The coyote was trotting down Bass Ave in the direction of Good Harbor Beach. It paused briefly at the garden at the corner of Bass Ave and Brightside and then proceeded to jaunt up Brightside before ducking into a yard.
Tag Archives: Canis latrans
Note to Readers: Coyotes are guarding their dens at this time of year. Please keep dogs on leash at all times.
Photo credit: Sherman “Pat” Morss, Jr.
From the Concord Patch
By Lisa Redmond
CONCORD, MA – Chief Joseph O’Connor and the Concord Police Department would like to advise residents to be vigilant while at the Estabrook Road trail after several dogs were attacked by coyotes this week.
From April 18-20, Concord Police received multiple reports of coyote attacks on dogs in the area of Estabrook Woods.
Three separate incidents occurred where people, who had their dogs off-leash, encountered a coyote near the beginning of the trail on Estabrook Road.
Approximately 600 yards in and on the left hand side, reporting parties noted that their dogs approached what is believed to be a coyote den containing pups.
The dogs flushed the adult coyote, which then bit each of the dogs in their behinds and tracked the canines until they left the area.
The coyote is described as medium to large in size, approximately 60 to 80 pounds.
Concord’s Animal Control Officer has consulted with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which stated the coyote is in its own habitat and people should stay away from the area.
The Concord Police Department advises that dog walkers avoid that section of Eastbrook Woods.
Late April through May is weaning season for coyote pups, which means protective adults will be on the alert.
To prevent coyote attacks in areas like Estabrook Road and at home, Concord Police recommend that residents follow safety tips from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:
- Leash pets at all times if outdoors. Small cats and dogs are seen as prey and larger dogs, competition.
- Do not approach, feed, pet, or try to interact with coyotes.
- Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten coyotes with loud noises or bright lights.
- Cut back brushy edges, as these areas provide cover for coyotes and their prey.
- Secure your garbage. Coyotes raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and keep them in secure buildings when possible. Take out trash when the morning pick up is scheduled, not the previous night. Keep compost in secure, vented containers, and keep barbecue grills clean to reduce attractive odors.
- Keep bird feeder areas clean. Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground, as the seed attracts many small mammals coyotes prey upon. Remove feeders if coyotes are regularly seen around your yard.
The informational meeting was conducted by Pat Huckery, the northeast district manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and was nearly identical to the meeting given last year at this time.
Pat presented the life history of the coyote as well as a number of methods for lessening human encounters with coyotes, most notably to cut off their food supply. Humans providing food to the coyotes directly and indirectly is the number one reason the coyote population has exploded on Cape Ann, and at the top of the list states Pat is bird feeders. She recommends that if you do have a bird feeder, at the very least, clean up the mess left daily underneath the feeders. Spilled bird food attracts rodents and small mammals, which in turn attracts coyotes.
Unsecured garbage as well as pet food left outdoors are also strong coyote attractants.
From my own observation its easy to see why Cape Ann’s coyote population is mushrooming. Our shoreline, marshes, and wooded habitats provide a wealth of food, both hunted and scavenged. I am curious to know if our readers see dead fish and birds washed ashore any longer. In the past I have seen quite a bit more on daily walks and think today the coyotes are providing a service by eating the carcasses.
At the meeting it was suggested that coyotes eat rats. That information seems surprising as rats are highly intelligent and not easily hunted. Additionally, if coyotes are doing such a terrific job eating small mammals and rodents, then why do we have an exploding population of rabbits, chipmunks, and mice? Regrettably conjecture is often presented as fact and unfortunately there is no hard data available. We learned at the meeting that tagging and tracking coyotes is not allowed in Massachusetts under the same provision that does not allow for poisoning and trapping with snares.
Hunting as an approved option for reducing the coyote population was discussed. Local licensed hunter Sam Holmes was in attendance and he can be reached at 978-491-8746. Communities such as Middleton, Rhode Island, have an expanded hunting season to manage the population of specifically coyotes that have lost their fear of humans.
