Information on Coyotes
Coyote Canis latrans
Prairie Wolf, Brush Wolf
Coyotes are doglike animals with pointed noses and ears and tan to whitish legs and feet. The outsides of the ears are reddish or rusty colored. The body may be mostly gray, yellowish gray, or reddish gray, mixed with varying amounts of black above; the throat and undersides are whitish or grayish. The tail is quite bushy and relatively short; above, it usually is similar in color to the back, but may be more grayish with a blackish spot on the dorsal surface near the base and it may have a black tip. The underside of the tail is paler than the dorsal surface. The pelage is coarse and long. An albino specimen has been reported from Union County.
The coyote, red fox, gray fox, and raccoon all have six upper molariform teeth on each side (see Fig. 5). The raccoon skull is much smaller (short rostrum and rounded brain-case) than coyote or fox skulls. The coyote skull is considerably larger than that of either fox. Fox skulls have dorsal crests divided anteriorly; the coyote skull has a single dorsal crest. Coyote skulls are most likely to be confused with skulls of the domestic dog, or with coyote-dog (coydog) hybrids. The distance between the first two molariform teeth divided into the length of the molariform tooth row is usually about 3.7 in the coyote, less than 3.0 in dogs, and from 3.1 to 3.6 in hybrids.
Weights and measurements are shown in Table 165. The dental formula is:
STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION
The coyote originally occurred in both northwestern and parts of western Indiana in fairly good numbers. Packs of twenty were reported in Lake County, and David Thomas recounted that thirteen were killed on Christmas Day, 1816, at Fort Harrison (Vigo County). In 1883, LaPorte County paid bounties on 51 "coyotes" (Haller, 1950). Some of these animals, however, could have been gray wolves (Canis lupus). In writing about Lake County, Dinwiddie (1884) stated, "In the early settlement of the county Prairie Wolves were very numerous and bold. They were mostly the common brownish wolf, but there were a few nearly black." It is obvious that the coyote was never extirpated from Indiana; they persisted despite persecution by settlers and began to exhibit an increase by 1909 (Hahn, 1909). With the elimination of most of Indiana's forests, the coyote was able to move away from the prairie regions and invade other sections of the state. This trend is evident from the fact that Lyon (1936) had reports of coyotes from 32 counties.
Since 1936, the coyote has continued to increase, judging from reports, animals killed, and bounty records. From 1849 to 1948, there were 1,325 "coyotes" bountied in 17 counties (Haller, 1950). In 1946, bounties were paid on 102 coyotes in 9 Indiana counties.
Populations of coyotes sometimes are present in a locality for several years; one such site near Romney (Tippecanoe County) has been the source of animals shot from at least 1965 to 1978. An earlier concentration occurred near West Point (Tippecanoe County). In the Parr-Fair Oaks-Demotte area of northwestern Jasper County, 10 to 12 coyotes were reportedly killed annually for several years before 1969 (fide Larry E. Lehmann). This region for years seemed to be one of the optimum areas for the coyote in Indiana. From November 1966 to January 1968, 7 were bountied from Jasper County (letter from Lehmann to Mumford).
Many early references to coyotes in Indiana (they were usually listed as "wolves") cannot be properly evaluated because they may refer to the coyote, gray wolf, or red wolf—all once found in the state.
However, since the settlement of Indiana by the white man, most such accounts probably refer to coyotes. In more recent years, there has been an increasing number of records of coyote-dog hybrids. Some of these hybrids are quite large (50 pounds) and many residents mistakenly believe that these animals are gray wolves. Since all degrees of dog or coyote characteristics may be visible in any particular hybrid animal, some interesting and puzzling specimens are sometimes produced.
Population data are few, and no intensive study has been conducted on the coyote in Indiana. Leonard "Dutch" Schwartz trapped 16 coyotes on the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (Newton County) in one winter. During the winter of 1976-77, about 100 coyotes were trapped or shot in a relatively small area of northern Montgomery County and southern Tippecanoe County. The following winter, about 50 coyotes were known to have been taken in the same general area.
Although numerous accounts of coyotes killed in Indiana have been published in newspapers and magazines, few data are available on the habitats in which the animals were encountered. Most coyote hunters evidently located the animals in the brushy portions of cultivated or overgrown areas, and mentioned finding them in the brush or note that their tracks led into brushy sites. Near Lafayette, a family of coyotes lived in a rather extensive, brushy series of old gravel pits in the late summer of 1972. They probably had a den there. Coyotes are also reported from the forested regions of southern Indiana, but brushy openings, creek bottoms, and other favorable sites occur in that section of the state. Vague references in early historic accounts mention coyotes "on the prairie," and no doubt in presettlement times most Indiana coyotes were found on the prairies or prairie fringes. Even today, reports of coyotes are received more commonly from the northwestern section of the state, which was once prairie, than from other sections.
