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This video shows coyotes hunting very much like larger wolves, but it also shows you an odd thing about mule deer.

Mule deer stick together. Mule deer that are not related to a fawn will come in to defend it, while white-tail does defend only their fawns. This makes some sense. White-tails evolved in dense forests where it was pretty easy to hide fawns, while mule deer evolved in open country. Kin selection would favor the genes of mule deer that were willing to come in and defend fawns of related does.

So this is really amazing footage, which shows can cooperatively hunt very much like wolves. These are Western coyotes, which typically aren’t thought of as pack-hunters, but under certain conditions, they absolutely can work as a pack.

I like the way this elk hunter clearly stated that we shouldn’t kill every coyote we see and definitely sees a place for them in the ecosystem.

Mule deer aren’t as numerous as they once were. They have definite habitat requirements, unlike white-tails, which live in virtually every town in the East. Since wolves have been extirpated from most of the West, is it possible that increased coyote numbers could be affecting mule deer populations (even at the margins)?

We know that when wolves came to Yellowstone, they cut the coyote population by half.  Wolves are not major predators of pronghorn, but coyotes take many of their fawns.  When wolves kicked the coyote numbers down a bit, the pronghorn population began to recover significantly.

Wolves certainly do hunt mule deer, but in the West, they have options to go after elk and moose.  Coyotes might take elk and moose calves, but they aren’t likely to be a problem for most mature individuals.

Maybe something similar is going here, but I should caution that the real problem facing mule deer in the West is habitat loss, and although predator control can fix the problem at the margins, it won’t solve the habitat problem.

 

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coyote killing cat

An analysis of coyote feces from various parts of Southern California has revealed something rather shocking.  Yes, coyotes are coming into people’s lawns and cultivated gardens and eating lots of fruit, but the analysis revealed that cats comprise 20 percent of their diet in urban areas.

This is in direct contradiction of Dan Flores’s contention that coyotes usually just kill cats because they are competitors and leave their carcasses to rot in the sun.  He makes this claim in both Coyote America and made it again on Joe Rogan’s podcast.   If cats comprise 20 percent of their diet, coyotes clearly are targeting them as a prey species.

If one thinks about it carefully, cats are about the best meat a coyote can get in most urban environments.  Where there is civilization, there are many cats. and when you’re  a 25-30 pound coyote, an 8-10 pound cat would sustain you for some time. Most indoor-outdoor cats somewhat fat and usually lack any skills for living in anything like “the wild,” so of course, coyotes are going to target cats.

One of the authors of the new study is Justin Brown, who also appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast after Dan Flores. I much preferred the discussion with Justin Brown, who was polite and knowledgeable about urban carnivorans, but it was obvious that he disagreed with some Flores’s airy-fairy ideas about coyotes.

Indeed, I think the reason why Flores’s book about coyotes gets so much attention is that it does present the coyote in a way that sanitizes it from what it really is. Coyotes are predators. They do kill sheep. They do kill dogs. They do take cats. They have killed people, including fully adult Taylor Mitchell in Nova Scotia.

These facts should not make us want to exterminate coyotes. Indeed, when someone says they want to do such a thing, I wonder if they might have come up with a more realistic goal in life like blowing up the sun or draining the ocean.

We err when we turn coyotes into terrible predators that deserve only death, but we also err when we turn them into the prick-eared Labradors of nature.

We should admire the coyote as the one of those Anthropocene wolves, a sort of North American super wolf that has thrived in spite of our attempts to eradicate it from the landscape. We have to adjust our behavior to live with them. Not letting cats go outside is probably a good idea, not just for their own welfare but for the welfare of lots of native species that cats target in their hunting forays.

We also need to understand that livestock producers must deal with coyote depredations.  Yes, we can encourage them to use nonlethal methods.  However, we shouldn’t be as judgmental of someone killing the odd one to protect livestock.

So yes, we now have evidence that coyotes are targeting cats in urban environments. If we love our cats, we’ll keep them inside. Cats don’t need to be outside to be happy, and they will never become a coyote’s breakfast if they stay where the Old Song Dog won’t be able to catch them.

