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Posts Tagged ‘South American coyotes’

panama coyote

The coyote has spread to almost the entirety of the North American continent. They are absent from much of the treeless tundra of the Canadian High Arctic, but they are at home in Alaska and Labrador. They range all through the United States and through all of Mexico. They live in every Central American nation and are working their way through Panama.

A recent survey of coyotes and crab-eating foxes in Panama revealed that two species now have an overlapping range. The crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous) is widespread in northern South America, but only recently did a few of them wander into Panama.  This survey used a combination of camera trap and road-kill data to get an idea of where both canids live in the country.

Deforestation in Panama has opened up new territory for both species, which do much better in human-dominated environments.  Coyotes now are at the edge of the great forests of Darien. Beyond those forests lies Colombia– and a whole new continent.

Further, coyotes could possibly enter Colombia through a coastal approach, simply crossing onto the beaches of eastern Panama and walking down the coast.

Also, the researchers are noticing that some coyotes have dog-like features, which suggests they are interbreeding with village dogs. The dogs could confer onto the coyotes some advantageous genes that might make colonization of South America easier.

So my guess is it won’t be long before coyotes make it to Colombia, and when they do, they will be the first wild Canis species to enter that continent since the dire wolf.

No, they aren’t as impressive in their forms as that creature was. But they are impressive in how they have thrived despite all humans have thrown at them.

Of course, when Panama was a province of Colombia, Panama was considered part of South America, and if that were still the case, we could already say they colonized the continent.  Many old maps of South America show Panama sticking off upper left of Colombia.

But whatever one thinks, coyotes are very likely to make it into Colombia. They will likely spread from there throughout northern South America. What this means for the native species of South America, we can only conjecture.

But it is going to be an interesting mess.

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Coyotes are the most widespread wild dogs in North America.

In fact, I don’t know of a single species of wild dog whose range is almost the entire continent.

Coyotes are from from eastern Canada, including Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, west to Alaska.

They are found in every state in the Lower 48.

And their range continues south through Mexico.

It just keeps going south until, well, you run out of North America.

The southernmost Coyotes are found in Panama, specifically the Azuero Peninsula.

We North Americans tend to count Panama as part of our continent, although as a former region of Colombia, it has been counted as part of South America.

If this is North America, then this is the southernmost part of our continent, and these are the southernmost coyotes.

They are quite small animals, often under 20 pounds in weight.  Compared with the coyotes I normally see, these animals are quite minuscule, almost like a different species.

It was often said that the coyote would never make it to Alaska or Newfoundland, and now coyotes live in both places and are doing fairly well.

I wonder how far south coyotes will actually go.

I would not be surprised if they made to Colombia and eventually became settled in the northern parts of South America.

Such is the case with the gray fox, which also has a vast range in the Americas. It is not common north of  the US/Canadian border, so its range is not nearly as extensive as the coyote. But because it is found over such a wide area, it might be an interesting parallel to see exactly how far south the coyote will go.

Of course these Panamanian coyotes have to get past the Panama Canal, but coyotes seem to be able to deal with the most extreme human interference on the landscape, including places like New York and Los Angeles. All of that canal traffic should be that much of an obstacle.

Plus, coyotes can swim.

And walk across bridges.

I’m not counting the possibility of Colombian coyotes out.

Not by a long shot.

***

Coyotes would not be the first member the genus Canis to invade South America through the Isthmus of Panama.

The extinct dire wolf evolved on the North American plains and then invaded South America.

If the coyote makes it in Colombia, it would following in the footsteps of its massive cousin that went extinct at the end of the last ice age.

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