The coyote is a canid native to North America. It is smaller than its close relative, the gray wolf, and slightly smaller than its other close relatives, the eastern wolf and the red wolf. The species is versatile and able to adapt to environments modified by humans. As human activity has altered the landscape, the coyote’s range has expanded. As of 2005, 19 coyote subspecies are recognized.
The average male coyote weighs 18 to 44 lbs and the average female 15 to 40 lbs. Their fur color is predominantly light gray and red or fulvous interspersed with black and white, though it varies somewhat with geography. It is highly flexible in social organization, living either in a family unit or in loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. It has a varied diet consisting primarily of animal meat, including deer, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, though it may also eat fruits and vegetables on occasion.
Being both a gregarious and solitary animal, the variability of the coyote’s visual and vocal repertoire is intermediate between that of the solitary foxes and the highly social wolf. The aggressive behavior of the coyote bears more similarities to that of foxes than it does that of wolves and dogs. An aggressive coyote arches its back and lowers its tail. Unlike dogs, which solicit playful behavior by performing a “play-bow” followed by a “play-leap”, play in coyotes consists of a bow, followed by side-to-side head flexions and a series of “spins” and “dives”.
Although coyotes will sometimes bite their playmates’ scruff as dogs do, they typically approach low, and make upward-directed bites. Pups fight each other regardless of sex, while among adults, aggression is typically reserved for members of the same sex.
Combatants approach each other waving their tails and snarling with their jaws open, though fights are typically silent. Males tend to fight in a vertical stance, while females fight on all four paws.
Fights among females tend to be more serious than ones among males, as females seize their opponents’ forelegs, throat, and shoulders.
The coyote has been described as “the most vocal of all wild North American mammals”. Its loudness and range of vocalizations was the cause for its binomial name Canis latrans, meaning “barking dog”. At least 11 different vocalizations are known in adult coyotes. These sounds are divided into three categories: agonistic and alarm, greeting, and contact.
Vocalizations of the first category include woofs, growls, huffs, barks, bark howls, yelps, and high-frequency whines. Woofs are used as low-intensity threats or alarms, and are usually heard near den sites, prompting the pups to immediately retreat into their burrows. Growls are used as threats at short distances, but have also been heard among pups playing and copulating males. Huffs are high-intensity threat vocalizations produced by rapid expiration of air. Barks can be classed as both long-distance threat vocalizations and as alarm calls. Bark howls may serve similar functions.
Yelps are emitted as a sign of submission, while high-frequency whines are produced by dominant animals acknowledging the submission of subordinates. Greeting vocalizations include low-frequency whines, ‘wow-oo-wows’, and group yip howls. Low-frequency whines are emitted by submissive animals, and are usually accompanied by tail wagging and muzzle nibbling. The sound known as ‘wow-oo-wow’ has been described as a “greeting song”.
The group yip howl is emitted when two or more pack members reunite, and may be the final act of a complex greeting ceremony. Contact calls include lone howls and group howls, as well as the previously mentioned group yip howls.
The lone howl is the most iconic sound of the coyote, and may serve the purpose of announcing the presence of a lone individual separated from its pack. Group howls are used as both substitute group yip howls and as responses to either lone howls, group howls, or group yip howls.