Pat’s Top Recommendations for Lessening Contact with Coyotes
- Put away bird feeders, or clean up daily beneath the feeder.
- Supervise pets outdoors at all times.
- Secure garbage in tight fitting bins and put out the morning of trash collection
- Seal up any areas of your home and outbuilding’s foundation that might provide a coyote with a place to hide.
- Secure chickens.
- Compost in bins.
- Under no circumstances, feed coyotes.
Note to the folks who are feeding the coyotes: By feeding the coyote, you are habituating it to people. You may thing you are helping the coyote but you may potentially hasten its demise. Habituated coyotes are considered a serious threat.
If you do come face to face with a coyote, be be big, bold, and brave. Waving and flailing your arms will make you look bigger and scarier, and yelling will startle them.
Coyotes typically do not want to interact with people. Each of the three times I have come face to face with a coyote it was because I was unwittingly between it and potential food. The big, bold, and brave technique is effective although during my most recent coyote encounter, I thought the coyote had departed. He had however instead stealthily circled around to the dead fish on the beach he so determinedly wanted to eat.
Talk of “coywolves” – a blend of coyote and wolf – is everywhere. There is a PBS special called “Meet the Coywolf,” a recent article in the Economist, and it is now trending on Facebook. The media really love this new animal name.
There is no doubt that there is a hybrid canid living in the eastern US, and that it is the result of an amazing evolution story unfolding right underneath our noses.
However, this is not a new species – at least not yet – and I don’t think we should start calling it a “coywolf.”
What creature are we talking about? In the last century, a predator – I prefer the name “eastern coyote” – has colonized the forests of eastern North America, from Florida to Labrador.
New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.
Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.
In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.
All eastern coyotes show some evidence of past hybridization, but there is no sign that they are still actively mating with dogs or wolves. The coyote, wolf and dog are three separate species that would very much prefer not to breed with each other. However, biologically speaking, they are similar enough that interbreeding is possible.
This genetic swapping has happened more than once in their history; one study showed that the gene for black coat color found in North American wolves and coyotes today (but not in Old World wolves) originated in dogs brought to the continent by the earliest Native Americans. Some prehistoric hybridization event transferred the dog gene into wild wolves and coyotes.
The eastern coyote is born
We can estimate the date of the most recent hybridization events that created eastern coyotes by analyzing their genetic structure. Their DNA show that about 100 years ago, coyotes mated with wolves, and about 50 years ago with dogs. A century ago, wolf populations in the Great Lakes were at their nadir, living at such low density that some reproductive animals probably couldn’t find another wolf mate, and had to settle with a coyote.
The more recent date for the dog hybridization likely results from a cross-species breeding event at the very leading edge of the wave of colonizing coyotes in the east, possibly after a few females first spanned the St Lawrence seaway into upstate New York, where they would have encountered abundant feral dogs, but no other coyotes.
Nowadays, eastern coyotes have no problem finding a coyote mate. Their populations continue to grow throughout their new forested range, and they seem more likely to kill a dog than breed with it. Wolf populations in the Great Lakes have also recovered, and the wolf is once again the worst enemy of the coyote, rather than its last-chance prom date.
Coyotes have also expanded north into Alaska, although there is no sign of hybridization in that range extension. In Central America, they have expanded out of Mexico’s deserts, working their way south past the Panama Canal in the last decade, apparently bound for South America.
No genetic studies have looked at Central American coyotes, but photographs of doglike animals suggest that coyotes might be mixing it up across species lines along the leading edge of this southward expansion as well.
Hybridization across species is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. The old notion that an inability to breed should define what a species is has been abandoned by zoologists (with a resounding “I told you so” from botanists). Even modern humans are hybrids, with traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes mixed into our genome.