This shouldn’t have been much of a shock. A similar study in 2009 in Tucson, revealed that 42 percent of an urban coyote’s diet consisted of cat meat.

The discrepancy in these two studies probably comes from the fact that coyote predation upon cats has become much better known by the public in the past decade, and Californians probably have at least heard of the studies that show how many birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians cats kill every year.

So yes, if you let your cat outside, you are taking risks. Some people think it’s worth it.  That’s okay, but don’t blame the coyotes for doing what comes naturally. They are trying to survive in an human dominated world, and you’re providing them with an easy, nutritious prey source.

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Southern Ohio coyote pair

This is some amazing footage. The bitch has been nursing puppies!

(Source).

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The tracks tell the tale of two coyotes in the night.

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There were two sets of tracks in the snow.  They came from different directions, but at one point the two sets of tracks intersected.

I can only assume that the two coyotes fought or mated here.

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The snow was really torn up at this meeting place. I like to hope it was the latter.

February is the month of madness. This is when the normally paranoid coyotes become a little less paranoid and do silly things like copulate out in the open and jump golden retrievers in the dark.

I recently purchased a diaphragm howling call for coyotes, but I have had no luck in getting them to respond to my howls– until this weekend.

I was standing on a ridge-top in heavy timber, when I let loose a few howls and a yip-howl. It was just starting to get dark, and the sun was casting pink shades on the snow. Out of the gloomy hollow before me the rose the wild dog song.

It sounded like there were two. A deeper voiced dog and higher-pitched bitch.

They carried on for no more than a minute, and then there was silence.

But for a brief moment, I’d made a connection with these truly wild beings. Though almost  dogs, they are distinctly not dogs.  Where the dog lives in such intimacy with humans, the coyote lives on the edge of our existence. It is a creature of the fleeting glimpse and the midnight slink.

A coyote is a dog undominated, unowned.

It lives in spite our desires.

And that is why people hate them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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She looks at the camera, which allows us to see that her skull is relatively broad. When she turns in profile, you can see the “stop.”

She also has some lovely black markings on her pasterns. All of these feature probably come from the Great Lakes wolf genes that have worked their way into the Eastern coyote population.

She’s not very big. I estimate her to be a 30-pounder.

But last night I got more coyote footage than I’ve been able to get in nearly two years of doing this.

 

 

 

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Ken Ham is known for using the dog family to defend the biblical concept of kind. After all, domestic dogs vary so much but can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which they can also do with wolves (their wild ancestor), coyotes, and golden jackals.

So all these different animals must represent the dog kind, right?

Well, very early in the debate from last night , Ham went for the dogs again, comparing the different species and breeds of the genus Canis to Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are more less divergent in morphology than all these dogs are, so they both must represent the respective dog and finch “kind.”

The problem is that all the weird morphology that exists in dogs is really nothing more than the selection pressures that have occurred since domestication. Domestic dog skull vary more than all the other species in the order Carnivora. That means that domestic dogs have skulls that diverge more than the differences between those of house cats and walruses. It is now thought that tandem repeats may play a role why dog heads have been able to become so diverse so rapidly through selective breeding, which is really nothing more than a really weird aspect of the dog genome.  Domestic dogs actually don’t vary that much from each other, and they also don’t vary greatly from wolves either, which is why they still have to be classified as Canis lupus familiaris.

Ken Ham bathers on how all these Canis were interfertile and thus the same kind, but here’s a challenge I guess he didn’t think about.

These two animals look very similar, and I’m sure that Ken Ham would say they are the same “kind.”

canis latrans

black backed jackal

If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that these two animals were the same speces, and if you were a creationist, you’d definitely say they were the same “kind.”

But if all living things on the earth now are all derived from an ancestral and clearly interfertile ancestral pair on the ark, then why can’t these two animals interbreed?

Yes.

