Friday Creature Feature: Coyote

The coyote (Canis latrans) is native to North and Central America. They are very adaptable and can live in all types of habitats across the continent. But more recently they are becoming more adapted to urban and suburban life.

Smaller than wolves, they often look like a domestic dog. You can distinguish a coyote from a dog by their tall pointed ears, slender face, and their bushy tail, which hangs down when they run. Most coyotes are brown, with gray and tan mixed in. However, their coat color can be highly variable because of their black tipped guard hairs along their back. Many have a black stripe that runs across their shoulders.

Coyote with a reddish hue

In Southern Arizona, the variable climates can make our coyotes look very different depending on the time of year. In the hot summer, they have short fur to keep cool. But in contrast, in the chilly desert winters, coyotes grow fluffy coats to stay warm.

Coyotes social animals that form small packs of mated pairs and related individuals. They are the most vocal mammal in the Southwest (besides humans!) and communicate with howls, yips, and barks. Their scientific name Canis latrans literally means “barking dog” because of this!

While technically carnivores, coyotes will eat anything that is available, including trash and domestic animals in human developments which often mark them as pests.  The best way to avoid a negative encounter with a coyote is to not feed them, and to not leave your pets out unattended. You can learn more about living with coyotes on the Urban Coyote Research page.


Animal Diversity Web

“Coyote Communication” Phillip Lehner, 1978