The first requirement for evolution is variation, and mixing genes from two species creates all sorts of new variations for evolution to act on. Most of these probably die, being a compromise between two longstanding species that were already well-adapted to their own niches.
However, in today’s rapidly changing world, new variations might actually do better than the old types. Some of these genetic mixes will survive better than others – this is natural selection.
The coyote with a bit of wolf genes to make it slightly larger was probably better able to handle deer, which are overabundant in eastern forests, but still wily enough to live in a landscape full of people. These animals thrived, dispersed east and thrived again, becoming the eastern coyote.
Exactly which dog and wolf genes are surviving natural selection in today’s eastern coyote is an area of active research.
Coyotes with odd coat colors or hair types are probably the most conspicuous sign of dog genes in action, while their slightly larger size might come from wolf genes. Some of these genes will help an animal survive and breed; others will make them less fit. Natural selection is still sorting this out, and we are witnessing the evolution of a new type of coyote right under our noses, one that is very good at living there.
Western coyotes adapt locally to their environments, with limited gene flow between populations (called “ecotypes”) living in different habitats, presumably reflecting local specialization.
Will eastern coyotes specialize locally as well? How will dog and wolf genes sort out across cities and wildernesses of the east?
Expect some really cool science in the next few years as researchers use modern genetic tools to sniff out the details of this story.
Evolution still in progress
There are many examples of bad animal names that cause a lot of confusion.
The fisher is a large type of weasel that does not eat fish (it prefers porcupines). The mountain beaver of the Pacific Northwest is not a beaver and does not live in the mountains. And then there’s the sperm whale…
We don’t get many opportunities to name new animals in the 21st century. We shouldn’t let the media mess up this one by declaring it a new species called the coywolf. Yes, there are wolf genes in some populations, but there are also eastern coyotes with almost no wolf genes, and others that have as much dog mixed in as they do wolf. “Coywolf” is an inaccurate name that causes confusion.
The coyote has not evolved into a new species over the last century. Hybridization and expansion have created a host of new coyote variations in the east, and evolution is still sorting these out. Gene flow continues in all directions, keeping things mixed up, and leading to continual variation over their range, with no discrete boundaries.
Could evolution eventually lead to a coyote so specialized for eastern forests that they would be considered a unique species? Yes, but for this to happen, they would have to cut off gene flow with nonhybrid animals, leading to distinct types of coyotes that (almost) never interbreed. I think we are a long way from this possibility.
For now, we have the eastern coyote, an exciting new type of coyote in the midst of an amazing evolutionary transition. Call it a distinct “subspecies,” call it an “ecomorph,” or call it by its scientific name Canis latrans var. But don’t call it a new species, and please, don’t call it the coywolf.
Roland Kays does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
* * *
Following images and video courtesy google image search
Garbage, bird seed, and fallen fruit attract coyotes to your backyard.
Editor’s note: Please keep comments civil. Thank you.
AS reported in thelocalnews.ws
Sumac Lane, Rocky Neck
GLOUCESTER — The mayor and police chief are advising residents to keep a careful watch on all pets after a resident’s dog was killed by a coyote last night.
Two women who tried to save the dog were forced to hide in a car after the coyote turned on them.
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and Interim Chief John McCarthy issued the advice after the dog was attacked last night (January 15).
At around 9:30 p.m., “Gloucester Animal Control responded to Sumac Lane for reports of a resident whose dog had been attacked and killed by a coyote,” a police statement said.
“The dog was on a fixed leash in the yard while its owner was inside the home. Animal control officers searched the surrounding area but did not find the coyote,” it added.
Rocky Neck resident Mark Olsen told WBZ TV the dog, a poodle, belonged to his 75-year-old mother.
The dog was out for about five minutes when the coyote attacked, he told reporters.
Olsen said his mother and sister “tried to save the dog, but they had to hide in their car when the coyote came after them,” WBZ said.
As a result, animal control officers and Gloucester Environmental Police are monitoring the entire Rocky Neck area today.