The animal in the top photo is a North American coyote. It actually can interbreed with domestic dogs and wolves, and it has been bred to the golden jackal, which is actually far more closely related to the wolf and coyote lineage than the other jackals.

Indeed, there are two jackals that are found only in Africa that are not interfertile with the rest of the genus Canis. These two are the black-backed and side-striped jackals, which are even more divergent from the rest of the genus Canis than African wild dogs and dholes are.

The animal below is a black-backed jackal, and in Southern and East Africa it is ecologically quite similar to the Western and Latin American populations of coyote.

Because black-backed and side-striped jackals are genetically that distinct from the rest of the “dog kind,” then Noah surely would have had to have brought along a separate jackal kind.

But wouldn’t an all-knowing creator just ask Noah to bring the dog kind and populate Africa with an animal deriving from that ancestral dog kind? Having to put another pair of dog-like creatures on that already crowded boat seems like an awful waste. Kennel space was pretty limited.

Why go at it with such a divergent animal?

Most people don’t realize that these two endemic African jackals are so different from the rest of the genus Canis. Most have heard that golden jackals cross with dogs, and there is an assumption that all of these animals are very closely related.

They aren’t.

But if you were to play on this kind game a bit more, you’d think that these two animals would interbreed, and that there would be no way to breed a cute little dog like a beagle to a coyote. A black-backed jackal would be a much more logical mate, right?

beagle

 

But there have been several studies that have crossed laboratory strain beagles with coyotes (like this one: coyote beagle).

coyote beagle mated pair

 

The photo above is the male coyote protecting his beagle mate.

Here are their descendants:

beagle coydogs

Beagles and coyotes would clearly be part of the same kind, but coyotes and black-backed jackals would not.

But you’d never be able to guess that solely by looking at the animals.

And this is where the entire concept of “kinds” falls apart.

We have many different and often nasty debates about the taxonomy and classification of species, but we have these debates because we have some idea of what a species is.

The same cannot be used for the term “kind.”

A kind is really whatever one thinks it should be. It’s an ad hoc definition, one that is squishy and malleable, which means that it is perfect for people who like to misrepresent facts to twist around however they would like.

It’s precisely the sort of thing creationists like to use to bamboozle the science-illiterate public.

 

 

 

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Coyotes make it to Colombia

I just received a message in my inbox from a well-known coyote biologist.

For the first time, coyotes have crossed from North America into South America.

Yes. The southernmost coyotes aren’t in Panama anymore.

They are in Colombia.

The image above was taken of one of two coyotes that were found wandering the Pacific coast of Colombia about ten miles south of the Panamanian border.

A fisherman named Ricardo Chavez was thought he saw some unusual foxes wandering a remote beach, but when he came closer he found them to be most unusual.

It was only when he managed to capture photos of the two wild dog that he began to realize he had something unusual on his hands.

He managed to get his photos to the biology department of the Nationakl University of Colombia in Medellín, where it was instantly determined that the pair were coyotes.

So far no one has managed to capture the coyotes or get a DNA sample, but they are clearly coyotes and are not any species of endemic South American wild dog.

However, a US, Canadian, and Colombian team are venturing into the region to see if they can collect more evidence of coyotes in this part of Colombia.

The sudden appearance of coyotes in Colombia has been something of a surprise.  The nearest coyotes to these Colombian ones are in northern Panama.

Yes, these coyotes managed to cross the Panama Canal, which sounds like a terribly difficult feat.  However, coyotes have proven more than willing to use human contrivances to cross into new territory.

It is possible that these coyotes have crossed the canal on their own volition.

However, it’s just as possible that someone brought them down into Southern Panama.

It would not be outside of reason for someone to do something like this. After all, coyotes were occasionally introduced to parts of the Eastern United States as game animals or even inappropriate pets.

So it is possible that human agency could have brought these two coyotes into the region.

Stay tuned for new updates as this story unfolds.

Update: April Fool! Do not post this piece as fact. It is an April Fools’ Day prank!

