1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Coyote

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COYOTE, the Indian name for a North American member of the dog family, also known as the prairie-wolf, and scientifically as Canis latrans. Ranging from Canada in the north to Guatemala in the south, and chiefly frequenting the open plains on both sides of the chain of the Rocky Mountains, the coyote, under all its various local phases, is a smaller animal than the true wolf, and may apparently be regarded as the New World representative of the jackals, or perhaps, like the Indian wolf (C. pallipes), as a type intermediate between wolves and jackals. In addition to its inferior size, the coyote is also shorter in the leg than the wolf, and carries a more luxuriant coat of hair. The average length is about 40 in., and the general tone of colour tawny mingled with black and white above and whitish below, the tail having a black tip and likewise a dark gland-patch near the root of the upper surface. There is, however, considerable local variation both in the matter of size and of colour from the typical coyote of Iowa, which measures about 50 in. in total length and is of a full rich tint. The coyote of the deserts of eastern California, Nevada and Utah is, for instance, a smaller and paler-coloured animal, whose length is usually about 42 in. On this and other local variations a number of nominal species have been founded; but it is preferable to regard them in the light of geographical phases or races, such as the above-mentioned C. latrans estor of Nevada and Utah, C. l. mearnsi of Arizona and Sonora, and C. l. frustor of Oklahoma and the Arkansas River district.

It is to distinguish them from the grey, or timber, wolves that coyotes have received the name of “prairie-wolves”; the two titles indicating the nature of the respective habitats of the two species. Coyotes are creatures of slinking and stealthy habits, living in burrows in the plains, and hunting in packs at night, when they utter yapping cries and blood-curdling yells as they gallop. Hares (“jack-rabbits”), chipmunks or ground-squirrels, and mice form a large portion of their food; but coyotes also kill the fawns of deer and prongbuck, as well as sage-hens and other kinds of game-birds. “In the flat lands,” write Messrs Witmer Stone and W. E. Cram, in their American Animals (1902), “they dig burrows for themselves or else take possession of those already made by badgers and prairie-dogs. Here in the spring the half-dozen or more coyote pups are brought forth; and it is said that at this season the old ones systematically drive any large game they may be chasing as near to their burrow, where the young coyotes are waiting to be fed, as possible before killing it, in order to save the labour of dragging it any great distance. When out after jack-rabbits two coyotes usually work together. When a jack-rabbit starts up before them, one of the coyotes bounds away in pursuit while the other squats on his haunches and waits his turn, knowing full well that the hare prefers to run in a circle, and will soon come round again, when the second wolf takes up the chase and the other rests in his turn. . . . When hunting antelope (prongbuck) and deer the coyotes spread out their pack into a wide circle, endeavouring to surround their game and keep it running inside their ring until exhausted. Sage-hens, grouse and small birds the coyote hunts successfully alone, quartering over the ground like a trained pointer until he succeeds in locating his bird, when he drops flat in the grass and creeps forward like a cat until close enough for the final spring.”

When hard put to it for food, coyotes will, it is reported, eat hips, juniper-berries and other wild fruits. (R. L.*)