Coyotes are nicknamed ‘little wolves’ and they do look remarkably similar to wolves. The main difference is in their size and build – they’re generally smaller and slighter, sometimes even spindly-looking. They’re genetically similar enough to wolves however to be able to interbreed with them; the result is called a coywolf. Coyotes also mate with dogs on occasion (although generally they’re aggressive towards them) in which case the offspring are called coydogs.
Coyotes are very widespread throughout North America. Their existence has a certain reciprocal balance with wolves: where there are more wolves there are less coyotes and vice versa. There is some competition over food sources, but coyotes have a more varied diet than wolves, eating grain and fruit and suchlike as well as just meat, their teeth having more grinding surfaces than that of wolves to cope with vegetable matter. The animals they catch include rodents, insects and reptiles as well as large animals. They have a tendency to creep into the fringes of populated areas especially when people are unwise enough to feed them. The best advice on seeing a coyote is to jump up and down and yell at it to scare it away.
Coyotes aren’t a huge physical threat to humans however they do sometimes stalk young children and the general opinion is that many of these children would have died if an adult hadn’t intervened. They do attack adults as well, chasing joggers and cyclists and showing aggression towards people walking their dogs, but no adult has been killed in recent years. Coyotes are dangerous to domestic dogs because of the many parasites they carry. Heartworm, for example, is transmitted from them to dogs via mosquitoes.
Livestock is an altogether different matter to humans, though. 65% of predator attacks on cattle and especially calves are the work of coyotes, so it’s no wonder that stockmen and drovers fear them. Coyotes often work together in groups, like wolves, but sometimes the groups are temporary and made up of unrelated animals which have gathered for the purposes of hunting a particular prize. Coyotes are also very persistent and agile and can climb high fences or alternatively dig underneath them. The best structure for protecting anything from them is a cranked wire fence with deep foundations.
An interesting difference between the way in which wolves and coyotes attack large prey is that wolves approach from behind and coyotes from in front. A coyote kill is generally distinguishable from that of a wolf or dog because it will be partially eaten.
The howl of a lone coyote causes the same primeval shiver down the spine as does the howl of a wolf, but coyotes are more vocal and the sounds they make are more variable. There’s a great deal of controversy surrounding them: some see them as essential to the balance of the environment while others consider they make little difference to it and should be destroyed wherever they cause damage. The jury’s still out on the matter.