City officials said the coyote population has been increasing on Cape Ann recently. Olsen agreed, saying he had seen three or four recently. He also said they are becoming “more brazen.”
The Boston Globe reported last year that 250 residents attended a meeting last year to voice concern about the increasing coyote population.
In October 2015, a woman drinking coffee on her front porch was attacked by a coyote, according to Good Morning Gloucester.
To prevent coyote attacks, Gloucester Police advise residents to follow safety tips from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:
- Do not approach, feed, pet, or try to interact with wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, or other wild animals.
- It is always a good idea to leash pets at all times if outdoors. Small cats and dogs are seen as prey and larger dogs competition.
- Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten coyotes with loud noises, bright lights, or water sprayed from a hose.
- Cut back bushy edges, as these areas provide cover for coyotes and their prey.
- Secure your garbage. Coyotes raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and keep them in secure buildings when possible.
- Take out trash when the morning pick-up is scheduled, not the previous night.
- Keep compost in secure, vented containers, and keep barbecue grills clean to reduce attractive odors.
- Keep bird feeder areas clean. Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground, as the seed attracts many small mammals coyotes prey upon.
- Remove feeders if coyotes are regularly seen around your yard.
More information regarding the city’s increasing coyote population will be released on the City of Gloucester website this week.
When out filming for projects, I’d often thought about what my reaction would be if ever again I came eye to eye with a coyote. Many have crossed my path, but too quickly and too unexpectedly to capture. I don’t bring my dog with me any longer because one brazen one had a go at her two winters ago and it’s just not a good idea to tempt fate. I hoped that calmness would prevail, allowing for a non-blurry photo, or two.
Well, I didn’t panic and got some great footage, and when the coyote was too far out of range for my movie camera, took a few snapshots.
This one appears smaller than what I have typically encountered, perhaps it is only a year or two old, or possibly coyotes are not as plump after the winter months. He/she was very intent upon scavenging in a bed of seaweed that had washed ashore and think it must have been quite hungry to allow me to get so close. He reluctantly left his meal as I moved toward him and then watched me for some time from under cover of beach grass. His shining eyes were easily seen in the fading low light. Mistakenly, I thought that was the end of our meeting and went back to filming B-roll.
Beach grass provides excellent camouflage
I was losing the light and decided to call it a day. Packing up cameras and turning to go, there he was, a hundred yards away, staring at me. Deftly traveling through the tall reeds he had circled around. I don’t think he had me in mind for his next meal, but I was halfway between him and the scavanged dinner from which he had so rudely been interrupted. Plans on how to weaponize my tripod and camera bag quickly came to mind. He trotted leisurely towards me, changed his mind, and then trotted in the opposite direction. A car came down the road and he again turned toward my direction, making his way along the beach until slipping back into the grass.
If ever you have a close encounter with a coyote, be sure to remind yourself of this story and know that they may indeed still be very close by.
For additional reading, the following is a link to an interesting article that explains clearly why coyotes are thought to be the canid soup that they are, from Earth Sky: “Eastern Coyote is a Hybrid, But Coywolf is Not a Thing”
This map shows the movement of coyotes across North America and Mexico. It is now in Panama and will undoubtedly make its way south and across the canal. The animal is so adaptable I imagine it won’t be long before it colonizes Colombia as well.
Link to Cape Ann TV coverage of the coyote meeting:
City Councilor Steven LeBlanc
On Monday night at City Hall a packed audience attended the “Living with Wildlife” coyote meeting. Recognizing the exploding population of coyotes on Cape Ann, City Councilor Steven LeBlanc had requested the forum. Approximately 250 people were in attendance, which is an unusually large number for a meeting of this nature and speaks to the general concern by Cape Ann residents to the growing number of coyotes now living amongst us.