Waste areas, some with dense, low vegetation, appear to supply good conditions for coyotes in Indiana. Coyotes have recently invaded a waste area in Clark County, Illinois, just west of Terre Haute, Indiana. Here coyotes have been seen or heard several times. There are reports of coyotes in abandoned strip-mined lands in southwestern Indiana.
Standing corn is evidently an important vegetation type for coyotes in parts of the state. An animal trapped and fitted with a radio transmitter by S. D. Ford spent much of its time during the day in the fall in a cornfield until the corn was picked. Two coyotes were trapped in a popcorn field in Gibson County.
Little information has been obtained on the habits of Indiana coyotes. They are mostly nocturnal, spending the day bedded down in the cover of a brushy area, fencerow, stubble field, weed field, or cornfield. Judging from the number of observations made during the daytime, coyotes move about, and possibly hunt, to some extent also during daylight hours. A female coyote killed in February was flushed by hunters from a daytime retreat (a weed patch) it shared with a red fox. In early morning and late evening, coyotes are sometimes seen in open areas, such as airports. One of a group of five was struck by an airplane on the Purdue University Airport in 1977. Airport personnel complained that the animals had been repeatedly observed on the runways. Perhaps the coyotes were attracted there by the open space and by the numerous ground squirrels and mice available for food.
Until fairly recent years, there were few reports of coyotes heard howling in Indiana. Earlier, when the state coyote population was low, the animals appear to have been much more secretive and quiet. C. M. Kirkpatrick and S. R. Esten both reported howling having been heard on the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in the early 1930s. From time to time up to the 1960s howling was reported. Then in the 1960s and into the 1970s, more and more coyotes were heard. No doubt some of the increase in reports resulted from the greatly increased coyote population that occurred in the 1960s. And some of the increased frequency of howling may have been a function of social activity. The coyotes living near the Purdue University campus frequently howled in response to the sound of a train whistle nearby. Other loud sounds will also entice coyotes to howl.
There are several published accounts in popular magazines and newspapers of coyote chases by dogs. One coyote was reportedly chased "2 days" before it was killed (Outdoor Indiana, January 1936). Another was pursued by dogs for 6 miles (Plymouth Pilot, 2 March 1959). Fox hounds chased another coyote 25 miles over a four-hour period before the coyote was killed (Indianapolis Star, October 1966). An account of a fight between a coyote and a female German shepherd was described in Outdoor Indiana (July 1934). The coyote was captured alive and kept captive for some time at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area. Numerous hunters and trappers in Indiana feel that the coyote displaces foxes in an area. There is considerable concern that in counties where coyotes are still invading, the fox population will decrease drastically. We know of no quantitative data to support this belief.
Although most of the observations of coyotes in Indiana in recent years have been of single animals or small groups, there have been some reports of larger assemblages. Six animals seen together in July (Gibson County) by Terry Tichenor probably represented a family. There are earlier reports of "packs" containing as many as twenty animals.
One difficulty in assessing the observations of coyotes in Indiana has been the determination of whether the observer saw a coyote, a dog, or a dog-coyote hybrid. Coyotes usually carry the tail down when running. Eric Edberg noticed that when a coyote is sneaking it tucks the tail, lowers its ears, and keeps its nose near the ground. Some of the animals reported to us (and some of the specimens and photographs we have examined) were simply too large and abnormally colored to be coyotes.
C. W. Bussel reported that packs of coyotes were found in February (thought to be the mating season) in northwestern Indiana. David Thomas implied that several coyotes might be found together, and historical accounts mention "packs." No recent observations of packs of animals have come to our attention, although in the late 1800s as many as "20 in a drove" were reported (Anderson, 1922). A pack of prairie wolves was recorded in LaPorte County in the winter of 1832.
Dens are usually burrows in the ground. Coyotes may dig their own or modify a burrow system excavated by another mammal, such as a woodchuck. The den may be in a concealed site, such as under a stump, and have two or three entrances. Mounds of excavated soil are frequently found at the burrow entrances. Once a den is established, it may be used for several years. W. E. Madden told us of a coyote den occupied for four consecutive years in a sandy ("blowout") area that had been planted with pine trees years ago (Newton County). We have reports of other dens being used for at least two years each. At least one of these was located in a thicket.
