HomeTravel NewsCoyotes Canis latrans and the danger of extinction

    Coyotes Canis latrans and the danger of extinction

    Historically, coyotes (Canis latrans) were often called “prairie wolves” as before European settlement, they were primarily limited only to the prairie regions such as northwest Indiana. Coyotes were never completely extirpated from the entire state of Indiana but possibly completely extirpated from the duneland area by the late-1800s. Their populations were severely suppressed by loss of habitat as our local duneland prairies were converted to farmland. Many early duneland settlers and farmers routinely killed coyotes and wolves in the name of livestock protection.

     Coyotes Canis latrans 

    Coyotes are slightly smaller than the German shepherd who they closely resemble in body structure and color. However, a coyote has a longer slender snout, pointed ears, comparatively longer legs and a black tipped bushy tail that is usually carried pointed downward. There is Potawatomi legend that the tail of the coyote was singed black while trying to bring fire to humans. Coyotes average 25 pounds, ranging from 20 to 50 pounds, and measure 40 to 50 inches from nose to tip of tail.

    Coyotes, although not common, are now seen in the duneland area particularly in ditches along county roads or running through open farm fields and the limited remaining prairie spaces. They are more active in winter as the coyote mating season is January and February with pups being born in dens during March and April. Dens are typically underground or into a bank or hillside with a 9-inch round entrance. A coyote litter can be as few as one pup, or up to ten, with an average of five.

    Coyotes Canis latrans

    Coyotes have a large home range typically eight to ten miles. They are elusive and normally avoid humans. However, in order to thrive nationwide today, coyotes have adapted to urban environments. They are opportunistic foragers and primarily feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, and rabbits with most eaten as carrion. Coyotes will hunt in packs of 3 to 5 members. Like their closer relative, the domestic dog, they will adapt easily to a free meal so do not feed them and always secure your garbage containers. Coyotes are not strictly carnivorous as scientific analysis of their scat routinely shows plant material, berries, and insects.

    The coyote is the top predator in Indiana as all other larger predatory carnivores such as bears, cougar, and grey wolves were extirpated from Indiana by the 1850s. Currently, the only major enemies of the coyote are humans and automobiles. A recent ten-year Illinois study showed that most coyotes have a three-year life span with the majority (40-70%) dying from vehicular collisions followed by shootings.

    Coyotes Canis latrans

    Coyotes can be seen at dusk, during the night or early dawn throughout the Indiana Dunes. As they are very shy, the likelihood of seeing one is very low. Because of their territorial nature, many people will hear them howling with their characteristic chattering barks interspersed at night. This author saw her first coyote nearly two decades ago while volunteering at Chellberg Farm. I was working with several National Park rangers, very early in the morning, setting up a festival. Coyotes have been seen during mating season near the Heron Rookery as well as on the beach in the State Park during the winter months. Remember coyotes are wild animals and visitors should always remain a safe distance away. Check out Meet Abraham Chege Njenga – A wildlife conservationists in Kenya

    News by Friends of Indiana Dunes


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