The informational meeting was conducted by Pat Huckery, the northeast district manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and she is herself a wildlife biologist. Pat presented the life history of the coyote as well as a number of methods for lessening human encounters with coyotes, most notably to cut off their food supply. Humans providing food to the coyotes directly and indirectly is the number one culprit and at the top of the list states Pat is bird feeders. She recommends that if you do have a bird feeder, at the very least, clean up the daily mess underneath the feeders. Spilled bird food attracts rodents and small mammals, which in turn attracts coyotes. Unsecured garbage as well as pet food left outdoors are also strong coyote attractants.
The very specific and unique ecology of Cape Ann, in relation to the coyote, was not discussed. Cape Ann’s coyote population has mushroomed in part due to the wealth of food that can be scavenged along our shoreline, marshes, and wooded habitats. One East Gloucester resident attending the meeting reported that she lives with a pack of twenty in her backyard. Hunting as an approved option for reducing the coyote population was discussed and is also believed to help create a healthy fear of humans on the part of the coyote. Local licensed hunter Sam Holmes was in attendance and he can be reached at 978-491-8746. Communities such as Middleton, Rhode Island, have an expanded hunting season to manage the population of specifically coyotes that have lost their fear of humans. Pat also debunked the highly romanticized term coywolf, and disputes the concept that by hunting coyotes, the reverse occurs and the overall population increases.
These photos were taken by Pat Halverson and submitted by Peggy Matlow, our new Good Morning Gloucester FOB . Peggy and her family will soon be permanently relocating to Gloucester, from the Berkshires, and these photos were taken from their new home in East Gloucester.
Evidence of a second coyote lair, found at Brace Cove. There were 5 piles of fresh coyote scat along with neat piles of bones scattered throughout the rocky clearing. Coyotes mostly sleep above ground in an open clearing, unless it is pup season.
Reminder also about Monday night’s informational meeting about living with wildlife, City Hall, at 7pm. More information here.
East Gloucester Coyote Lair #1
In light of the numerous coyote sightings in Gloucester, there will be an informational meeting on January 11, 7pm at Kyrouz Auditorium, City Hall, hosted by the Office of the Mayor, Gloucester Police Department, the Massachusetts Environmental Police and conducted by Div of Fisheries and Wildlife
Speakers: Mayor Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Chief of Police Leonard Campanello.
Guest Speakers: Patricia Huckery, Fisheries & Wildlife N.E. District Manager, Laura Connelley, Fishers & Wildlife Fur Bearing Biologist, and Environmental Police Officers.
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has put together this document named Living with Wildlife: Suburban Wildlife in Massachusetts for Massachusetts residents.
Joey forwarded the following information and links from an editorial that was recently posted on “North Shore Nature News.” We’ll post the first several paragraphs from the editorial, and the comment from Jim Schmidt that Joey found particularly interesting. In fairness to the author, the See More, directs the reader back to the original editorial.
“In Nancy Gurney’s classic children’s book, “The King, the Mice and the Cheese,” a king brings in cats to get rid of the mice eating his cheese. He then brings in dogs to get rid of the cats. Lions to get rid of the dogs. Elephants to get rid of the lions. And, finally, mice to get rid of the elephants.We find ourselves in similar straights with the eastern coyote.
Wolves once occupied the top of the area’s food chain. But we hunted them into near extinction. So, with no wolves in the area, coyotes began to enter the commonwealth in the 1950s as the food chain’s top dog. DNA evidence shows the coyotes mated with what was left of the wolves and with dogs. The cross breeding created the eastern coyote, a larger version of what wildlife experts now call the western coyote.
The coyote is bolder and more adaptable than the shier, more reclusive wolf. So, instead of confining itself to rural areas, as the wolf once did, the coyotes occupy rural, suburban and urban habitats. Add the fact that Massachusetts loses an estimated 40 acres a day of rural land to development and it’s inevitable the human and the coyote worlds will collide.” – See more at: Ipswich Wicked Local
Comment from Jim Schmidt:
“I have 54 years of first hand and face to face experience with coyotes. I retired as a fulltime USDA government coyote specialist recently. I have dealt with coyotes in New York, South Carolina, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Many remarks in this editorial are very incorrect. Coyote are dangerous wild predators. They are smart, problem solving, professional killers. They kill and eat everything too.
