their survival rate. During the time immediately following the birth of
the pups, the female depends on the male for food, as she does not
leave the pups during the first two weeks. If anything happens to the
male from the conception of the pups until two weeks after they are
born, the pups will generally not survive, as the mother has no source
for her own nutrition without the male and therefore cannot take care
of the pups.
Question 3: Do farmers actually realize more benefit than
detriment by their presence in terms of them killing rodents and other
pests that eat their crops?
Since coyotes prey on rodents, grasshoppers, insects and other pests,
farmers can benefit from reduced use of pesticides and poisons to
control these pest populations. According to laboratory observations
done at Wolf Park, Battle Ground, IN, one captive coyote ate 10,000
mice in a year, . From my own personal experience, I had a coyote
living near my barn which killed 11 rats in one 24 hour period. They
also help to keep the environment clean by eating carrion, including
Question 4: Do coyotes present any threat to livestock (other than chickens, cats?)
While some coyotes do kill lambs and the occasional calf, not all do.
If a coyote on a farm is not bothering livestock, the best thing a
farmer can do is leave it alone. This coyote will keep other coyotes
that may harm livestock from moving into the area. Coyotes, being
predators, will naturally prey on sick or injured animals, be they wild
or domesticated. Dogs and cats that are allowed to run loose, or that
are dumped in the country and become feral, cause far more damage to
both livestock and wildlife than coyotes. Dogs tend to form and hunt in
packs and attack larger prey, while in Indiana the coyote usually hunts
alone. Also, coyotes hunt for food, dogs often kill by chasing and
catching animals for "fun" rather than food.
Question 5: Coydogs - Do they tend to breed with domestic dogs or feral dogs?
Yes, in some situations, but the breeding behavior of the coyote is
much different than that of the dog, therefore instances of this would
be rare. If a female coyote is in estrus and chooses a male dog as her
mate, the pups would not survive because the domestic dog will not feed
and care for the female when the pups are born as a male coyote would.
For a female dog to mate with a male coyote, she would have to be in
estrus at the same time the male coyote is fertile. As stated above,
the male coyote is not fertile all the time like the male dog. The
female dog would also have to give the same social and breeding signals
to the male coyote as a female coyote would, which is unlikely that the
dog could produce. In coyotes, the female chooses her mate, and both
male and female are selective in their mates. Immediately prior to
breeding, the relationship between male and female coyotes is very
aggressive. Therefore, without the breeding behavior, the male coyote
would not respond to the female dog for breeding, and may even kill it.
Also, unlike dogs, coyotes create lifelong pair bonds, inhabiting and
defending the same territory.