If you’re an early-morning walker, you may see one slink past on its way home after a night of hunting. Yes, that slim, quick, medium-sized canine disappearing into the dawn was probably a coyote, canis latrans (“barking dog”).
Coyotes, known in the Americas for millenia, were so named by the Aztec; the Southwestern Indians often told tales of “the trickster,” as they found the wily canine very smart. In 1804, Lewis and Clark “discovered” the coyote. Lewis called it a “prairie wolf,” though he was perplexed because it was “neither wolf nor fox.”
“Coyotes are very smart, and they’re not going anywhere“ said Brice Philippi, an information officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “They’re not considered native, but they’re naturalized, and they’re in all 67 (Florida) counties.”
Most folks think of coyotes howling at the moon, or chasing the elusive roadrunner, but they really live everywhere – even in New York City. Once they roamed the Southwest and central plains, but they’ve expanded their territory to include all states except Hawaii.
They’re opportunistic, so they live in areas with cover: Golf courses are ideal, as are nature parks and other wooded areas, such as Boyd Hill or Sawgrass Lake.
Recently, a pair made a den amidst a solar farm in a San Francisco park, sunning themselves on the solar panels while raising a litter of pups below.
Are They Dangerous?
If you read the neighborhood social site Nextdoor, you’ve probably seen the alerts advising neighbors to lock up small pets and children after a coyote sighting. These posts generate a torrent of comments, from live-and-let-live animal lovers to gun-toters who threaten to blow away any varmint they see.
Misinformation is rampant about coyotes, but according to Phillippi, coyotes actually help keep nature in balance by hunting small mammals, such as rats and raccoons. Of course, that means they can be a danger to small pets.
Wildlife experts say be aware, and take sensible precautions.
Secure garbage and don’t leave pet food out. Try to keep cats in, especially at night. If you’ve seen coyotes in your neighborhood, walk your dog on a short leash, and carry a jar of coins or another noise-maker to scare them away. They’re fairly skittish, and don’t want to tangle.
Most coyotes weigh between 25 to 50 pounds, so dogs under 25 pounds could be vulnerable, as are other small pets and chickens.
Trapping is ineffective, said Phillipi.
“If a coyote is trapped or killed, the remaining pack members will breed quickly to replace the loss, but most coyotes are too smart for a trap,” he explained. “They can climb low fences and get into screen porches.”
Who to Call
Most police departments, including Gulfport and St. Petersburg, refer calls about coyotes to the FWC, unless there’s a dangerous situation.
At the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, information officer Travis Sibley said they often get calls about coyote sightings.
“We’ll take a report and if it’s aggressive, we’ll respond, but if it’s no threat, we refer the caller to the FWC,” Sibley said. “Sometimes people believe coyotes are a danger if they’re out in the daytime, fearing for kids and pets.”
Sibley said he sees them at night, mostly, as they hunt for small prey. But like all urban wildlife, they’ve figured out how to live with us.
“They’ve adapted to urban living,” said Sibley, noting that the best thing to do is learn how to deter them.
More, including a coyote tracker and tips to deter them at myFWC.com/Coyote.