5 cool facts about coyotes

November 13, 2015, 10:27 a.m.

Everyone knows about Wile E. Coyote and his endless pursuit of the roadrunner. But how many people know much about the real coyote? This smart and incredibly adaptable canid species is a master of making the best out of any situation. Here are five things you probably didn't know about this helpful and beautiful animal.

1. The coyote is an expert hunter of rodents, and is a wonderful species to have around for rodent control. While they have a bad reputation among ranchers, smart non-lethal coyote management can actually prove to be a big benefit to ranchers since rabbits are a primary competitor with cows for grass. When ranchers keep resident coyotes around who don't have any interest in livestock, the coyotes can actually help out by keeping down the population of rabbits and rodents.

2. The coyote was once found only in the southwest and plains area of the continent. But as Europeans moved west, extirpating large predators such as wolves, cougars and bears that kept coyotes in check and cutting down forests into prairie-like farmland, the coyote found its opening to spread into new territory. The species has now spread to nearly every corner of North America and into Central America. And coyotes don't just stick to rural areas. They have become residents in nearly every urban area across the continent as well!

3. The eastern coyote is larger than the western coyote and has slightly more wolf-like features. Why? Recent DNA analysis has shown that as the western coyote spread east, it hybridized with eastern wolves (and there is even a little bit of domestic dog DNA mixed in, too). That's why the eastern coyote is often called the coywolf. This new variation of coyote may be recognized by scientists as a new subspecies, or even possibly a new species, in the future. Here is a handy infographic from PBS Nature that explains the "coywolf."

4. Coyotes don't just stick to rodents for prey. They are omnivores who will happily feast on ripe berries, vegetables, fallen fruit and other healthy goodies. That's why if you're interested in keeping coyotes out of your yard, it is important to remove all food and water sources including cleaning up around any fruit and nut trees, berry vines, vegetable patches, under the bird feeder and anything else that might be considered food. And it should go without saying, put a lid on the compost bin and never leave pet food outside.

5. Coyotes mate for life and are monogamous. In a 2012 study of 18 litters of coyotes, researchers discovered that once they find love, a coyote couple is in it for the long haul and never cheat. According to The Natural History of the Urban Coyote, "This loyalty holds even when there are other coyotes in adjacent territories and plenty of opportunity for cheating. But coyote pairs stay faithful, and faithful for life. Some of the pairs followed by the research team were together for as long as 10 years, only moving on when one mate died."

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.