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From Science Daily:

Changes in North American ecosystems over the past 150 years have caused coyotes to move from their native habitats in the plains and southwestern deserts of North America to habitats throughout the United States. In a new study, published Oct. 17 in the Journal of Mammalogy, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics used DNA from coyote scat (feces) to trace the route that led some of the animals to colonize in Northern Virginia. The researchers also confirmed that, along the way, the coyotes interbred with the native Great Lakes wolves.

According to the study, coyotes migrated eastward via two main routes — one that went through the northern United States, and one that went through the south. Using DNA samples, the researchers found that Virginian coyotes were most closely related to coyote populations in western New York and Pennsylvania. It appears the northern trekkers eventually encountered the Great Lakes wolves and interbred before converging again on the East Coast. They then gradually headed south along the Appalachian Mountains toward what is considered the Mid-Atlantic region, to an area centered around Virginia.

“The Mid-Atlantic region is a particularly interesting place because it appears to mark a convergence in northern and southern waves of coyote expansion,” said Christine Bozarth, an SCBI research fellow and lead author on the paper. “I like to call it the Mid-Atlantic melting pot.”

Bozarth and her colleagues collected scat samples in Northern Virginia from local coyote populations. They were then able to extract DNA from the intestinal cells in the scat and compare it to the DNA from preserved historic wolf specimens that had lived in the Great Lakes region before coyotes colonized the area. They shared some of the same genes, supporting the hybridization theory. Hybridization between canid species usually occurs when one species is rare. Those individuals may have trouble finding mates and therefore breed instead with closely related species.

“This does not mean that we have massive, wolf-like coyotes roaming around here in Virginia,” Bozarth said. “Coyotes with wolf ancestry have differently shaped jaws, which may allow them to fill different ecological niches. They tend to hunt small prey and scavenge large game, so hybrid coyotes might be helpful in controlling the overly abundant deer population.”

While coyote populations have been expanding, wolf populations have become endangered. Hybridization with coyotes is now a major threat to the recovery of wolves.

“For the past decade, our lab has developed and used noninvasive techniques to monitor and survey rare and endangered species in various regions of the world and in this study, we were able to show that noninvasive techniques can also be an effective tool for tracking the origins and movement patterns of this elusive canid,” Jesús Maldonado, SCBI research geneticist and paper co-author. “The admixed coyotes have also been found further south, into North Carolina, which brings the hybridized coyote into the range of the critically endangered red wolf, further complicating the issue.”

The study’s authors from SCBI are Bozarth, Maldonado and Frank Hailer (now a postdoctoral researcher at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt, Germany). Bozarth is currently an assistant professor in the science, technology and business division at Northern Virginia Community College. The additional authors are Larry Rockwood and Cody Edwards from the department of environmental science and policy at George Mason University.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a key role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.

Modern coyotes in the Virginia derive from Western coyotes that came through the Great Lakes region, which hybridized with Great Lakes wolves.

I’ve always suspected that the local coyotes in West Virginia came through this route, because I was reading of coyotes in Ohio and Pennsylvania several years before they became very common here. Even though they have been here in limited numbers all of my life, they are now much more common.

Yes, these Eastern coyotes can hunt deer more easily than their relatively diminutive Western ancestors, but it isn’t clear if this larger size and more powerful jaws results from hybridization or is something that has evolved as coyotes have colonized the East, where there were no wolves as competitors.

The large wolf subspecies that everyone knows evolved from a smaller wolf, Canis mosbachensis.  It was basically a coyote-like wolf.

Mark Derr, in How the Dog Became the Dog, suggests that Canis mosbachensis remained small because the wolf-like niche in Eurasia was occupied by Xenocyon lycaonoides, also known as the big, bad African wolf.  For whatever reason, Xenocyon’s range, which once included almost all of Eurasia and Africa, became reduced to a solely African distribution, where Xenocyon evolved into the present-day African wild dog (Lycaon pictus).  Derr thinks something similar might be happening with coyotes in the East, and it may have happened whether they received a genetic contribution from wolves or not.