They DO NOT have to be rabid to be dangerous. Look up the “Biting Coyote of Green Valley, Arizona” as an example. This unprovoked coyote attacked and bit 8 adult people. The media and local medical professionals claimed it “must be Rabid” and it was not. How do I know? I was the one that removed him. Coyotes have a very low history of rabies too. I know first hand that coyotes will attack any size animal if it wishes. Three coyotes attacked and killed a large Rottweiler dog while the owner was walking it and another large dog. They killed and ate it-I was there again.
How do they kill a horse you ask? They will run it until it over heats and stops and often lies down and they take them. I have seen it again. They stand at the rear of a cow or horse giving birth and attack and kill the newborn when it hits the ground. Goats, sheep, chickens, cats, apples, water melons, garden hoses, and much more are at risk all the time…basically nothing is safe from the clever coyote. This dangerous animal will never be on welfare as it can take care of itself better than anything I know of or experienced.
I encourage you to learn the truth about coyotes not fantasies. They are a marvel of nature and they are in your state and community now. This is a professional dangerous killer for sure.” Jim Schmidt – See more at: Ipswich Wicked Local
Thank you so much Sandra for sending your photo.
Note to readers interested in submitting a locally spotted coyote: Please don’t be concerned about the quality of the image. I think it is very helpful to collect documentation while we are learning as a community how to address the growing coyote problem. Please provide location and time of day.
Send photos to: email@example.com. Thank you!
Today was the third day in a row that I have spotted a coyote at high noon. Three different North Shore towns, three sightings. This time I had my camera with me and it was easily accessible. In the new literature on living with coyotes that I have been reading, there is a great deal of misinformation. The first myth that should be dispelled is that they are nocturnal!
If you spot a coyote and manage to capture a photo of it, send in the snapshot and we will post it here. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The three locations are: Tregony Bow, Rockport; Grapevine Road, Hamilton; and Mt. Pleasant Street, Gloucester.
Are Coyotes the Cause of an Increase in Lyme Disease?
Struck by the recent interest in coyotes after the fascinating video Two Coyotes Versus One Deer by Shawn Henry was posted on GMG, I became interested in reading various studies and reports about coyotes, wolves, and foxes in Massachusetts and the Northeast. My primary interest at the onset was of concern for the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), which has seen a tremendous decline in numbers. I wondered if the presence of coyotes (Canis latrans) was negatively impacting the Red Fox. In the past, I often saw a Red Fox in the early morning hours trotting along the shoreline at Brace Cove. I wish so much that I had filmed the last one that I saw because it was a gorgeous scene; a strikingly beautiful creature so completely unaware of my presence and so at home in its realm, investigating rock and seaweed, pausing to sniff the air, and then resuming its journey. The last time I saw a Red Fox in our neighborhood was over three years ago. As I was reading about coyotes I learned the findings of some of the most recent studies indicate that because Eastern Coyotes out-compete the Red Fox, the coyotes are the cause of an increase in Lyme disease. More on that in a moment.
The coyotes that now inhabit every region in Massachusetts are an invasive species. They are a hybrid cross species of the Western Coyote (found west of the Mississippi) and Red Wolf (Canis lupus rufus). “Researchers now believe that the Eastern Coyote is a hybridization between the Western Coyote and Red Wolf many generations ago in the upper Great Lakes region of the United States. It is theorized that as populations of the Western Coyote increased, they were forced to move east and north in search of food. As they moved into Minnesota they crossbred with Gray/Red Wolves and produced a genetically hardy animal able to sustain itself through New England winters.” (Mass Audubon)
Coyotes are not “re-populating” this region because this new species was never in our region.