Some coyotes reportedly have constructed their dens in old, overgrown gravel pits and strip-mined areas. Dens are also located in wooded areas and in sites where there are dense plantings of multiflora rose.
A trapper in Gibson County captured single coyotes in the same trap on 17 and 20 December. We have reports of two animals seen traveling together on 14 December, 13 January, and 20 January. These were possibly mated pairs. Two of three coyotes running together in late March were shot; one was a male, the other a female. A trapper reported that when he found a coyote in one of his traps there were two or three other coyotes lingering nearby.
Most general accounts of coyotes in Indiana in earlier times refer to the destruction of poultry, pigs, lambs, and game animals by the "wolves," and one person mentioned that coyotes were especially adept at killing turkeys (Hahn, 1909). Coyotes are opportunistic feeders and can subsist on a wide variety of animals (mostly mammals). A considerable amount of mammalian food is taken as carrion. Some plant materials are also eaten. There has been no systematic work conducted on the food habits of the coyote in Indiana. Such a study is currently under way by S. D. Ford.
The coyote captures small prey by pouncing upon it with its feet, but usually kills larger prey by rushing it from the front and slashing the throat, killing with the canine teeth. Coyotes often hunt in groups of three or four, and they may partially cover a larger kill after feeding on it, and feed on it again later.
Conservation Officer Donald Smith told us that he had examined the stomach contents of a few Indiana coyotes and found that they contained mostly voles and other small rodents. A coyote killed near West Point had nothing but 14 prairie voles and 2 mice (Peromyscus sp.) in its stomach. James Eloff, while tracking a coyote, found remains of a mourning dove killed by the coyote. We examined the stomachs of 11 other Indiana coyotes. In 4 of them, nothing but prairie voles (total of 16 specimens) was present. Cottontail remains were found in 4, opossum remains in 2, and domestic cow in 1; in each case, these foods were apparently taken as carrion. One stomach each contained persimmon, voles (Microtus sp.), deer mice, and grasshoppers.
We still receive numerous complaints of coyotes killing livestock, and more attention needs to be paid to these reports. We have good evidence that at least some of the alleged killings by coyotes were due to dogs. It is extremely difficult to determine after the fact whether a coyote, a dog, or a coyote-dog hybrid is responsible for damage to livestock. All may kill in a similar fashion, and distinguishing between the tracks of dogs and coyotes is practically impossible. Dog owners and farmers may be quick to blame coyotes for killings actually done by domestic dogs. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the coyote is capable of killing poultry and small livestock. Clearly, more information is needed before the role of the coyote can be better assessed.
Another problem that confronts us in determining food habits from stomach analyses is whether a certain food item was taken as carrion or represents an animal killed by the coyote.
Pairs of coyotes are seen in late winter, and copulation probably occurs in January and February. There is considerable evidence from other states that a mated pair remains together for prolonged periods—perhaps even life (Young and Jackson, 1951). The gestation period is about 60 to 63 days. One litter, averaging from 5 to 7 young, is produced each year.
The young are usually born in underground burrows, sections of which are enlarged to form a chamber about 3 feet in diameter to accommodate the family. C. W. Bussel noted that dens were frequently constructed on knolls or other elevated places on the prairie. Evidently this allows the adults to more easily detect potential danger (Hahn, 1909). There are also reports of young being born in hollow logs. Bussel told Hahn that coyotes defended the den site against dogs venturing near it. He also thought the young were "moved about a great deal" after they were a month old, especially after man or dogs came near the den.
David M. Brooks examined a gravid female (Newton County) on 7 February, but did not record the number of young. A female killed on 5 March (Sullivan County) contained 5 embryos.
Four kinds of external parasites were found on fifteen Indiana coyotes examined to date—a flea, a chigger, and two ticks (Table 166).
The intestinal tracts of eleven coyotes have been examined for internal parasites. Nine of them harbored a total of 123 cestodes (11.2 per host). Seven yielded 59 nematodes (5.4 per host).
Man and the automobile are the major enemies of the coyote in Indiana.
TAXONOMYCam's latrans thamnos Jackson may be the subspecies inhabiting most of Indiana, although C. l. frustror Woodhouse could also be present (Hall and Kelson, 1959).
Whiteman, 1940; Young and Jackson, 1951.