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I’m not concerned about the red wolf. The so-called red wolf is actually an Eastern coyote with some admixture of wolf, which is exactly what the naturally expanding Eastern coyote is. The only difference is there was a selection for wolf phenotype in the Eastern coyotes of Louisiana and Eastern Texas. These were declared to be Red wolves, but they are nothing more than an Eastern coyote with wolf ancestry that possesses more of a wolfish phenotype. This hybridization has largely occurred since colonization. The red wolves all date to hybridization within the past two hundred years.

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How the Dog Became the Dog comes out Thursday. Look for a review and analysis on Thursday  Friday Saturday.

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From the Suffolk Times:

Ten housecats have gone missing on Fishers Island in the past week, and residents believe coyotes are to blame.

So says island resident Charles Kadushin, whose cat disappeared on Memorial Day and has not been seen since.

Mr. Kadushin said coyotes have been seen all over the island over the past two years and are becoming more prevalent all the time, and some of his neighbors said they can be heard howling along with the fire department’s noon whistle.

“They’re lots of places, in the fort area, they’ve been seen climbing over garden fences,” he said after a special Southold Town Board meeting on Fishers Island Wednesday. “I suppose they’re kind of cute, but they can be dangerous. They attack cats and dogs.”

Mr. Kadushin said that he believes the coyotes are swimming to the island from Connecticut, which has a growing coyote problem of its own.

“They’re known to be very good swimmers,” he said.

Mr. Kadushin said that he’d been keeping an eye out for his cat, but after realizing that other people’s cats have also gone missing “now I know for sure it will never be seen again.”

“All we can do is keep our animals inside,” he said.

Good advice, Mr. Kadushin. Good advice.

Fishers Island is off the coast of Connecticut  on the far eastern end of Long Island Sound. It is not far from the border with Connecticut and Rhode Island, but it is part of New York State. It is administered from Southold, New York, which on Long Island.

The coyotes are apparently swimming to this island from Connecticut, and I seriously doubt that they are finding much natural prey there.

However, like most urban and suburban coyotes, these have improvised their diet to include feral cats and owned cats that happen to be outside.

I bet the birds on Fishers Island are pleased with this development. It has been established that coyotes are a major boon to songbird numbers simply because they prey upon cats.  They don’t have to eat every single cat in region either.  They merely have to scare them so much that they avoid certain areas– which the birds then use as their nesting sites.

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Source.

I must say that Marty Stouffer was my hero when I was growing up.

I used to get so excited when Wild America came PBS that I literally bounced off the walls.

Marty always used very elevated diction on this show, and I think this sort of rubbed off on me. I like big words.

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I am not sure exactly what a red wolf is, but it is a primitive form of wolf that has experienced significant hybridization with the coyote. Whether that primitive wolf is Canis edwardii or a derivative of some early form of Canis lupus I cannot say. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the red wolf looks a lot like an Indian wolf, which is considered the oldest extant subspecies of Canis lupus.

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The red wolf is not the smallest wolf in the world. That title goes to the Arabian wolf.

But once there was an even smaller wolf. The Honshu wolf or Yamainu stood only about a foot at the shoulder and often weighed less than 20 pounds.

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Red wolves have been reintroduced to the wild.  In fact, the closest wild wolves to my present location are red wolves, which are running free at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern North Carolina.

These wolves are free, but they are heavily managed. The big problem is that coyotes have shown up in that part of North Carolina, and the wolves and coyotes continue to interbreed.  We spend a lot of time and money keeping coyotes out of that range.

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I disagree with the Fish and Wildlife Service on some issues with the red wolf. I don’t think the native wolf to my location is the red wolf. It is more likely Canis lupus lycaon, which is another primitive wolf of some sort that has a significant amount of hybridization with the coyote.

The red wolf is strictly subtropical subspecies (or species).

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The date for dog domestication is still up in the air. 15,000 years is the average estimate of when the dog phenotype began to take over the camp wolf population.

But it is likely that camp wolves were joining hunter-gatherer bands at least 40,000 years ago.

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And that dominance stuff at the end:

Just enjoy it for what it is!

 

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