Eastern Coyotes have extremely broad food habits and many factors affect the coyotes’ diet, including competition with other mammals, abundance of prey, season, and weather. In the Northeast, their diet consists of shrews, rabbits, voles, woodchucks, mice, deer, beaver, muskrat, weasels, squirrels, and carrion. And according to Mass Audubon, “They eat ground-nesting birds and their eggs, as well as reptiles and amphibians. When other prey is scarce they will eat a variety of insects including grasshoppers, beetles and cicadas. When animal matter is scarce, they will eat available fruits including apples, cherries, grapes, and strawberries.”
The rapid invasion of the alien Eastern Coyote has negatively impacted many sympatric native species, as the coyote has assumed the role of top-order predator. The coyote has fundamentally altered the existing ecosystem and various species have experienced population declines as a direct result of their role as coyote prey or from direct competition for food. “Culturally and ecologically significant species including Red Fox decline dramatically in response to increasing coyote populations. Eastern Coyote and Red Fox share many common habitat requirements and occupy overlapping niches. Through time, the larger and more resilient coyote is able to out-compete and displace resident fox populations.” (Department of Natural Resources, Maryland.)
Studies have shown repeatedly that Eastern Coyote predation on deer is minimal. Most herds can handle the coyotes. Typically coyotes have success with fawns that are 4-5 weeks old (after they have become more active and are not by the mother’s side), weakened and sickly adults, and deer separated from the herd. These targets represent approximately one or two percent of the total deer population. While coyote diet studies show consistently the use of deer for food, it does not appear that coyote limit deer population on a regional scale.
Although the population of White-tailed Deer has stabilized, Lyme disease continues to increase. In June of 2012 researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz published their findings from the study “Deer, Predators, and the Emergence of Lyme Disease.” (Taal Levi, lead author.)
The study found that once where there was an abundance of Red Foxes, there is now an abundance of Eastern Coyotes. Even more significantly, fewer coyotes will inhabit an area once populated by more foxes. The greater number of foxes would have consumed a larger number of small tick-bearing animals, primarily White-footed Mice, Short-tailed Shrews, and Eastern Chipmunks, all of which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. It appears as though it is the Red Fox that once kept the population of these smaller rodents under control.
Even when there is a threefold rise in deer population, study after study now shows that the strongest predictors of a current year’s risk of Lyme disease are an abundance of acorns two years previously. How does that work?
Many acorns = many healthy mice and chipmunks.
Many healthy mice and chipmunks = many tick nymphs.
The following year when it may not be a bumper acorn crop = fewer mice.
Fewer mice and chipmunk = dogs and humans become vectors for the ticks.
While acorns don’t serve as a universal predictor because Lyme disease can be traced to forests where there are no oak trees, the data suggest that food sources and predators of small forest mammals are likely to be valuable in predicting Lyme disease risk for humans.
To summarize, multiple studies suggest that the invasive Eastern Coyote out-competes and kills the native Red Fox population, which leads to a rise in the number of small animals particularly the White-footed Mouse and Eastern Chipmunk, which in turn leads to an increase in ticks that carry Lyme disease. The impact of the Eastern Coyote on native deer population is negligible. And, as many family’s can attest, the impact of the Eastern Coyote on populations of domestic cats and small dogs has been devastating.
Typically the excuse given for unwanted encounters with wildlife is that people are encroaching on the animal’s habitat. That simply is not the case with the Eastern Coyote. The Eastern Coyote is advancing on humans–and they like what they see; no large predators, a reluctance on the part of people to hunt and trap, and an abundance of food. The environmentally and culturally destructive chain reaction caused by the Eastern Coyote invasion is taking on added urgency as the coyote strikes closer and closer to home.
It is legal in the state of Massachusetts to shoot and kill a coyote from your home. If confronted by a coyote, make as much noise as possible, if attacked, fight back aggressively.
Images courtesy Google image search.